Focus Shiny Jacob Benjamin voices the concerns of the marginalised through her works. Liza George
Documentary filmmaker Shiny Jacob Benjamin was one of the two women from Kerala who won the Laadli National Media Awards for Gender Sensitivity 2011-12. Shiny won it for ‘Ottayaal’, which had also won her the national award in 2011.
Although most of her documentaries highlight women’s issues, she says it is not a conscious decision. “I can identify with women’s issues because I am a woman myself. And because I am a mother, I feel deeply for children.”
If ‘Ottayaal’ was about Dayabai, a nun who gives up the convent life to seek a path of service to the marginalised people, ‘Nizhalukal’ was based on stories of children who were sexually abused and ‘Bhagya-Singer in a Democracy’, on a woman called Bhagya, whom Shiny had met on a train journey.
One of the pioneer women documentary filmmakers in Kerala, Shiny is perhaps one of the few who matches their passion for storytelling with lens-focussed activisim. “Although I started my career as a print journalist, I moved into television as I felt it would be a better medium to get my stories across. When I entered television, I realised documentaries reached the audiences better. I work on the theory of activism; I stimulate the audience’s mind with my visuals and tales. When they leave the theatre, they will hopefully take action,” says Shiny, whose first documentary was ‘Murivunangatha Ballyangal’, a documentary on child abuse for Asianet channel.
By capturing the children’s realities in ‘Murivunangatha Ballyangal’, she generated further conversations about children’s concerns with ‘Nizhalukal’. “One of the girls I spoke to in ‘Nizhalukal’ was the girl involved in the Suryaneli case. Hers is a heart wrenching story; it’s a life no woman should ever go through.”
When asked why there are more women in the documentary making field and fewer in the feature films field, Shiny replies: “Documentaries have smaller budgets and lesser staff, anyone can make one if they have a camera and a home editing unit.” She adds: “It is good that more and more women are entering the field as they are changing the way that the world sees, hears and receives women’s stories.”
Just as in any profession, the challenge here is that one has to be good at what one does to earn the respect of one’s peers who are most often than not, men. Asked if she ever felt the presence of a glass ceiling, she says no.
Shiny plans to continue to take large-scale topics and explore them through personal, relatable stories. Eventually, she hopes to turn a feature filmmaker.