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Keeping It Real

Filmmaker Paromita Vohra straddles the worlds of documentaries and reality TV with aplomb

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Published: June 14, 2013 12:00 am

Paromita Vohra doesn’t have the attributes one would generally associate with a documentary filmmaker. The larger themes of her films may paint the picture of a feminist filmmaker-intellectual,but Vohra comes across as remarkably light-hearted,one whose horizons are as much accommodating to the products of popular culture as for the deeper aspects of her craft. Vohra doesn’t watch too many films,but she names some mainstream Bollywood films such as Vicky Donor and ABCD as the ones she liked. She doesn’t think too highly of the latter in terms of filmmaking,but is able to appreciate its honesty: the most essential aspect of Vohra’s storytelling. “When was the last time you saw the poor people,the imperfect bodies as the main characters in Hindi films?” she says,sitting inside an edit room in a studio in Mumbai. This is the workspace for the production of Zee TV’s Connected Hum Tum,where the documentary director has nonchalantly slipped into the role of a director of a reality show.

Her all-inclusive attitudes towards filmmaking have enabled her to change formats that are so vastly different from one another but Vohra likes the perfect middle-ground of the popular and the esoteric. “Art is not just about vanity of the artist. I want to be in the mainstream and I want to experiment and push the boundaries within it,” she says.

Currently,she is in the middle of a maddeningly tight schedule of edits over sleepless nights. The format of the show is such that a large part of Vohra’s direction comes into play in its editing,long after it has been shot. She is greeted with lots of raw,footage videos that Vohra has absolutely no control over and what the contestants have recorded an hour of every day over the period of six months before the start of the show. The idea is to get the show’s six protagonists — women combating their strongest conflicts and dilemmas — record an everyday video diary. The show would capture an hour of their lives every day,seeing them reach a somewhat conclusive solution by the end of it.

The docu-drama element of Connected Hum Tum excites Vohra,who likes to fill her films with interviews. “Indians are very flamboyant,exciting and complex in front of the camera. Here,there is plenty if such urban beauty: cramped flats,rainy Mumbai,and the imperfections of real people which we retain to make it seem real,” she says.

At a thematic level,Vohra is perhaps more driven by her sensitivity towards gender stereotyping as seen in Where is Sandra,her short film for the Celebrate Bandra Festival,that deconstructs the stereotyped image of Sandra,the local proverbial catholic woman from Bandra,Mumbai,or Unlimited Girls that explore the idea of feminism in modern India.

In Connected Hum Tum,the women participants connect with each other cutting across demographics. Vohra’s non-elitist approach,however,doesn’t let the seriousness of the issues take the front seat. She is interested in engaging the audience in a rather playful tone,giving them enough to enjoy. “There should be basic pleasure in making and watching films; not boring films that I would make for European film festivals,” says the 44-year old.

Vohra’s affinity towards popular culture is further affirmed in her love for Hindi film music,a lot of which is used in Connected Hum Tum. The show uses them in a way we see them used in films,says Vohra,whose mother is leading member of a Delhi-based organisation Sangeet Smriti that works on the preservation of old Hindi film music. She plans to make her next documentary film around Hindi film music. 

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