Print and TV journalist Nupur Basu’s documentary Velvet Revolution is a moving depiction of female journalists raising above conflicts and going on work, even it means in a war zone. She and filmmakers Illang Illang Quijano, Deepika Sharma, Pochi Tamba Nsoh, Sidonie Pongmoni and Eva Brownstein go beyond factual data and percentages to understand what ails and helps their progress in a journalistic setup and on the field. The documentary traverses borders to convey its point, right from the all-women organisation Mahila Navodayam in Chittor to Bonya Ahmed, the wife of slain Bangladesh blogger, Avijit Roy to Malini Subramaniam who was forced to leave Bastar besides their counterparts in Boko Haram, Afghanistan and so on. Post a recent screening in the city, the executive director and project head for the film, Nupur Basu elaborates on her journey with the documentary.
How tough was it to make a film on woman journalists and yet not focus only on gender?
It is a challenge to make a film on women journalists and yet ensure that it doesn’t get depicted only through the lens of gender...but the challenge makes you want to constantly move between the micro to the macro picture. So while we are talking about the specific challenges of women journalists operating in patriarchal societies, the film also constantly talks about the larger issues of people, society and country the woman journalist is covering. This pulls the narrative out of the straight jacket only of gender and makes it sharper and richer.
With multiple teams working on the project from different countries, how did you bring about a seamless quality to the narrative?
It was important to have a sharp focus for the film. That focus I decided was going to be about the challenges that women journalists face while covering conflict across different media - print, radio, television and digital. Once we had the films in from Philippines, India, Cameroon, Bangladesh/USA, Syria, Afghanistan, UK and the women who worked on the Panama Papers investigation, I had to script a narration that would weave the whole and seamlessly help us move from one story to another. My editors- Reena Mohan and Nirmal Chander, both national award winning filmmakers, worked hard to weave that smooth transition at the edit table.
On the groundwork you did for the use of local music influences to each of the regions depicted in the documentary?
Music is a very important component in a film. In most of my earlier documentaries, I have used location music (farm women or fisherfolk or pop/rock stars singing, etc) but in this we have used the music provided by director specific to that country, the music of each country also helps ably in the transition; say the transition from India to Afghanistan is enhanced by Afghan music and serves as an entry point to that country..
Could you elaborate on the reason behind depicting conflicts at various levels (some psychological, work place, on the field)?
Conflict plays out in different ways for a journalist...so we wanted to depict it like that. Syrian journalist Zaina narrates how she was stopped at Syrian border by the security guards who insisted that she was a foreigner, she talks of using her husband as an unpaid male bodyguard. Philippines-based journalist, Imday Espina Verona says that she is trolled so badly that she feels that she is eating “threats for breakfast” every morning. The Dalit woman journalist from Chittoor talks about caste discrimination, Malini Subramaniam was attacked and thrown out of Bastar, Najiba Ayubi from Afghanistan was threatened by the head of Kabul police once reminding her that she is a “woman”. All this and more the women journalist encounters on the ground while simply doing her job.
What did the documentary teach you that your journalism career didn’t?
The documentary was an eye opener on problems and prejudices which we women journalists thought we had overcome over the years - only re-surfaced in 2016-17 in a bigger way. Misogyny, patriarchy, unequal pay, sexual harassment, trolling, and threats of physical harm and threats of rape seemed to have got more accentuated in all countries.
What do you think lends an emotional chord to a documentary?
The moving testimonies of each of the women journalists who have shown such grit and determination despite the most harrowing experiences is what makes the viewer reach out to them in Velvet Revolution . It is the commitment of all these women journalists to ‘truth telling” that lend that emotional chord. When Bangladeshi blogger Bonya Ahmed says : “I could not leave my co-warriors in the middle of the battlefield” despite her husband being so brutally killed by terrorists in the streets of Dhaka, it is a humbling moment for all of us. BBC’s Lyse Doucet’s emotional reunion in Canada with Syrian refugees whose story she had covered earlier shows the humane quality of journalists covering conflict day in and day out.
Are the publicity aspects and taking the documentary to film fests more difficult than actually filming it?
Marketing documentaries is one of the biggest challenges as there are no theatres that exhibit them here. Lesser TV channels are showing documentaries so it is left to the documentary filmmaker to find venues, gather audiences, and screen their films. It is a big challenge. Film festivals help as then the screening and hall are taken care of by the festival authorities. Organising private screenings are expensive and tiring. You need a real fire in your belly to first make a documentary and then ensure that it is shown everywhere, it is love’s labour. (Velvet Revolution was produced by International Association of Women in Radio and Television. Nupur Basu had filmed the documentary Dry Days in Dobbagunta in Nellore which won an international award in 1997.)