New Delhi: In a packed auditorium, a short film begins with the opening scene of a young woman worried about attending a meeting with her injured foot. Her friend cautions her that if she does not wear high heels she wont be able to make a good impression. The woman heeds the advice but even before she can make it to the meeting, she stumbles and her heels fall off.
She picks them up and marches into the meeting anyway. She realises her success does not depend on her heels and the film 'Parwaaz' – which translates to flight – ends with the shot of the young actor triumphantly flinging away her heels as the audience applauds.
What is remarkable is that this one-minute-short – which questions popular stereotypes and highlights the challenges that working women face – is created by 13-year-old Anuradha who studies in seventh standard at the local Government Girls Senior Secondary School in Delhi's working-class periphery.
"Women might not be explicitly instructed to wear heels, but the notion of looking good and confident, and doing it because everyone is doing it... these are big factors in what choices we make for ourselves, even if the choices are not the most comfortable," Anuradha, the budding filmmaker, told IANS.
It was not just Anuradha but around 40 girls aged 11-13 years who came together for a rare workshop earlier this month and made some unique films on what freedom meant to them. The brief 'Little Directors' workshop included sessions on film language, conceptualising, interpreting, shooting, and communicating via visuals.
The workshop sought to promote media literacy among these children, many of whom are born to unskilled and semi-skilled workers and daily-wage earners like plumbers and rickshaw-pullers. Now equipped with film-making skills, these young first-time filmmakers chose to tell remarkable stories translating the theme 'aazadi' (freedom) to choice for women in offices, schools, and in society at large. Many ideas stemmed from what they see and challenges they face in real life.
Reshma, an 11-year-old participant, chose a non-narrative format for her film which clubbed the voice-over of a poem with visuals of girls studying or working on domestic chores. The first few lines of the poem ask: "Why aren't women allowed to go out freely? Why aren't they allowed to study as much as they want?"
"In villages, it is common to marry off girls at a young age and dismiss their study plans for their marriage. In my village near Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh), I have seen girls pleading to study more but their parents decide otherwise," young filmmaker Kajal Kumari, whose film transports one to a land of her imagination, said.
In the short film, a girl's parents are seen announcing her marriage while she is a student. Crestfallen, the girl wishes for an alternative reality. Soon, a fairy godmother comes to her rescue and asks her to accompany her to a land of books.
Documentary filmmaker Samina Mishra, who facilitated the workshop along with actor Nina Sabnani, said that in most cases for these girls, freedom interestingly translated to choice. For others, it meant overt questioning of those unsaid societal norms that women are subjected to.
Sabnani and Mishra were involved in the creative exercises and production in the two-day workshop, which was a part of the IAWRT Asian Women's Film Festival in New Delhi in early March. The intention of the exercise was to familiarize the young participants with the basics of filmmaking so they could tell their stories with confidence, while also giving people an opportunity to hear fresh voices that hitherto resided in young minds, the organisers shared.
Kajal, studying in VIII class, said that she always had a penchant for storytelling and that filmmaking was a good tool since "everyone grows up watching television, films, and now videos on their mobiles."
Another group, hoping to send a message about freedom of choosing clothes, brought in costumes like shorts and crop-tops to add nuance to their film.
Yet another group, while experimenting with film formats, chose to shoot an interview around the word 'freedom,' and ultimately concluded with the idea that freedom is a state of mind.
In the workshop, the girls acted, handled camera, learned framing, editing, and making a coherent film with a message. Many now desire to learn more about acting and cinematography, even as a career choice.
An attempt at gender main-streaming, 'Little Directors' not just equipped these adolescent girls with the necessary skills for storytelling, but also encouraged their line of thinking about freedom of women in their own communities and society.