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This Powerful Film Shows The Ugly Truth Students In Top Colleges Have To Face

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By Shivam Rastogi:

placebo posterAs the film begins, there is a voice that says, “This is a story that I will tell myself many times over to remind myself that it has happened.” It is 27-year old filmmaker Abhay Kumar from Chandigarh and the story is in the documentary called ‘Placebo’. Recently, I was able to catch the film in a ‘peepshow screening’ (peepshow because you literally have to peep in order to look at the screen)

Before the voice-over, come the statistics which state how the probability of getting in MIT is 7%, Harvard is 4% and AIIMS is 0.1%. Just imagine! One might wonder at the level of intelligence, determination and passion of those making it to the institute of such academic excellence. But is that all that really counts? What about the journey the students make inside the institution both mentally and physically?

After the filmmaker’s younger brother damaged his right hand in an act of violence, the filmmaker wondered at the absurdity behind it. In order to investigate further, he went on to live undercover with the brightest minds of the country in the AIIMS hostel for the next six months. As a fly-on-wall, he shot extensively, took interviews and documented everything that he could. The stay stretched to two long years instead of six months and the shot footage went over 1000 hours. This was the time he really stopped shooting and that too with external factors and constraints.

Now, lies the biggest question: What is ‘Placebo’?

As the filmmaker started to document his observations, he did not realise where it was heading. What started as an observation went on to become bigger, brutal and honest. It took the shape of a truth that covered various aspects such as academic pressure, administration negligence, parental pressure, ragging, depression and suicide.

Here, the journey of the filmmaker is the journey of the film. He risked everything in order to make something he believed in. When he ran out of resources, he even crowdfunded to complete the post-production and somehow managed all that he could. In the post-screening discussion, he mentioned how for almost seven months during editing, he and his two-member team used to spend countless hours to analyse the footage and to come up with something on the timeline. Now, that’s the conviction of a real filmmaker who never gives up. Something that is brave and inspirational.

There are a lot of things to be liked in the film, particularly the way it beautifully uses animation sequences to enhance the narrative. The visuals shot on Handycam, iPhone, iPad and DSLR are consistent in terms of aesthetics and colours, done by Siddharth Meer (the man behind Byomkesh Bakshy, Court etc.). Another thing about the film stands out is its non-linear editing which is really powerful, with such a vast footage one really needs to be extra patient about it which is done really well. Editing a 96 minute feature from almost 1000 hours of footage, now that’s a monumental task to achieve.

As the movie ends, one realises the bigger aspect of it. It engages and holds enough potential to start a conversation in any room. While the film witnesses three suicides in the hostel and protests arising from it, it is also saddening to realise how one can loosely use the term ‘depression’ in regular lingo without actually considering its real meaning. The film provides a vocabulary, a grammar to actually address the real aspects of the issue.

‘Placebo’ chooses four protagonists including Abhay’s brother and further the filmmaker largely delves deeper into their psychology through extensive interviews which are hilarious and on-point. Those four protagonists are relatable characters, belonging from different backgrounds and having different aspirations from life. It is interesting to see how they make sense even if they themselves feel that they are blabbering at times.

On the whole, this film is something which must be addressed. As we flip through the pages, we might see news of student studying in Kota coaching factory hanging himself under academic pressure. At that point of time, we actually know what that thing really is, therefore, the limitations within the system and policies need to be reviewed and constructed in a better way.

A conversation from the film that still cracks me up goes like, a guy talks about how he wants to get clicked by the poolside being totally fit in his trunks but further goes on to contemplate how earlier he was fit but didn’t have a pool and now the situation has reversed. Filled with such honest and fun conversations, this film very effectively says what it really wants to and the hard work pays off when the audience love is reciprocated.

One thing for sure, this film is worth everything and something that you might have never seen before. Much love ‘Placebo’!

Watch filmmaker Abhay Kumar share his experience of making ‘Placebo’ and the importance of addressing depression at Youth Ki Awaaz’s flagship event CONVERGE: What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Depression

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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.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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