A mother calls her daughter ‘a manipulator’. A girl describes her sister as ‘annoying’. It’s not that these are the only things we hear them say in the YouTube video with the self-explanatory title A Heartwarming Video About Parenting .
Initially, we assume that the film is one of those ubiquitous social experiment videos that give an outlet to unheard feelings — from beautiful to not-so-pleasant experiences — of siblings, parents about children.
But it’s only towards the end that we are told that half of the interviewees are related to children with Down Syndrome. “Can you tell which ones?” is the question the film throws at us before revealing images of kids with and without Down Syndrome with their respective parents. It ends with the message that ‘One extra chromosome doesn’t change the love.’
This three-minute 25-second video directed by Megha Ramaswamy, released on World Down Syndrome Day (March 21), attempts to remove the stigma attached to parents of children with special needs and highlight the need to normalise it.
Ramaswamy was co-writer of Shaitan (2011); her documentary short Newborns premiered at the Toronto International film Festival (TIFF 2014) and her new short Bunny , described as “a love letter to the fantastical childhood we leave behind”, premiered in competition at the TIFF 2015.
“In populist culture, parents of children with Down Syndrome are perceived as unhappy and depressed people with no joy of parenting and life. That’s not true. They have the same insecurities, joys and fears as any other parents. The film tries to look at it from a human point of view,” says Ramaswamy.
The film credits the concept to Deepa Garwa, a Down Syndrome activist and mother to a daughter with the genetic disorder. She helped raise funds for the video and also appears in it. Ramaswamy says that her interaction with Garwa changed her own pre-conceived notions about the subject. “We tend to have a patronising, condescending attitude towards families of kids with disabilities. The most important thing we learnt from working on the film is that we need to break the culture of silence and awkwardness around disability and reach out.”
To ensure there was outcome of the social experiment was “truthful and honest”, the interviews were conducted to ensure there was no manipulation. Barring a couple of interviewees, the makers didn’t know if the parents and siblings were related to kids with Down Syndrome or the ones without it. The same set of questions was asked to each group. And the outcome, as evident in the film, is that there was really no difference in their feelings for the children.
A Heartwarming Video about Parenting is expected to initiate a series of videos on social issues under a platform called Cause Effect; a joint initiative by Ramaswamy, who looks into the creative aspect of it, and Priyanka Bose and Vikrant Jauhari, who handle the production side. The platform is open to young, new filmmakers with similar ideas.
Ramaswamy says, “As filmmakers from a third world country, we have certain responsibilities. There are so many problems surrounding us and film is a beautiful medium to talk about them. We want to set up a non-profit ecosystem that if not bring about a social change triggers a conversation and asks the right questions, politically or culturally.”
The most important thing we learnt is
that we need to break the culture of silence and awkwardness around disability
and reach out