Instead of buying an apartment that would help them save the money being diverted towards paying rent, Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl chose to buy cameras. For the couple, this is nothing out of the ordinary.
In fact, a few days after getting married, the two, working as journalists then, travelled to troubled areas in the Northeast at a time when insurgency was most profound in the states. But when they returned to Delhi two years later in 1996, Nandan and Kavita had decided to quit journalism. “We wanted to become the voice of various voiceless people.
There are issues that the national media is not writing about, which we wanted to bring to people’s notice. So, we decided to make films, a transition we didn’t find very difficult,” they opine, having since made films on issues spanning socio-political, rural development and environmental aspects.
In Chandigarh on Sunday to showcase seven of their documentaries, including the award-winning Cotton for my Shroud and Hollow Cylinder, at Sunday with a Filmmaker, an event organised by Chandigarh Creative Cinema Circle, Nandan and Kavita talked about their outstanding works.
Cotton for my Shroud is a 75-minute film on suicides by cotton farmers of Vidarbha, Maharashtra, which has won the Rajat Kamal Best Investigative Film at the 59th National Film Awards in 2011. Recalls Nandan, ‘The year 1996 was the worst for the farmers with the suicide rate accelerating. While The Hindu covered the suicides extensively, other newspapers ignored the issue. So, we decided to search for the reasons for the suicides and make a film on it.”
Aware that funds wouldn’t pour from any corner, the two invested R25 lakh from their own pockets and started shooting in 2006, braving the emotional turmoil of canning shots of funerals and wailing relatives of the dead. When the film came out in 2011, Nandan and Kavita were aghast to find the situation hadn’t changed.
Not certain if Cotton for my Shroud could bring about change, the filmmaker couple is satisfied their project could generate mass awareness. Where profits are concerned, the two aren’t expecting any, saying, “What we do is similar to the theory of Guru Nanak’s ‘sacha sauda’— giving to the society as much as possible. We are happy that a lot of youngsters come to us after having watched the film and want to know how they can help these farmers.
We also plan to bring out various versions of the documentary in different languages, for which are seeking funds through word of mouth propagation, screening at film festivals and conducting workshops.”
Nandan and Kavita reveal that their main source of funds is the money generated after doing projects for the UN (United Nations), Doordarshan and the Ministry of Environment and Forests etc. “We are artistes and artistes don’t know how to do business. We believe that we have one life to live, so we should do what we want to do. Ours has been an amazing journey of spiritual growth. Most of us live for ourselves, but when you start living for others, it gives you moral courage to say what is right and what is wrong,” they declare.
Next, Nandan and Kavita are focussing on the agrarian crisis afflicting Punjab. “We have already shot at Anandpur Sahib during Holla Mohalla, and would shoot the rest in the Majha region. For this project, we have already applied to PSBT (Public Service Broadcasting Trust) for funds, but don’t really know if they will help us,” they say.