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10 Must-Watch Indian Documentaries With Very Strong And Impactful Stories

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By Hema Vaishnavi:

The dawn of the 21st century has seen filmmakers in a new light, redefining their genres, using them as a tool for raising consciousness and social change and instilling in people a sense of responsibility. These are the makers of the new age Indian documentary films. Early documentary films were single-shot moments captured on film: a train entering a station, a boat docking or factory workers leaving for work. The very definition of a ‘documentary film’ today has undergone a sea-change, thanks to the extraordinary films with a message that appeals to the masses. The makers of today have used this medium to send social messages across.

documentariesAnd here are ten documentaries by Indian filmmakers on socially relevant issues that have made quite an impact on its viewers:

Red Ant Dream (Maati Ke Laal)
Directed by an independent filmmaker, Sanjay Kak, this film is based on the revolutionary Maoist movement in India. It deals with the issue of Maoist insurgency in the country. The film mainly focuses on the Maoists of Bastar in Chhattisgarh, tribals fighting against industrialists in Niyamgiri in Odisha, and protesters acting in memory of the Leftist revolutionary Bhagat Singh in Punjab. In essence, the film portrays the emotions and struggles of those who believe that they are being oppressed.

Children Of The Pyre
Directed by Rajesh S. Jala, ‘Children of the Pyre’ is a real-life, self-narrative of seven extraordinary children who make their living out of the dead, as they work at the busiest cremation grounds of Manikarniaka, Varanasi. They collect, snatch or steal used shrouds and sell them for petty amounts to make their ends meet. Gaining strength from the adversaries, learning from the stark realities, the innocent kids weave through the pyres and struggle through disdain in this land of the dead. The film explores the lives of these children who are exploited beyond the limits of one’s conscience, as it gives a sneak-peek into the human reality of the ghats of Varanasi.

I Can Love Too
Directed by Mrinmoy Bhowmick, ‘I can Love Too,’ deals with the issues and concerns of specially-abled persons, their need and desire for love and finding a partner. The film portrays the picture of these people and their plight in today’s society, the manner in which they are deprived of basic human courtesy, equal job opportunities, and also when it comes to matter of finding a life partner. The film runs through the lives of different individuals from a different category of disability who represent the fact that the challenged community, mostly neglected, has all right and existence in this society.

Jareena, Portrait Of A Hijda
Directed by Prem Kalliat, this film explores the life of a transsexual and her community in the city of Bangalore. It tries to give an insight into the life of the Hijdas, a society of eunuchs numbering in the tens of thousands who have thrived in India for centuries as male prostitutes. This film provides evidence to the fact that, Hijdas like Jareena, face an identity crisis and how they’re lost in this superficial world. The documentary tells the story of Jareena who was forced to assume the role of a man when she visits her family, explains this duality and how the Hijdas help her come over her identity crisis, and give her an entity.

Seeds Of Plenty, Seeds Of Sorrow
Directed by Manjira Datta, this documentary, talks about the highly touted Green Revolution in India. The much hyped Green Revolution is credited with ensuring that countries like India do not suffer from the scourge of hunger and famine anymore. Through this film, the director asks thought provoking questions that are in dire need of strategic answers. Who has been the principal beneficiary of the biotech package? The poor peasant? The big farmer? The multinational corporation? And what damage has the Green Revolution done to the social structure and ecologies of Third World countries? The film attempts to show the off-side or the darker side of a supposed development strategy that was deemed to be successful. It reveals a darker, more problematic side to the Green Revolution. In India it has helped create a new serf class and the dramatic crop yields of the early years have fallen away in the wake of pesticide poisoning and short-lived miracle wheat strains.

The World Before Her
Directed by Nisha Pahuja, the film explores two mutually exclusive yet startlingly similar worlds of the women in India; the biggest beauty pageant vis-a-vis the women’s wing of Hindu fundamentalist movement in India. ‘The World Before Her’ creates a lively, provocative portrait of the world’s largest democracy at a critical transitional moment. The film tells us the stories of the young women determined to win the crown and the forces that oppose them. If that’s one part of the story, another part tells us the story of Durga Vahini, a youth leader who is willing to die for her beliefs despite the oddities that she faces being a woman of marriageable age. These young women may represent opposing extremes but in their hearts they share a common dream: to help shape the future of India as she meets the world before her.

Mindscapes Of Love And Longing
Directed by, Arun Chadha, this film deals with the sexuality of people with disabilities and the manner they are marred with misconceptions, prejudices and myths. The narrative follows these people as they negotiate widely-held biological, medical, social and cultural beliefs and try to claim their sexual rights as individuals with varying physical disabilities. This issues of identity crisis, self-respect and sexual discrepancy of such people is dealt with. The film attempts to deconstruct the disability and sexuality debate by exploring the lives of those affected few by providing them platform to voice their opinions and the kind of choices they have made as they come to terms with their physical and sexual selves.

The Holy Wives
Directed by Ritesh Sharma, the film explores the lives of three different communities who have been victimized in the name of caste based sexual exploitation in India through stories of their life, struggle and dreams of a dignified life for their children. A few decades ago, women from certain castes were made wives of God in some parts of India. Today, despite the ban on such systems, the practice prevails and these women are often forced into prostitution, sexual violence and mental torture. The film documents the life of a woman who is raped in the name of tradition even before she could understand the meaning of sex and the impoverished life that she leads till death.

Gulabi Gang
Directed by Nishitha Jain, this film explores the daily lives of the fiery women of the Gulabi Gang, who empower themselves in order to fight against gender violence, caste oppression and widespread corruption. The film traces the journey of Sampat Pal, a movement that grew from an individual crusade to snowball into a veritable one comprising of large number of women of the Gulabi Gang. The film shows how the society has become a patriarchal one, wherein even female psyche is embedded with the thoughts of patriarchy as it refuses to speak the language of feminism. The film shows that the struggle for women’s freedom is long and a tiresome one.

Powerless
Directed by Fahad Mustafa and Deepti Kakkar, the film talks about the problems of power cuts and electricity shortages in the city of Kanpur. The story unfolds as the film depicts the happenings during a summer when power crisis plagues the city and it gets wired into a conflict. In a city with 15 hour power cuts, hundreds of people risk their lives to steal electricity. With the first female chief of the electricity company vowing to eliminate all illegal connections, the lines are drawn for a battle over electricity. For most people, flicking on a light switch is a mindless daily routine, but the makers of the film say that the characters featured in the film find it more like a class warfare and one that risks boiling over into a nationwide conflict.

Photo Credit: * RICCIO via Compfight cc

You must be to comment.
  1. rachita sharma

    I was looking for such good documentary suggestions. thanks a lot 🙂

  2. sohamsarcar

    No Country for Women produced for just web made a lot of impact. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rt1Rhd_sRhg

  3. Baldeep Grewal

    Reading through this I realized how powerful the titles of documentaries are. A few words go a long way in endorsing the whole essence of a documentary. This is a wonderful compilation of some very hard hitting documentaries. I understand the writer had to be selective considering the word limit. However, it would have been nice to see something by Deepa Mehta here.

  4. Harsh Vasani

    Ram Ke Naam by Anand Patwardhan is a documentary on the Ramjanaambhoomi issue. Pretty sure it is one of the best made in India. Highly recommended!

  5. Ridhi Murari

    Interesting choice of movies. Well described too.

  6. Parag

    Strongly feel that Anand Patwardhan’s documentaries should be a part of this list. Whether ‘War and Peace’, ‘Raam ke Naam’ or ‘Jai Bheem Comrade’, he has made immensely powerful documentaries.

    1. Sreeraj S Nair

      Anand Patwardhan’s documentaries Raam ke Naam’ and‘Jai Bheem Comrade

  7. Ananyo Mukhejee

    it would be great if the links or download sources of these documentaries are shared….

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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