Friday Review

Of stories that need telling

Megha Ramaswamy's film 'Newborns.' Photo: Special Arrangement  

(This is a monthly column on indie films and documentaries)

In eight years, this was the first time Nasreen had unveiled in front of the camera. Laxmi, on the other hand, danced without reserve and it barely mattered that the camera was recording her. She had broken down a couple of hours before that. Momentous and personal instances like these are the ones that Megha Ramaswamy recounts from the shoot of her film 'Newborns', a documentary that follows female survivors of acid attacks. The short film, premiering on September 8 at the Toronto International Film Festival, is the only entry from India to be selected.

It all began when Megha read about Priti Rathi in the newspaper. Rathi, a nurse working in Mumbai, was attacked with acid in broad daylight. “Passers-by looked on, leaving her old father to bring medical help. Priti died less than a month later,” describes Megha. “I was a screenwriter and not a documentary filmmaker but I was quite bothered by the issue to not do anything about it,” she continues. Megha then got in touch with 'Stop Acid Attacks', an NGO based in Delhi. “While at the NGO, I started to develop a relationship with the girls. Simultaneously, I looked at material available on the topic and realised that most of it was either sensationalist or tragic. After getting the luxury of spending time with the girls, I knew that they were looking for a different kind of representation.”

Born out of regular dialogue, extensive workshops and sessions that were both emotionally draining and liberating at the same time, was a film language that Megha feels was appropriate for the subject at hand. “It is a poetic... a literary testimonial to their lives. The film is not observational or journalistic. I didn't want that. I wanted to do what the girls wanted to do. To revisit normalcies. The approach is philosophical.”

An inkling of this language can be grasped through the trailer of the film which is punctuated with carefully crafted shots that are in themselves beautiful anecdotes from the lives of these women. It is clear that the women were co-authors of the film which is exactly what Megha had intended.

For instance, one of the aspects that the film tackles is the gaze. “The gaze bothered them. They were tired of being stared at wherever they went. So, in the film, they decided to confront their audience and stare right back at them. There is not a single shot where the camera gazes at them.”

For Megha, 'Newborns' is a personal film and her attempt at showing her outrage at an act that takes its birth in ruthless patriarchy and misogyny. “Films, I realise, are a great platform for stories that need telling. This film could encourage more women to seek funding for surgery and could also create more awareness on the need for stricter punishment for the crime. There is a general sense of participation and initiative that is lacking be it the government or the citizen body,” she argues.

Next week, Nasreen will unveil herself and Laxmi will showcase her charming dance moves in front of the world. Apart from the newborns in the film, perhaps the premiere will mark the birth of a newborn audience as well.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 11:57:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/of-stories-that-need-telling/article6379548.ece

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