Video volunteers

Print edition : November 17, 2006

The Hamaari Awaaz video unit in Mumbai at a training session with Stalin K. and Jessica Mayberry. - COURTESY: VIDEO VOLUNTEERS

The story of Sanjay Khandare and his young team who are making films for their people, not for media moguls.

SANJAY KHANDARE'S two-hour commute to his home in Jogeshwari, jostling in Mumbai's crowds and traffic, is an exhausting routine. But today, it did not bother him. Today was special. He was going back home to show his people his first film. A film he made about them.

Brimming over with nervous excitement, Sanjay and his teammates lugged equipment through the narrow lanes, brushing past doors and deftly avoiding gutters. Then, a few of them headed off to round up an audience for the screening. "This is the same film on water supply problems that we shot here, interviewing women from this basti. Please come and see it!"

They were in a hurry, racing against the water timings here. The screening had to finish before 7.30 p.m. - when the basti's water supply would start and people would rush to queue up for their daily quota of water. For a film that is about water, it is apt that the water supply should dictate prime time. This is one medium where community rules over commerce.

Sanjay and his young team are one of seven community video units across India. They are making films for their people, not for media moguls.

The community video units were started by Drishti Media Collective and Video Volunteers, organisations that want media to work from the ground up. So that people are not just consumers of media content but also creators, producers and distributors. It was started by Stalin K. and Jessica Mayberry, documentary film-makers who felt that the mainstream media did not reflect people's concerns. So, they trained ordinary folk to make their own video magazines. And once they make the monthly video magazines, the team arranges at least 25 screenings within communities to reach out to around 5,000 to 7,000 people.

"People are reduced to being consumers of information that is not relevant to them. The media does not report about poor people unless something gruesome happens to them like an earthquake or a riot. So, we decided to create our own video of, for and by the people," says Stalin. The community video units are part of local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), so that there is some action outcome after every screening.

Small changes began even before the first film was made. While training an all-Dalit team in Surendranagar, Gujarat, the film-makers were allowed to enter the village temple for the first time ever only because they had their camera with them. Being video producers improved their status in the village. Gram sabhas are being held in villages that have never witnessed one because of the presence of the community media and the awareness they have created. And, the community video unit team even filmed the gram sabhas.

In Halol, Gujarat, heavy rains had damaged infrastructure and the video producers had filmed a broken road across a stream. For two weeks, children could not cross over to go to school. Soon after the local Public Works Department knew that it had been documented, it got the road repaired. After watching a video magazine on the lack of health facilities and the distances that people have to travel to get to a dispensary in East Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh, local villagers have got so charged up that they are organising a rally to the district office.

In a village in Panchmahal district, children with the community video unit of Yuvshakti, a non-governmental organisation.-RAPHAEL FLEURRIET

Right from deciding the theme of each video magazine to the screening, the making of each monthly capsule is a collective process. Sanjay's community video unit in Mumbai, which is named Hamaari Awaaz (Our Voice), held 25 meetings within different slum communities before deciding on the theme for its first video on water. "In a place like Mumbai, where people are so exposed to the media, there is nothing new in seeing a video shoot. But no one has gone back to show people the results. The audience's response will be our true test," says Vishvajit Kanojia (21), part of the Hamaari Awaaz team that is affiliated to YUVA, an NGO. "We want to connect communities so that people will know what is happening in other parts of the city," says Pradeep Paralkar, part of another community video unit in Mumbai called Apna TV (Our TV) that is part of Akshara, also an NGO. A typical video magazine will have a combination of vox pop, interviews with local officials, inspirational stories, local music/dance/theatre and practical tips. Pradeep's group is making a film titled Dreams and Education. "A degree is not enough. You need more skills to make your dream come true. We want to give people practical advice on how to make it happen," says Samata Jadhav, from Borivali. The film has an inspirational story of how a rag-picker became a teacher.

The most radical changes that the project has brought about have been in the video producers themselves. A month's training and practical experience in the media have increased their confidence tremendously. "Before this, I had never been outside my basti. Now, I travel all over Mumbai," said Zuleikha Syed (18) from the Hamaara Awaaz team.

"I come from a poor, low caste family. People did not respect me. My father did not have much faith that I could do much. I was an ordinary boy working in a youth group. But after becoming a video producer, people look at me with respect. I am getting a chance to be in a medium that I would have had no access to," said Ganesh Kondve (23), from Dharavi. "For the first time the camera has come into our hands so that we can express our concerns. We have also learned not to grumble but to find solutions."

Yet, convincing people is not always easy. "How will a film help us get more water?" At the screening in Jogeshwari, people watched warily from the sidelines. The team had to nudge people into sitting on the mats facing the screen. Starting with a few women, slowly the trickle started. And by the end of the screening, the courtyard was full and there was no space on the mats.

The girls went around asking women for their reactions. Most women said the film made them feel like they had a voice. The team tried to convince the local youth group to fight for better water supply. After it is all over, they proudly proclaim, "There were precisely 189 people."

They have crossed their first milestone. For once, they were not carting buckets through the bylanes but were bringing screens and speakers.

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