Categories
All Health & Wellness Inspiring NGO Organization Rural India Social

It’s fascinating what it takes to save lives of the poorest!

Over 150 of 1,000 infants and over 300 of 1,000 under five children were dying in the remote tribal villages of Kalahandi district in Orissa (India) when Dr. Aquinas started Swasthya Swaraj in 2013. To put the above numbers in context, the infant mortality rate is in single digit for most developed countries and the average for India is around 30 deaths per 1000 children. Four years of work by Swasthya Swaraj has brought down the rate to around 100 in the villages (where it serves). This is the story of how that happened – what does it take to save lives of the poorest?

Categories
Education Initiative Inspiring NGO Organization Social Woman-power

And you thought free schools for slum kids was enough!


Many slum children who manage to go to schools, don’t enjoy their school life. The environment outside school does not encourage them to do anything productive and most just waste away their time. Some pick up bad habits, other pick up fights. Kamya solves this problem. This is her story.

My Perch is a space that I run in the Barola slum in Noida. Children come over, generally after school hours and spend as much time as they feel like, just being themselves and doing whatever they feel like doing, without the fear of being judged”, Kamya had said.

I was on my way to the place, expecting to find a dilapidated space in the middle of a filthy slum surrounded by broken houses next to unpaved roads.

The location was none of that. ‘My Perch’ was essentially the basement of a typical NCR building, right on a main road. I would discover soon that the slum from where most kids came over to this space, was not far behind the main road.

 

Let me tell you what typically does not happen in most schools and definitely not in the types where most underprivileged children manage to go.

Nobody asks them “so what would you like to learn”? Few months ago, when the children were asked this question at ‘My Perch’ – some said they wanted to know how to cook healthy food. Just reading about the dangers of the kind of food that they ate outside was not enough for them. So, cooking materials were put together and soon, with the help of Youtube, the children started learning and cooking, teaching each other in the process, and even selling the ‘healthy’ cooked food for nominal prices to those who wished to eat it.

 

I was commissioned by India Fellow to make this 3MS on Kamya and other fellows, who are bringing in a change in society in their own ways. India Fellow is a 13 month long social leadership program where young Indians can apply, and if chosen, get to experience what working on ground for various non-profits and social enterprises across India is. Visit their website to know more about the fellowship and to apply.

Categories
All Disability Initiative Inspiring Sports

Meet the amazing blind footballers of India

 

 

 

 

[aesop_content color=”#ffffff” background=”#ffffff” component_width=”700px” columns=”1″ position=”left” imgrepeat=”no-repeat” disable_bgshading=”off” floaterposition=”left” floaterdirection=”up” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]Not only does India have a blind football team, it actually ranks better (global rank) than India’s regular football team*! 🙂 This is their story! And it’s amazing! Some time last year (2016), I stumbled upon the website of Indian Blind Football Federation (IBFF) and was amazed to discover that blind people played football and all that! This was such a cool discovery! I immediately sensed a story that could be told and wrote to Sunil right away. He was the Sporting Director at IBFF. He informed me that the first international blind football tournament in India, had just concluded and if only he had known me earlier, I could have shot that and made some film! 🙁 But well, what was done was done! To my delight, Sunil said he was in the process of organizing the next tournament. It would take place in the next few months and I could probably shoot that. And then, finally that tournament happened. Last month. I travelled to Kochi to be there on the last two days of the tournament and made this film.

[/aesop_content]

Because of my friendship with Divyanshu (he is blind too) when I made a film about his Himalayan cycling adventure last year, I have a relatively better understanding of how most blind folks expect the sighted world to act (compared to someone who has never properly spent time with a blind person). From whatever little I understand, most blind people never feel bad about their disability (to see) – it’s just a part of who they are. Most of their struggles are not because of their disability – it’s usually because the world in which they live is simply poorly designed to take care of their needs.

Most blind people never feel bad about their disability (to see) – it’s just a part of who they are.

I carried this attitude and understanding during my interaction with all the players. And I hope that shows in the film. This film is not so much about blindness. It is more about a new kind of sport in which India really has a chance to do something big at international level.

Dehradun team members taking a break. They would play against Kerala in the final match in the evening.

I had kind of pre-decided that I would focus on two protagonists – one from each of the two teams that reach the final, and make this film like a typical sports film where both sides want to win. And use that framework to bring out the story of how this sport is growing in India; who is behind it.

Dehradun team gearing up for the final match with Kerala.
Team Dehradun
Team Kerala
Tushar, a player from Mumbai (partially sighted), took this picture. You can see a blurry me (blue tshirt) behind the players. The final match is about to begin.

I know it’s not a three minute story. It’s an eight minute story. 🙂 But I hope after you have seen it, you do agree that there is nothing that need not be told. I already skipped the whole part where Pankaj, Anish and Falhan explained to me how they got into football. Everything that’s in the final film, I believe should be there.

I congratulate Dehradun on the win and hope that Sunil and IBFF are able to secure consistent funding / sponsorship for the next few years so that they can improve the quality of the game and hopefully get team India to make our country famous internationally. Share this story, if you like it. More the number of people who know and care about this sport, the better!

*Indian Blind Football world ranking is 25 (source) while the regular football ranking is around 100.

Categories
Inspiring Personal life Sports Woman-power

Watch this Indian woman shake up the masculine world of motorsports!

This is the story of Anitha Kholay, the first woman from India to participate and win in any international car rally. Some time in Nov last year (2016), my friend Prachi, a journalist, shared Anitha’s story with me over email. Prachi knew I was looking for sports related stories and thought this might be of interest to me. And that’s how things got started. I wrote to Anitha. We then spoke and then one fine day in December I was shooting her. All of it was shot in a day in Bangalore.

Those who know little about the sports of car-rallying (like I did before I met Anitha and her husband Rupesh), you can read about APRC (Asia Pacific Rally Championship) here. To win the championship, you have to secure maximum wins in all the rounds. Each round is typically held in a different location (spanning different countries). The one in which Anitha participated was one such round, held in Johor in Malaysia. Other rounds were held in New Zealand, China, Japan and India. And that’s what Anitha is aiming to get her hand at (in one of the coming years) – to drive in all the rounds, and with a more powerful car than what she could have access to in her first international rally.

I hope the gender balance in not just motorsports, but in many other male dominated sports as well, improves. Anitha’s story is definitely a step in that direction. I wish her success in her plans for bigger wins.

PS: you can also watch my Vlog below, where I travel to Bangalore for shooting this story (and another one).

Categories
All Disability Initiative Inspiring NGO Organization Travel

Stunning aerial shots from Ladakh and a super powerful cycling story

You need a certain level of fitness to cycle from Manali to Khardungla, a distance exceeding 500 Kms over one of the highest altitude roads in the world, but every year, hundreds of cyclists do it anyway. When Divyanhsu wanted to try this though, everyone told him it was impossible. This story tells you why.

It also shows what cycling in the Himalayas is all about and why it’s worth it, especially for someone like Divyanshu.

SPOILER ALERT: Read on further only AFTER you have seen the 3MinuteStory.

[highlight]If you want to use the video in you site(s), please do follow the Video Credit Policy.[/highlight]

.

Your phone sounds like a Mickey Mouse.

I told Divyanshu within the first 15 minutes of meeting him in person in Manali. Below is a short audio clip of how his phone sounds like.

‘This Mickey Mouse keeps me independent’, he smiled and explained. It made sense for him to listen to the audio narration of his iphone at as high a speed as possible, to be most efficient in using it (yes, that’s how he uses his phone, some app narrates everything that’s on screen).

Divyanshu at Tso Kar, Ladakh, 2016. Photograph by Amrit Vatsa.
Divyanshu at Tso Kar, Ladakh, 2016. Photograph by Amrit Vatsa.

 

Divyanshu lost his eyesight from Glaucoma when he was nineteen (he is in his forties now). After going through a short low period, he jumped back to life and took things in his stride. He wanted to learn computers. No one would teach him computers. So he learnt it on his own, thanks to internet. He worked in the IT sector for six years and then shifted to clinical psychology and cognitive neuroscience (in the year 2000). At present, he runs a company called Yellow Brick Road that offers corporate training in behavioral facilitation. He also runs a not for profit called Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation (ABBF).

Those eight days in the hills and how I went about shooting it all

I traveled with the team throughout the journey. ABBF was kind enough to take care of my return flight from Goa (where I live). They also took care of the entire stretch of travel and accommodation. Other than Divyanshu and Gagan, the team included Herman – Divyanshu’s friend from Mumbai, Tanya – who works for ABBF and the youngest of all – Rahul – our local guide (from Manali) who drove the support vehicle (his 4-Wheel Scorpio Getaway) like a boss.

img-20160909-wa0002
The team. Herman, Tanya, Gagan, myself, Divyanshu and Rahul.

 

Those of us not cycling, travelled mostly in the support vehicle. At times, I would ask Rahul to cross the cyclists and stop the vehicle some distance ahead where I would then wait for them to approach the frame as I filmed (mostly handheld) . At other times, I would stand on the Scorpios’ rear luggage holder while Rahul kept driving his SUV, at slow speeds, just ahead of the cyclists, and I would film tracking shots. On several days, I also ran on the road (though only for few minutes at a time), that being the only way to get close-up moving shots as they cycled. The quadcopter (my 3rd one; purchased just a day before the trip started) was flown for the aerial shots obviously, whenever the landscape called for it (and the batteries had juice in them). I was clear I did not want to overdo the aerial bit and definitely wanted to avoid the cliched time-lapse and hyper-lapse and super slow-motion shots. Vimeo and internet is full of them already and lately they have become the biggest excuse for not telling what matters most – a good genuine story (IMHO). Enough ‘music videos’ already!

I did not want the video to be about my cinematographic abilities and over-exploit the beauty of the landscape. I wanted the video to tell the story of Divyanshu’s journey. And why it’s important.

.

I wait for the cyclists to arrive. Photography by Tanya or Herman.
I wait for the cyclists to arrive. Photograph by Tanya or Herman.

When I finally put together the first cut, I had a one hour movie (yet to work on the longer version). There is so much that this short story doesn’t show. In the opening shot of this 3MinuteStory, you see Rahul trying to fix the loosened crank (which by the way never got properly fixed till the end; these guys managed to cycle nevertheless). Dealing with a loose crank was only one of the struggles. One day, the chain broke. The same day they realized that the backup cycle was impossible to ride because the shafts were way out of sync. On another day, Divyanshu felt feverish (but thankfully recovered soon). On yet another day, Gagan suffered from a mild high altitude sickness and the team had to help him with Oxygen. There were times when I felt dizzy too. But nothing devastating enough to stop the ride, ever happened. We all held up fine one way or other and at the end of eight days, the expedition was successfully over.

The bottom-line

From that first Micky Mouse conversation to the many more that I had with Divyanshu (some on record, many off the record), I bonded really well with him. During the course of the expedition, it was obvious to me that this story was not about ‘blindness’ at all. That is not to say that any of us ever forgot that Divyanshu was blind. We did not. But that’s similar to how the rest of them never forgot that I had beard and held camera in my hands for most part. Or that we all never forgot that Tanya was a woman. And so on. We all were different people and that was that. There was nothing more to it. And that’s pretty much the bottom-line. When able bodied people like me hang out and do things together with folks with a disability like Divyanshu, we are able to move over the stereotypical notions that we have and this makes life so much better because we become more accepting. We see each other as different individuals (with different abilities and disabilities) but that never becomes the basis to draw conclusions about what one can and cannot do.

14311482_604438383070237_1551417914712355751_o
Divyanshu and I contemplate about life and other such things. Sarchu, Ladakh, 2016. Photograph by Tanya.

Now that Divyanshu has shown that tandem cycling on the Himalayas is pretty much doable for a blind person, his not for profit Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation (ABBF) plans to organize expeditions for more cyclists every year. ABBF already organizes marathons for blind (a sighted runner holds hands of a visually impaired person and they run together). And I am sure, Divyanshu and team will keep coming up with more ways to bring together the two communities. The world needs this.

If you want to use the video in you site(s), please do follow the Video Credit Policy.

Categories
All Art Inspiring Personal life

The story of what happens when you quit your job to become a stand up comic [VIDEO]

This is the story of Jeeveshu Ahluwalia, now a successful stand-up comic in India whose popularity is only rising by the day. It is mostly based on my meeting with the “funny man” one evening in Mumbai last year. I showed up few hours before his show at the Canvas Laugh Club and he spoke about his life. How did I end up meeting him? I had been following him on Facebook for some time when I was moved by one of his posts that went something like – “a food delivery guy just asked for an autograph – so happy to follow my passion”. I gave him a buzz and told him I made these 3 minute stories and he replied back saying he liked my work and would be happy to help me do a story on him. And that’s how I met him.

Becoming a stand up comic is a new fad in India. But what is it really like, when you quit your job to try becoming one? Watch this short documentary and let me know what you think about it!

PS: I would like to thank Ankit Vatsa, Anshuman Agarwal, Manu Gupta, Nimit Jain and Jeeveshu, for their valuable feedback on the earlier versions of the video. I would also like to thank Canvas Laugh Club to let me shoot and stuff.

 

 

Categories
All Initiative Inspiring NGO Organization Social Woman-power

This girl reads out a poem for her rapist, and it’s beautiful.

Climb Against Sexual Abuse from Amrit Vatsa on Vimeo.

This is the first 3MS (technically, a little over six minutes 🙂 ) where I didn’t shoot anything. Climb Against Sexual Abuse (CLIMB), a global non profit, organizes climbing expeditions for survivors of sexual abuse, across the globe. They provided me with the footage from one such climb in South Africa (courtesy eNCA.com). At the end of this expedition, one of the survivors recited a beautiful poem that she had written. Listening to it will make you feel powerful.

vlcsnap-2016-03-13-14h43m05s15

Above: a snapshot from the video where a rape survivors reciters her poem.

 

This video story is obviously beyond her poem. It’s more about the need for more and more survivors to come out in open and speak up about what happened to them, without any shame or taboo. Yes, it’s not easy to speak up but it’s a viscous cycle – if the survivors don’t speak up every time they go through this, it will help sustain the existing rape / sexual violence culture and that will keep making it more difficult for the next batch of abuse victims. This is why, the cycle has to be broken. And that’s what CLIMB does.

If the survivors don’t speak up every time they go through this, it will help sustain the existing rape / sexual violence culture.

The idea to organize climbing expeditions is to give back to the abuse survivors, a sense of ownership of their own bodies, which can help them open up. When they are not organizing climbs, the members of this non-profit (spread across the globe – mostly young folks who also have their day jobs) help find survivors and then encourage them to share their stories (via blogposts, videos, workshops, talk sessions etc).

vlcsnap-2016-03-13-15h30m19s174

If you are a sexual abuse survivor, please share your story with CLIMB – info@climbagainstsexualabuse.com . If you were lucky enough to never suffer abuse yourself, do remember that statistically one in every 3 women suffers sexual abuse once in her lifetime (men too; don’t have the statistics with me right now) – so may be if you share this story, some of your friends might get inspired to do the right thing – share their story (in spite of the societal conditions where victim-blaming, gender policing, false notion of manliness and several other factors make it so difficult for them to do so). And you might be so surprised, how many people around you have stories to share!

You could also go to the CLIMB site and donate for the next expedition that they are planning (Mt. Kilimanjaro).

If you run a site and want to embed this video there, give me a buzz (amrit.vatsa@gmail.com and I will share the embed link – without which the video might not appear on your site because of its privacy settings; I will also let you know how to offer credits).

Video footage acknowledgements: CNN and eNCA.

I should also thank Poonam, the co-founder of CLIMB, who patiently answered my questions (which I sent to her over email) and her husband who recorded it so that I could use some of the footage, to create this story. CLIMB needs all the support they can – go for it!

Categories
All Education Innovation Inspiring

What this IITian has been doing for 30+ years, MUST be shared!

In three minutes, you will be fascinated with how one person who could have easily taken up a good job after graduating from IIT in 1975, decided to do something extremely innovating for the education of poor kids. For him, education is not about ‘covering’ syllabus but to ‘uncover’ the mysteries of this world. After watching this story, most of you would agree that his approach towards education doesn’t just apply to poor kids, but to almost every school child in this world, where education has essentially been reduced to the art of mugging and scoring in exams.

I met Arvind Gupta via Soumeet. Soumeet had launched the makersofthings campaign last year. He asked me if I wanted to make 3 minute documentaries on some of the real life story leads that he had received. His video on how India innovates had gone viral and he was flooded with stories of innovation.

For various reasons I could not get myself to collaborate with him on a full fledged scale, but I agreed to shoot one movie. I was in Uttarakhand, working on Mamta’s story when Soumeet and I spoke about a story around Arvind Gupta. Some time later, last year itself, I traveled to Pune and wrapped up the interview and shooting. But unfortunately, I was able to finish making the movie only after about eight months (i.e. now)! Hope you like it and hope you genuinely feel a story like this needs to be shared with every school, not only in India but across the world.

After seeing this 3MS (3 min story), some of you might want to check out Arvind Gupta’s website or his Youtube Channel or even his Ted talk (which became very popular and from which, I have used a small portion in my 3MS).

If you liked this story, you can view all my short-documentaries under the ‘Education’ theme.

Categories
All Inspiring Personal life Relationships Woman-power

This 5 min video is for every ‘over-protective’ parent to watch!

This story is about a mother who was forced to make a choice. Sometimes, choices are made from the heart. Sometimes, for the heart. And sometimes, in both ways. HeartShaped tells you how.

Katie saw one of my short documentaries online (last year) and shared her story with me over mail. Which was not really a story but a slice of an important part of her life. A delicate part of her life. I decided to meet her soon.

When I first met her in a cafe in Delhi and we had our little chat, I did not know what kind of a short documentary I could make for her. Though what she had shared with me was delicate, it did not fall under the standard template of what constitutes a story. But I could sense something. Something worth making. Something worth sharing with the rest of the world. I returned to Goa and gave it some more thought and when I visited Delhi next, I kind of knew what I wanted to show. HeartShaped is the result. All of it was shot over two visits to Delhi last year early winter (2014).

Acknowledgements:

  • Katie for sharing the story and inviting me to make the documentary
  • Habibi Restaurant, Saket, New Delhi – for letting me shoot Katie perform (the opening shot in the film)
  • Delhi Rock Studio – for providing space to shoot a dance sequence (the last one in the film)
  • Vishnupriya – for helping me finalize the name HeartShaped (after we discussed and rejected about a million other names that I could have given to this short-documentary)
  • All my friends on Facebook who agreed to have a look at the first cut of the movie and provided valuable feedback (some of which I took care of)

For those who would like to read more about Tetralogy of Fallot, can do so.

Categories
All Initiative Inspiring NGO Social Woman-power

Story of selfless bravery! Inspiring!

This is a story from the mountains of Uttarakhand. Uttarakhand witnessed grave tragedy in 2013 when continuous cloud-bursts lead to heavy floods, killing many and washing away several houses. And from the tragedy, emerged two stories that I have tried to document. Both the stories intersect at one point and though there are a lot of underlying themes, one of the bigger themes that emerges is: ‘Good Deeds Come Back.’ Obviously, you should not just be good and / or do good because one day, your good karma will come back to you! Karma can take its own sweet time sometimes, as we all know. But then once in a while you do get rewarded for your good act in the same lifetime, (even when you did the things that you did just because you wanted to and not in the hope of any reward some day). And this is pretty much what this short-documentary (about 10 minutes) is about!

I came to know about this story from Anusha, a journalist and a mountaineer, who also started this thing called Summiting4Hope with her mountaineer friend Guneet. Summiting4Hope executes expeditions (presently in Uttarakhand), thus creating small employment for local villagers in the mountains and then uses any extra money generated to fund local projects in the village.

I had met Anusha in Jabalpur last year. I was in Jabalpur to shoot a short documentary about tree plantation, for Vodafone. She was there to write about the same. And soon, I visited Uttarkashi and a village nearby to shoot this (October 2014). Yes, it took me a while to finish making this, but better late than never! 🙂

Those who like the story and would like to contact these awesome women, can email them at subanusha@gmail.com or guneet223@gmail.com

Credits for Archival video:
1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xv-7KrBWdoM
2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QW6Ebl5z4w