Renuka starred in a 24-minute documentary called Maari, highlight the plight of children living in isolated settlements.

Renuka carefully pressed down the pleats of her new dress, the one she chose to wear on a day vastly different from any other.

This was her first visit to the capital city, in fact, the first to any part of Kerala from her home in a tribal hamlet deep within the forests of Wayanad. But, despite a drastic change in environment, she showed no signs of unease. The 12-year-old was here to receive the best child actor award at this year’s State television awards. Renuka starred in a 24-minute documentary called Maari shot right at her home at Begoor Colony near the Thirunelli river in Wayanad district. This brief screen time sufficed for the jury members to choose her as the best.

“There was an innocence about her that helped us decide which child from the tribal settlement would play the role. In fact, the jury attributed her undisputed win to this quality, which she effortlessly brought out on screen,” says Muhammed Arif Vellayil, director of Maari, who is also a programme producer with Darshana TV.

Armed with only a vague idea of a documentary to highlight the plight of children living in such isolated settlements, Mr. Arif says the film developed perfectly because of its young, unselfconscious lead. There are no dialogues in Maari, a factor which seems to have enhanced its impact. The film has been described as a poignant portrayal of a child and her sibling striving to make a living. Mr. Arif says he saw first-hand how each day could pan out differently for the forest folk.

True story

“In the film, Renuka becomes the provider for her family since her father falls ill. It is a very simple theme, but as the film neared completion, we realised that there was no need to fabricate anything. We did not plan any shots. We merely captured a bit of their lives. It is a true story,” says Mr. Arif.

Renuka attends a mobile school of the Tribal Department here, where there are 26 other students. She nodded shyly when asked about her school, but was sure about one aspect. “I want to study more,” says the girl, whose few trips from her colony was to Kodagu, to work at the coffee or orange plantations there. This is mostly during the monsoon when her parents cannot harvest honey, the primary source of income for families in the colony.

Pull of the forest

Her father, Apu, wants Renuka and her siblings to leave the colony and study further, but he says there seemed to be some barrier that contained every inhabitant within their home. “They should get away. Life here is very difficult every day,” he says, describing the efforts involved in honey farming that yields very little profit.