The short film, Kaala, inspired by the attacks on Africans in Delhi (NCR), is a voice against racism. Africans were beaten in the broad daylight in a mall and at the metro station, women were punched on their faces, a 29-year-old French teacher was killed over an argument on hiring an auto rickshaw and many other incidences came to light. Reports of lynchings, murders and brutal physical abuse have been in the news for years now.
The first short film that deals with this issue in our nation narrates the story of a Nigerian native, Bryan, studying at Noida University. Director Tarun Jain and his team is currently raising post-production funds to finish the film and screen it at various forums so the very important issue raised by the film gets due attention.
In conversation with thestatesman.com, the filmmaker talked about the rising threat for different races in our nation and his experience while making a film on this burning subject.
Why did you pick up this subject for your short film Kaala?
Racism is not a new phenomenon and it’s very important that we admit the very existence of it. We are so overwhelmed on being the largest democracy, a secular state that we seldom address the core issues faced by minority communities who have been suppressed, oppressed and deprived of their rights. The reason we choose to work on this subject is to make people conscious of their decisions and how it’s time we listen to our conscience. We have not been conscious enough to evaluate in ourselves about the life we want to lead and what we should leave behind for our children, our society. Why the hatred for one community can never bring happiness into others lives. How we may reach a time where there will be no humanity left in us.
There were numerous cases of racist assaults in Delhi and NCR between 2016 & 2017 and it continued, but it stopped being reported. Africans who travel for work & education are denied houses, labelled as man-eaters, prostitutes, drug abusers, drug paddlers. They are looked down for their colour, body shamed, considered dirty, smelly, diseased. What’s shocking is the misinformation and how it continued to pass on from generation to another. How all the Africans are still Nigerian for us, how we think they all are into drugs and so on. During our research, we met someone from the embassy who told us about how he was pointed by an Indian lady who told her little daughter that if she does not behave properly that monster will eat her. He said that the child will never grow to think of Africans differently. The seeds of hatred have been planted.
Also, people holding high authority should probe into the matter and just like Uncle Ben said, ‘With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility’. I believe it’s time we start taking our responsibilities and act accordingly. There are celebrities who have refused to endorse fairness creams and measures as such can really make a difference if we start to chance for a change. Change of attitude, change of thoughts, change towards being more responsible. For Change is the only thing which is constant. If Sati was not banned by Lord William Bentinck, it would have been practised even today. Since, the social stigma was thought over and over again, today there is no existence of it. It saved so many women from sacrificing their lives.
Racism exists in our society. But the attitude towards Africans, apparently, is much more racist than towards people of other races. Why is that so and what does it tell us about Indian society?
It is merely stereotyping. Africans have been branded as drug dealers and prostitutes merely on the basis of how they look, they dress and they talk. Just like any other society, there is a presence of good and bad, but that does not entitle the whole community.
It tells us a lot about how we haven’t understood the meaning of freedom for which our past leaders have fought and sacrificed their lives. How we have decided to shelve ourselves amongst our own people and not look for a chance to know about the other community. Being racist will only deprive us from exchanging cultures, learning about each other, making new friends and off course making the other community feel unwelcoming. India itself is so divided. The North Indians are not fond of South Indians, the South Indians are not fond of North Indians, the North-Easterners are still Chinese, Chinky. It also tells us about our priorities/choices and how we deter ourselves from changing. Just like sex education, the education of accepting each other as the way they are. Despite colour, race and religion should also be taught and practised.
Was there any particular reason to pick non-actors for the film?
We did audition a few African actors, but none fitted the part. Also, there are not many African Actors of the different age group in India. So, it was quite a challenge to trace one. Earlier, we kind of finalised another African student, but lately it didn’t work out. So, we began auditioning for actors and Jude also came for it. He was quite different from what is today. He just didn’t appear to be the character we were looking for. But, once he committed himself to the film, he was a different person. His efforts to groom himself into becoming Bryan, the protagonist, were extremely impressive and quite encouraging for other actors too. Everyone was motivated to play their role with more intensity and sheer dedication. Jude took us all by surprise.
Do you not feel that a subject such as this could have benefited from the presence of at least one recognised film actor, not stars but someone known?
A known face would have certainly benefitted us, but for a film to be successful a good content and good performance is what I believe is needed. It’s more important to associate with someone who is willing to surrender himself/herself for the film. And I have been blessed to have worked with a team of actors and non-actors who were willing, exceptionally competitive and utterly focussed. This way we have achieved what we have strived for in over a year of hard work.
Also, the audience today is very well informed and they know what they want to watch.
Movies are being made on social issues but Bollywood in general chickens out whenever it comes to making films on subjects that hold a mirror to the society. Why is that so, and do you think there can be a change?
Works of Satyajit Ray, Bimal Roy, Ritwik Ghatak, Gulzar, Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta, Meghna Gulzar, Ketan Mehta, Abhishek Chaubey and many more have made films on social subjects which very well represented our society. Actors like Amir Khan, Akshay Kumar, Manoj Bajpai have worked on films who deal with social stigmas. What needs to change is the audience’s reaction to such films and to accept it as a mirror to themselves. A film can do well only if the audience decides to watch it. Filmmakers, producers, actors, writer, directors have been bringing content which holds a mirror to the society, but it is unfortunate that we are unable to come to terms with the bitter truth of our society.
Please share your experience while making this film.
Kaala was a very intense film to work on. It’s more than a year and we are still working on the film. We were fortunate to collaborate with such a beautiful dedicated team of actors and crew members. And now the film is raising funds on Wishberry to complete the post-production of the film.
The efforts by every teammate are laudable. The shooting was predominantly guerrilla style and it was shot in the biting cold winters in the jungles of Delhi. We had to run with the camera, hide and come back again to shoot. It was certainly a challenge, but the process brought us all closer. We have made some wonderful friends who cared for each other. Everyone was multi-tasking and shared a lot of responsibilities. There were too many things to learn from each other. The actors had great bonding, superb attitude and inputs on the script and on the set. This also tell us a lot about how each one of us understood the importance of making this film and what it represented and how important it is to realise that we have a certain amount of responsibilities when you represent a topic as such. So, with a lot of dedication all of us worked on it. We were also benefitted by shooting in Delhi. Delhi itself has a lot of stories to tell.
We hope that our small film really aspires people to change their attitude in a big way. It is a small film, but with a very grave message.
The nomination of Village Rockstars for the Academy Awards from India raises hopes, doesn’t it?
Yes, it certainly does. Rima’s (director Rima Das) efforts are commendable. Rima’s journey can really inspire many filmmakers to continue on their own without fear of not making it. Sometimes, it’s important to be fearless yet conscious of what you are doing. Someone once told me, if you make bad films you will not sustain at all, if you make average film, you may sustain for a while, but if you make good films, it may take a while, but you will be noticed. I think I stand by it.