All that girl talk!

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Documentary filmmaker Zsuzsa Arendas gives a voice to the girl child in India

"I have a story to tell. I use this medium for that," asserts Zsuzsa Arendas, a young documentary filmmaker from southern Slovakia. She was at the Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre recently for the screening of her documentary "Priscilla, Lessons from Life" made in Rajasthan last year. A researcher in cultural anthropology from the Central Eastern European University, Budapest, she had chosen the theme of her film for an interesting reason. Though there have been umpteen documentaries on gender issues, this one was in the form of a real story woven into a piece of fiction. Priscilla, the protagonist of the piece, is a quintessential rural Indian girl burdened with the domestic chores. Belonging to a poor family from Balwari on the outskirts of Jaipur, she gains entry into the St. Xavier's School, thanks to the quota for girl children from the economically disadvantaged sections. The documentary, in a refreshing visual narrative, takes us through the life of Priscilla and demonstrates the power of education in spreading awareness about gender rights. Her father, Walter, a gardener in the school, comes from a tribal family in Orissa.Zsuzsa has attempted to bring about the conflicts in the life of her protagonist as she finds her place in a school normally inaccessible to her. Reflecting on her debut venture, she says, "It would be naïve to imagine that a documentary is about a `reality' out there. It is a construct. It is constructed by our preconceptions, ideas and also the actions of the participants." She has deftly tried to break the clichés of the conventions of a documentary by avoiding the gaze of the outsider. She took an Indian camera team along with her for this production for Hungarian Television. As Dr. Imre Lazar, Director of HICC and Cultural Counsellor, succinctly puts it, Zsuzsa's work seemed like "an excursion into reality". "This has been an extension of my academic research. I could bring my theoretical knowledge to bear on my subject," says the researcher. She has woven the message of social mobility of the girl child as a sub text in the narrative. "I was initially seen as an outsider. So I decided to stay in the locality with my Indian crew and become one among the locals," she says.Zsuzsa's effort is a new beginning in bridging the gap between social science research and media studies. She has indeed made an attempt at realising the post-modern notions of the fuzzy edges between reality and fiction. "A good documentary is like an intricate Indian textile. It's the texture that matters," she sums up. SANJAY KUMAR




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