Indo-Canadian documentary film-maker Nisha Pahuja recounts the travails she had to go through to release her documentary, The World Before Her, a story about girls participating in beauty pageants against those who are a part of the Durga Vahini Camps in India
By Priyanka Bhadani
Q. 1 Since India has yet to embrace documentaries, why did you decide to release The World Before Her here?
The film started off by being screened at the 11th Tribeca Film Festival in April, 2012 where it got critical acclaim. After that, it was released at various places in the United States. However, after the Delhi gang-rape in 2012 when I really wanted to bring the film to India, I struggled a lot. I thought that since the film speaks so much about violence against women and women’s rights in general, we needed to come here.
Q. 2 What were the difficulties that you faced as releasing a documentary in India is very difficult? It was extremely difficult to get a theatrical release in India. For example, the distributors wouldn’t touch the film as it deals with a very sensitive issue. Plus, I didn’t just want a theatrical release. I also wanted to create the right buzz so that it doesn’t die down unnoticed.
Q. 3 What did you do then, as it is difficult to spread the word especially for an independent film like yours?
A lot of groundwork was required. I wanted to take the film to even those who can’t have an access to films, so I worked with a lot of women’s rights activists and other groups. I also started a campaign on Kickstarter to raise funds for getting the movie released and taking it across regions.
Q. 4 Is it easy to raise funds? How does it
A lot of people think that crowd-funding is easy. That you put up your idea online on one of the platforms and it is done. The reality, however, is that it is a huge effort. You have to plan a structure before you put up the pitch video. Your video should be able to connect with people in order to get the support. We believed in our cause and people saw the sincerity and passion. We were able to raise close to $58,000.
Q. 5 Film-maker Anurag Kashyap came to your rescue by associating with the film as a presenter. Does a big name make it easier?
I may not be able to comment on every association but for me, Anurag was the best thing to happen to the film. He has just made the film much more public, much more discussed and has brought it in to the main stream. A lot has been written about the film even before, but after Anurag got involved, it just took a new life.
Q. 6 Shooting documentaries, especially those that touch on sensitive issues isn’t easy. What has been your experience?
That’s the beauty of documentaries. Most of the situations are unexpected. You understand that you can’t control life. While filming a documentary, you can’t have an agenda. Since my film touches sensitive issues, we had problems in getting access. People gave us access and then took it away in no time. The re-negotiations, what we could shoot, when we could shoot, how much we could shoot, was a real struggle.
Q. 7 When you show something sensitive about a group so closely associated to a political party, there’s always a fear of backlash. As a film-maker, how does it affect you?
You are always prepared for any kind of reaction. You know that it’s a politically sensitive time right now and things can get misinterpreted, misconstrued and a lot of things can happen. But I really have faith in what we have done. In this case, a lot of people from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) have watched the film and have given a good response, probably because it is not judging them. As a documentary film-maker, you have to present the people as they see themselves. There shouldn’t be editorialising and audiences should be allowed to make their own decisions.
Q. 8 Is it difficult to get people to speak on-camera, say somebody like Prachi (the twenty-year-old trainer from VHP)?
You ask people the right question and if they understand that your intention is not to trap them, it isn’t difficult at all.
Q. 9 This year two documentaries— The World Before Her and Nistha Jain’s Gulaabi Gang —have had a theatrical release. Do you see things becoming easier for docu-film-makers?
The market is slowly emerging for documentaries. There is a change in perception. It is emerging as a valid and entertaining form of storytelling. Whether it’s a feature film with a big superstar or a documentary, the essential question is whether it engages you. Now, we have even started calling them non-fiction feature. When more such films get theatrical release, the line seems to blur.
Q. 10. Which documentary film-maker do you admire from India?
Anand Patwardhan is one of my favourites. He is recognised the world over for his work. Also it gives me great pleasure to see young people coming up with great ideas. I am looking forward to Anand Gandhi-produced Proposition For A Revolution, directed by Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla. L