Indus Action commissioned me to make a story on this amazing 40 lakh grant that they have to offer to anyone with relevant experience who can commit to work for 3 years for getting underprivileged children to schools. I asked them if there was someone who had already received the grant? They said yes. I suggested we tell that person’s story. They agreed. This is that story. This is Saleem’s story. What exactly did Saleem do with 40 lakh rupees? How do you get underprivileged children to schools? Watch it spread the good word about the grant! Thanks!
CashRelief.org, a non-profit, hired me recently to help them bring out the story of why they started this crazy program to offer close to 1 lakh rupees to all families in a village, unconditionally. I have tried to show what the typical perception of most urban Indians is, when it comes to using cash to help poor and why the co-founders of CashRelief don’t necessarily agree with the predominant narrative. This video-story would help them in raising funds for expanding this pilot in different parts of India. I also created a behind the scenes video from the few days that I spent in the village in Rajasthan, where the pilot has been rolled out!
This was a pretty stimulating experience for me. When I first heard of the program, I was both excited (because something like this was never done in India before) and skeptical – how will something like this ever work? In fact, it was my idea that I should meet some of the funders of this program to ask them why they agreed to be a part of this? And that day of meetings with many of them, did make it easy for me to understand their thought process and why this experiment deserves a fair chance! That’s pretty much what this story is about. What do you think?
Rajasthan, India. 2018. It was a struggle to get this picture right. I am glad I got it right. Ambalal and family are trying to finish their house. There is a flash hidden on the left side (of the photograph) and there is natural light coming from the right. Let me explain why it was challenging to make this photograph. It was a hot day today. This is a small village in Rajasthan. It was so hot that my flash (Godox AD360ii) started acting absurdly and would fire only once in a while. Now I pretty much knew I wanted a picture of the family right here, but without flash this picture wouldn’t look as good as it looks right now. When the flash would fire, the expressions wouldn’t come great and when the expressions were great, the flash wouldn’t fire. But I kept at it, and kept the family smiling to the extent that I could (kids lost interest in my jokes pretty soon). Finally, I got this. And I showed it to them the moment I got it, because I knew I had gotten my shot. Why was I so keen on having the family smile? Because I know they are genuinely happy for the fact that they very recently received a gift of INR 96,000/- from CashRelief.org – a first of its kind initiative in India that selects a poor Indian village and grants this much money to each family in the village with no strings attached / no conditions imposed. The money has been pooled together from various rich donors. This village is the first pilot and I am documenting the story as a film-maker. The whole photography thing, is just a side thing. I do have something interesting in mind, for some of these pictures though! 🙂 Ambalal and his family put most of the money they were gifted to finish this house that had been under construction for over two years now. It is very difficult for the poor to save / raise enough money to build a ‘pakka’ house. From what I have observed in this village of 34 people so far is, those who have started building a house, are using the money to finish it. Those who have a house, but no animals, buy cattle. Those who have cattle, buy other stuff from a motorcycle (to ease their commute) to a fridge in a small shop.
This is Hiralal, and his wife. They are blushing because I asked them to imagine themselves as newlywed. 34 families live in the village where Hiralal lives. Most of them own farming land but are able to produce only enough to consume themselves. There is little money to be made / saved. When there is no farming work to do, all the villagers go for daily wage which fetches them between 200 to 300 rupees per day. On an average, the monetary wealth they can create in a year is about 50,000 rupees. But how does it matter? Every villager wants to have a safer, better house that doesn’t collapse in rain. And a house like that costs anywhere between 1 to 2 lakh if not higher. So it takes villagers like Hiralal five to six years to build a decent house, that could have been built in six months. The house you see behind them is that house, btw. Eventually everyone takes loan from somewhere or other, mostly at absurdly high interest rates (upto 10% per month) and live a poor life, all their lives. As part of new program initiated by a private entity (cashrelief dot org), close to 1 lakh rupees was given to Hiralal and each family in the village – all the 34 of them – to see what they do with that money if there are no strings attached and no conditions imposed. Hiralal already had a decent house, so he bought a buffalo. He still has 70k left. He says, the first priority now is to make a shed for the animal. And then the two of them will figure out what next to do with the money. He really wants to figure out how to double the amount that he has received. Many others used significant portion of the money to pay off their extremely costly debts. Others put that in finishing their house (thus freeing up productive man-years for the family). It’s been less than a month that this money was transferred to the families. #documentary #story #stories #rajasthan #ruralindia #photojournalism #documentaryphotography #3ms #3minutestories #couple #strobe #ruralcouple #bharat #cashforrelief #ruralstories
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is the story of how a non-profit is transforming government schools in India to as good as private schools. I was commissioned to do this story last month. It is heartening to see an organization working towards improvement of government schools because if what they are doing can be scaled up, it will have a huge impact on the quality of learning that the majority of children in India have access to. I wish them all the best.
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.
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).
If you are a sexual abuse survivor, please share your story with CLIMB – firstname.lastname@example.org . 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!
If you run a site and want to embed this video there, give me a buzz (email@example.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).
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!
I hope this 3 min story encourages parents, teachers and all of us grown-ups to realize that there are a lot of things that we need to learn about child sexual abuse, if we truly want to create an environment for our children, where they can openly report and fight abuse. To learn more, you can go through the links that I have compiled here.
I have known Nikita for few years now. When I met her last year, I was glad to note the kind of work that she was doing. In November 2014, I decided to see her workshops on prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, for myself so that I could create a 3MS from it. The actual workshop with parents was for over an hour, and then there was a separate workshop with children; my video story only shows a glimpse of that. Nikita and School of Life continue to conduct such workshops in schools and other spaces. The world needs more such people, and School of Life, other such organizations (and individuals working in this area) need all the encouragement that they can.
- Nikita Gupta for the story lead;
- School of Life and its members (including Nikita) who conducted the workshop that I shot for this video;
- My best friend Anshuman – for assistance during the shoot (and for always being my host every time I visit Delhi);
- Princy, my wife – for assistance in editing (it took over an year to finally get this edited; and if I hadn’t asked Princy for help, it could have taken longer; the actual editing time was only 3 days though);
- The Sixth Element School for allowing us to shoot the story in their premises;
- The parents and the teachers who participated in the workshop (and especially the couple who we interviewed separately);
- Ankit Vatsa, Nimit Jain, Nikita Gupta and Ashwini Joglekar for the feedback on the first cut and suggestions to improve the overall video-story.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
When you start watching this short documentary, you might not notice much beyond a bunch of girls trying to make something in a hobby class. But the impact of what they are doing, on their lives, will bring a broad smile to your face.
When Malaika wrote to me about some of the interesting and inspiring things students like herself were doing at Mahindra United World College (MUWC) of India, I had imagined a bunch of college students trying to change the world they lived in. It was only when I finally visited the campus last month in Paud, Pune, that I realized that these students (though indeed trying the change the world and all of that) were actually school students! MUWC is an equivalent of XI-XII standard school and the most interesting aspect that I noticed about it was that it had students from all over the world! Wow – I would have died to study in a school like after my tenth! I didn’t even know not for profit schools like these existed, when I was in school! 🙁
Anyway, so let me not write here what this latest short documentary of mine is about. You should see it for yourself. And if you like what these school kids are doing for the rural women folk (living near their campus), do show support in whichever way you can! You can share this documentary online or just drop a mail to them (firstname.lastname@example.org) acknowledging the their honest effort!