Documentary Mumbai

The lives of others


Ashvin Kumar’s new film I Am Not Here is about three women who undertook the peril of illegal migration in the hope of a better life.

It’s about silent lives in an alien country in the midst of the persistent fear of getting deported back to the home that they had tried to escape to seek a better life. Ashvin Kumar’s new documentary, I Am Not Here, slated for a city screening tomorrow, is about three such undocumented, illegal migrants. Two of the women got documented recently — Fanny Flores Solares who immigrated to Zurich, Switzerland for a better future for her kids back in Spain; and Jennifer Norgriff Bernard who came to New York from Trinidad seeking “any avenue for a better life for herself and her little son. The third is a deliberately unidentified girl from Bangladesh who came to Malaysia hoping to help support an ailing father but found her own life hanging by a thread; a life that will, perhaps, never be normal again.

It’s her story that is the most horrifying and painful. The extreme cruelty and torture heaped on her by the employer. There was hot water poured on her vagina, clothes torn off her body and pictures and videos taken, chillies put on her body and vagina, and a rod shoved up her vagina and anus. Three months in the hospital and three surgeries later she, could be deported any day but the employer remains scot-free, despite the NGOs pursuing the case.

Solares’ story also comes with an underlying sadness. How she left the kids when they were quite young and could not see them and her family for years. She couldn’t attend her mother’s funeral but “heard” it over the phone. But, most of all, there was the humiliation of being nabbed by the police and the precariousness in being deported twice. She fights with God but accepts her fate humbly hoping that her children will turn out good and honest, unlike her.

Bernard’ is a more positive take because she confesses to being a fighter and a happy person. She is outspoken, has no fear and expects respect in return. It is a privilege for her to raise another person’s child as a nanny, she says, but does admit getting angry if not treated well. The strength as a woman is what makes her feel free; it’s her “liberty”.

The cities for the film were decided upon by the UN Human Rights Office that has produced it. What was then left to the filmmaker was the difficult task of finding the right people. Research took a bulk of the time and involved spotting the NGOs who would then lead them on to the right individuals. “Many of them didn’t want to come on record,” says Kumar. For an obvious reason — illegality.

Candid testimonies

The film, however, boasts of some candid testimonies. What makes it even more interesting is that two of them are in languages that the filmmaker himself didn’t understand. He had merely three days to shoot an individual. “In case there was a missing link in their talk there was no scope to go back,” says Kumar. “That was the tricky, nerve-wracking bit.” There were interventions, a translator was used, to first put forward the questions, then transcribe the answers, then get the sub-titles done. “Even when we were editing, there was the concern whether we had cut the right sentence or not,” says Kumar. His guiding factors were the “look in the eyes and tone of the voice” of the three women. He roughly knew the stories and what they had gone through so the interviews involved making them walk through the past, to ask obvious questions which would trigger memories.

Kumar, who won an Academy Award nomination for his short film Little Terrorist, has been a two-time National Award winner for his documentaries on Kashmir. The first is Inshallah, Football, about a Kashmiri teenager wanting to play football in Brazil, and then there’s Inshallah, Kashmir about the fallout of armed conflict on the people of Kashmir. He tackles yet another contentious issue in I Am Not Here but the documentary has an international arc instead of a local one. However, Kumar doesn’t make a big deal of it. “I don’t think geography or location is that important,” he says, “story-telling is.”

The next step for Kumar is a feature film, Noor, that he begins shooting in April-May. It’s about a teenager from Birmingham who comes to Kashmir to seek her missing father and then falls in love with a boy who is also on a similar search. The casting for it is currently on in the UK.

Kumar is also coming back full circle to acting, that he had begun his filmi journey with. He will be seen in a leading role in Sabal Singh Shekhawat’s (director, Fireflies) new digital Indie short Ring of Fire. He will be seen in an important role in his own Noor as well.

(Time: 6pm. Venue: Nehru Centre, Worli. Phone: 2496 4676)

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 10:03:49 AM |

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