10 must-watch documentaries with impactful stories about India
Documentaries are a rich source of information and inspiration but now they can also serve the purpose of bringing to the fore certain highly-sensitive topics, and in engaging society. The conventional, old and boring narrative is gone. The idea is to make documentaries informative as well as entertaining by using personal narratives, which, in a way, engages the audiences. This is happening with filmmakers using documentaries as tools for social change by being direct and challenging the status quo in society and questioning government policies, among other issues.
Want to be inspired by real life stories from India? Of the many must-sees, these are, in alphabetical order, our current top ten recommendations:
1. Born into brothels: this Oscar-winning documentary shows the inspiring non-profit foundation Kids With Cameras, which teaches photography skills to children in marginalized communities. In 1998, New York-based photographer Zana Briski started photographing prostitutes in the red-light district of Calcutta. She eventually developed a relationship with their children, who were fascinated by her equipment. After several years of learning in workshops with Briski, the kids created their own photographs with point-and-shoot 35 mm cameras. Their images capture the intimacy and color of everyday life in the overpopulated sections of Calcutta.
2. Children Of The Pyre: this documentary follows the life of seven children who are working under extreme conditions to make their living out of the dead at India’s busiest cremation ground: Manikarnika, Varanasi. They collect, snatch or steal used shrouds and sell them for petty amounts to make their ends meet. Gaining strength from the adversaries, learning from the stark realities, the innocent kids weave through the pyres and struggle through disdain in this land of the dead. The film explores the lives of these children who are exploited beyond the limits of one’s conscience, as it gives a sneak-peek into the human reality of the ghats of Varanasi. Directed by Rajesh S. Jala.
3. Gulabi Gang: the Gulabi gang was founded by Sampat Pal Devi, a mother of five and former government health worker as a response to widespread domestic abuse and other violence against women. Gulabis visit abusive husbands and beat them up with bamboo sticks unless they stop abusing their wives. This film explores the daily lives of the fiery women of the Gulabi Gang and traces the journey of Sampat Pal in a movement that grew from an individual crusade to snowball into a veritable one comprising of large number of women. The film shows how the society has become a patriarchal one, wherein even female psyche is embedded with the thoughts of patriarchy as it refuses to speak the language of feminism. Directed by Nishitha Jain.
4. I Can Love Too: ‘I can Love Too’ sheds light on marriage and persons with disability, something most people often doubt. It deals with the issues and concerns of specially-abled persons, their need and desire for love and finding a partner, portraying the manner in which they are deprived of basic human courtesy, equal job opportunities, and also when it comes to matter of finding a life partner. The film runs through the lives of different individuals from a different category of disability who represent the fact that the challenged community, mostly neglected, has all right and existence in this society. Directed by Mrinmoy Bhowmick.
5. Jareena, Portrait Of A Hijda: this film explores the life of a transsexual and her community in the city of Bangalore. It provides an insight into the life of the Hijdas, a society of eunuchs numbering in the tens of thousands who have thrived in India for centuries as male prostitutes. This film provides evidence to the fact that, Hijdas like Jareena, face an identity crisis and how they’re lost in this superficial world. The documentary tells the story of Jareena who was forced to assume the role of a man when she visits her family, explains this duality and how the Hijdashelp her come over her identity crisis, and give her an entity. Directed by Prem Kalliat.
6. Mango Girls: the producer Robert Carr discovered gruesome stories of India women being harassed, tortured, held for ransom and killed – usually by their husband’s family – often because of the illegal tradition of dowries, the money or gifts given to the groom and his family at the time of marriage. So when a filmmaking friend of Carr’s, Kunal Sharma, found a village that hasn’t had a dowry death in more than 200 years, they were inspired to make the documentary “Mango Girls,” which confronts the dowry problem and offers an alternative solution . Mango Girls features a small village in Bihar called Dharhara, where the villagers have found a middle way to deal with the dowry death problem, thanks to the unique tradition of planting at least 10 mango trees when a baby girl is born. This practice is setting an example by saving the lives of its daughters, as well as creating a sustainable economy and a benefit for the ecosystem. Directed by Kunal Sharma.
7. Powerless: Katiyabaaz (powerless) talks about the problems of power cuts and electricity shortages in the city of Kanpur. The story unfolds as the film depicts the happenings during a summer when power crisis plagues the city and it gets wired into a conflict. In a city with 15 hour power cuts, hundreds of people risk their lives to steal electricity. With the first female chief of the electricity company vowing to eliminate all illegal connections, the lines are drawn for a battle over electricity. For most people, flicking on a light switch is a mindless daily routine, but the makers of the film say that the characters featured in the film find it more like a class warfare and one that risks boiling over into a nationwide conflict. Powerless won the Sundance Documentary Film Program Fellowship 2013, the 63rd Berlinale Forum and the Tribeca International Film Festival, among other prizes. Directed by Fahad Mustafa and Deepti Kakkar.
8. The Revolutionary Optimists: it daws us into the world of two 11-year olds with no access to clean drinking water, a girl forced to labor inside a brick kiln, and a teenage dancer on the precipice of choosing child marriage to escape from her abusive family. From these fragile lives, lawyer turned change-agent Amlan Ganguly mines the strength and vision to build a most unlikely revolution. The film follows Ganguly and 4 children from Kolkata’s poorest slums on an intimate journey through their adolescence. Together they fight seemingly insurmountable odds to build a better future for themselves and their community, challenging the notion that marginalization is written into their destiny. Awarded with the Hilton Worldwide LightStay Sustainability Award at the Sundance Film Festival 2013. Directed by Nicole Newham and Maren Grainger-Monsen.
9. Seeds Of Plenty, Seeds Of Sorrow: this documentary, talks about the highly touted Green Revolution in India. The much hyped Green Revolution is credited with ensuring that countries like India do not suffer from the scourge of hunger and famine anymore. Through this film, the director asks thought provoking questions that are in dire need of strategic answers. Who has been the principal beneficiary of the biotech package? The poor peasant? The big farmer? The multinational corporation? And what damage has the Green Revolution done to the social structure and ecologies of Third World countries? The film attempts to show the off-side or the darker side of a supposed development strategy that was deemed to be successful. It reveals a darker, more problematic side to the Green Revolution. In India it has helped create a new serf class and the dramatic crop yields of the early years have fallen away in the wake of pesticide poisoning and short-lived miracle wheat strains. Directed by Manjira Datta.
10. The Holy Wives: the film explores the lives of three different communities who have been victimized in the name of caste based sexual exploitation in India through stories of their life, struggle and dreams of a dignified life for their children. A few decades ago, women from certain castes were made wives of God in some parts of India. Today, despite the ban on such systems, the practice prevails and these women are often forced into prostitution, sexual violence and mental torture. The film documents the life of a woman who is raped in the name of tradition even before she could understand the meaning of sex and the impoverished life that she leads till death. Directed by Ritesh Sharma.
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