She captured the imagination of two budding film-makers who immortalised her on celluloid. The octogenarian who trundles loads across the city in a handcart for a living has become an inspiring tale for many. Babai, a documentary on 81-year-old Babai Labade, shows her in her daily ritual of transporting loads weighing anything from 500 to 800 kg from one part of the city to another. It has moved the audience.
The story of Labade carried in Pune Newsline struck a chord with readers. Two organisations pitched in to help her. They have raised around Rs 37,000 for Labade through two screenings of the short film.
“I am thankful to film-makers who took efforts to make a film on a poor porter like me. It feels good people are so appreciative of my work. In fact, I have become famous in my neighbourhood,” says Labade, who earns between Rs 100 and 250 a day and stays in Ganesh Peth with her son and daughter-in-law. The Rotary Club of Poona Downtown screened the film on January 15, 2015 and raised Rs 17,000.
The other group, a women’s organisation (name withheld on request), reached out to Labade with around Rs 20,000 through a screening in October, 2014. “After we read the article, we contacted the newspaper for numbers of the film-makers, who agreed to screen the film for us. The lady (Labade) portrayed in the documentary, was also invited. The audience was touched by her story, which is so motivating too, and people were more than happy to contribute,” said Kirti Mehta, former president of Rotary Club of Poona Downtown and programme committee chairman for the current year.
In July 2014, Babai won the Best Short Documentary Award at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala. In May the same year, at the National Film Archives of India (NFAI) Samyak Short Film and Documentary Festival it won the Best Documentary Award.
“We regard it a social corporate responsibility of Saarad Production. It’s our duty to pick inspiring, motivating or pleasant stories and craft them for a sensitive audience. With our first independent film, Babai, we are set to use film as a tool for a socio-cultural revolution,” said Amit Sonawane who made the film along with Kavita Datir.
Sonawane and Datir began working on the documentary over two years ago. Besides Labade’s age, the fact she was working in a male-dominated field impressed the film-makers. Babai has to often curse and swear even as she negotiates her way through a male-dominated work space and life’s travails. In a shot in the documentary she states, “I was 21 when my husband died and left me with five children. I tried committing suicide thrice but failed. I guess God wanted me to live.”
As she began to put pieces of her life together again, she lost her young son to an accident, and another son ran away never to return. Labade’s spirit didn’t die. “Two things were clear in my mind since the beginning – don’t become a sex worker and don’t become a thief. Abuse and fight, but make space for yourself,” says Labade in Babai.