Filmmaker Pavitra Chalam says working on Indelible , a documentary on Down Syndrome was a life-changing experience
I ndelible celebrates imperfection. In filmmaker Pavitra Chalam’s documentary, people with Down Syndrome are the real heroes in society and her film projects their stories as those of hope.
Pavitra, a graduate of the New York Film Academy is founder of CurleyStreet Media — an independent production house. She has been making films on a wide array of sensitive social issues ranging from drug addiction to mental illness for close to a decade. Indelible is India’s first official film on Down Syndrome, and has won the Asia Pacific New Documentary Award for Outstanding New Asia Pacific Documentary Talent out of 10 films at the DocWeek Film Festival 2014 in Australia.
“At its heart, Indelible is a story of hope and a tribute to the human spirit,” says Pavitra. Set amid the beaches and bylanes of Chennai, Indelible discovers seven heroes and their families, bound by an extra chromosome. Babli, Revathi, Arti, Manimeghalai, Archana, Sandhya and Ashwin invite us into their homes and hearts to witness everything we never knew about the genetic disorder. Through these stories, we witness a magical world and an unlimited capacity for love and courage, adds the filmmaker.
On the award, Pavitra says: “It’s an affirmation that we got to take an important story out there because Down Syndrome exists in a lot of isolation in India, and the film and the award have given it greater visibility.”
About the film’s real-life heroes, Pavitra says, “They taught me how to look at life positively. Archana, who is a Special Olympics gold medallist, says in the film ‘be proud of who you are, of you, of your life’. We are all worried about tomorrow and yesterday. They really teach you to live in the moment. This is not just a film about the syndrome. It’s a film about life.”
When it comes to the name, Pavitra says it’s really hard to take something that is so much greater than you and give it a name. “Indelible means something that cannot be erased and that is exactly the experience that the people left with us. Our lives have been changed forever and we hope that it would leave an indestructible mark out in the world. The film gave us fuel to carry forward our own quest and an opportunity to become better people.”
On how she picked this topic for a film, Pavitra shares that her company and her are about telling stories. “We tell stories of hope. Without hope, we have nothing. I’m quite a crusader for hope. I never know what the next story is going to be since it’s really like falling in love. It’s an organic natural process and I gravitate towards a story as much as it gravitates towards me.”
So has Pavitra taken it upon herself to be a champion for the cause? Yes, she says. “I think it’s important for everyone, no matter who you are, to champion a cause that is dear to your heart. It’s our innate responsibility to be a champion of change. Everyone is always trying to better themselves. If you can just expand that scope a little bit more, you are leading a movement towards collective change..”
From her debut film Bus to Indelible , Pavitra has had a memorable journey. “There were times when I wondered how things would turn out. What’s stayed, never changed and only grew stronger is the passion. I have also been blessed with the most exceptional team and that is quite rare in any profession.”Looking ahead, Pavitra aims to pursue her quest for change with Rooting For Roona , an ongoing movie campaign for the health of the girl child. “The film is a true testament for change. Both films mark the beginning of a journey where we can all begin to hope for a better world.”
ALLAN MOSES RODRICKS