By Prerna Siddharth:
I don’t feed the poor. I don’t provide basic education. I am not saving someone’s life. I have immense respect for all those who are doing these things and fully understand the importance of their efforts. But I am not.
Then what am I really doing? We will get back to this question in a bit.
I am a 26 year old filmmaker and have been making films since I was 16. My father is a social activist who quit as an IPS officer to do what he wanted to do the most – give back to society. This obviously inculcated a similar passion in me. I too wanted to do my part. And hence, I fused my love for filmmaking and social activism, and turned it into my profession.
As a start, I partnered with a like-minded friend (Kevin), and we began working for NGOs. We either made films, or designed creative campaigns for them. Slowly, (and this is the best part) we started using filmmaking as a medium of self-expression. For this, we began taking storytelling and filmmaking sessions with children residing in the marginal communities of Delhi, where we helped the kids expand their creativity, gain a voice and turn it into a community level revolution so that they could speak up against the ills of the society they were living in. And these children, they changed my life.
We saw them battle with issues like child marriage, domestic violence and alcohol abuse on a daily basis. The sheer power in their eyes as they stood face to face with their families and said, “No, I won’t get married. I have a right to my childhood”, was exhilarating.
I once worked with a group of 12-14 year old girls who barely spoke. Most of them were malnourished and had been brainwashed into muteness. They never thought they were entitled to an opinion. It took me an entire year to get them to express. In the end, these very girls chose to write a story against child marriage and decided to do a street play on the same. They gathered the entire community and fearlessly spoke their minds. I can say I was very proud of them, but no one was as proud as they were of themselves. And that was the most important thing.
But why am I sharing all this? Because in the process of teaching these kids, many of them grew up and told me that they wanted to become filmmakers too. It made me think of the time I had taken this decision for myself. I come from a stable middle class family, and I remember the backlash I received on expressing a similar aspiration. The warnings of no stability, no job security, a difficult future, and what not! I get it. They are the “elders”. This is their way of looking out for us. Moreover, I think it turned out pretty decent for me. But then, what about these kids? They come from that section of the society which tells them they can’t even afford to dream such dreams! Their families need money. So what should I have done? Should I have counselled them to get a stable job and then, may be some day, when life gets more settled, think about pursuing this passion? Otherwise, how would they earn for their families? The answer brings me back to my original question – “What am I really doing?”
I run a free film and photography school in Delhi that spots talents from different marginal communities and polishes their aspirations. I teach filmmaking and Kevin teaches photography. We give them an in depth knowledge, provide them with as much exposure as possible and try to merge their passion and profession, the same way as we did. Because many of our students already have jobs to sustain their families, our school only operates on the weekends. And I kid you not, we are not funded, and neither do we want any. We do not want to limit our children’s creativity by taking any money that might turn into restricted funding at any stage. Moreover, let’s face it, there is hardly anyone willing to fund a free film school. I hope this changes soon though.
Kevin and I make films for others during the week and pump the money we earn into the film school on weekends. We also take on a few students who can afford a minimum fee of Rs. 20000/- to manage some sustenance. And today, I am proud to say, many of our students are gainfully employed as filmmakers and photographers. They are living their dreams.
Like I said, I am not feeding the poor. I am not giving someone basic education. I am not saving someone’s life. I am just polishing some aspirations.
Note: We recently had a music video competition where we asked the students to make something on how they felt about the film school and what they learn here. This is what they made.
Our organization is called Big Klick Media School. Know more about us here.
Big Klick Media School’s co-founder was recently awarded the Rex Karamveer Global Fellowship and Karamveer Chakra instituted with the UN.