Monday, December 1, 2014

GEMspeak: The Making of 'The Story Behind Her Silence

by Sudha Umashanker

That we all need to speak out against Gender violence is a given. To do so as part of Prajnya’s 16 Day Campaign against Gender violence is both a cherished and gratifying opportunity. Specially so since a role was carved out for me in my avatar as storyteller by Swarna Rajagopalan, Managing Trustee, Prajnya  Initiatives  for Peace, Justice and Security.While I have always enjoyed telling  mythological stories and folk tales to children I have for some time now been trying to use stories to reinforce social messages, in driving campaigns  and while creating awareness about burning social issues. The reasons are not far to seek. The power of storytelling can never be underestimated and besides who doesn't love a well -told story?

To kick-start the exercise Swarna and I met over a quick bite on a day when it was pouring cats and dogs. Lesser mortals would have stayed put. Swarna having once been a Bombayite wasn't about to use the rain as an excuse. So I was game for it – my daughter who was visiting encouraged me to go ahead despite the fact that it was her birthday. I listened attentively to Swarna and made notes. Then shot her  an e-mail  with a few story possibilities. Her only caveat – let’s not go for stories  that are well known - let us look for the everyday ones, that happen around us. So I scoured the net, jogged my memory, talked to people and sent her a short list. 

Serendipitously, more gender violence stories landed on my lap - couple of which we had to drop in deference to the wishes of the families who didn't want to rake it up all over again. Finally we decided to go-ahead with one to start with, although all three that we zeroed in on were fine. 

For the next meeting we scheduled a Google chat as I was travelling. Connections played truant as usual. Pictures disappeared, audio failed intermittently  (are we really in the 21st century ???) and between Swarna ,Campaign Co- coordinator Swetha Shankar and myself managed to have somewhat of a conversation  on what to highlight, where to record etc  since this was going to be a “virtual” event. The next day I wrote my story  or should I say “her story” in one shot. I guess it was just waiting to be told. Two days went by without any feedback as Swarna and Swetha were busy with an academic program. I was down with a nasty cold. When Swetha and I subsequently spoke I was doped thanks to the cold medication and my brain rather foggy. Then Swarna mailed. Observations, suggestions, pointers, exchange of ideas .More mails followed. Working with Prajnya is stimulating because they listen and engage in a meaningful way. By Sunday, we were clear about what changes we all wanted.

Then began the process of internalising the story. I actually find it funny when I have to do this with my own lines. But I did it bit by bit – making changes along the way. It is one thing to write a story for reading aloud and quite writing a story that lends itself for oral telling. Recce was scheduled for Sunday by Jyothi and Ramesh - but on account of   a sudden crisis - it didn’t work as planned.

Finally we fixed the shoot for the 19th Nov 2014 the only day when all of us were in town. In my cleared up living room space Ramesh painstakingly set up all the video recording equipment with Swetha holding aloft cutters and strengthening her shoulder muscles. Swarna observed keenly sending us good vibes and telling us her gut- feel was this was going to go very well. Which it did. Sadly the footage had to be junked because the traffic noises were far too loud despite shutting all the windows. The scout for an alternate venue began. Calls were made frantically, status messages put out on social media, offers were considered – (however we felt  we should go in for a venue that would come to us for free -after all this was for a cause ).

Then Swetha came up with this brilliant idea of a vacant flat that she knew of. After the location was approved by Ramesh, the shoot began. This venue was sound proof but for the occasional dog barking or the bike revving up, which almost blended with the storyline. It took two and half hours of solid work. To tell a story before a live audience is a different ball game as opposed to telling by looking into a camera. Tripping over words was not acceptable so we reshot whenever that occurred. Not counting all that it was one straight recording by and large. In addition select portions at whatever range Ramesh and Jyothi (who joined us later wanted) were shot. 

Swetha was busy clicking her own pictures as she was also documenting the process. Finally we were done, a good five days before the launch of the campaign. Team work works!  Relieved and happy we called it a wrap  but not before we willingly posed for  the mandatory selfies!

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