From filmmaker Nishtha Jain:
Apart from hoping that we recognize and question our own comfortable acquiescence in society’s widespread, unfair treatment of domestic workers, I hope the film enables all viewers to reflect on the power relationships they themselves may be a part of. And, I hope the film may be used for advocacy and awareness-building by the fledgling unions that are fighting for the rights of domestic workers.
Also, I hope that the film doesn’t simply remain a story of Lakshmi and Nishtha, but is able to create larger resonances instead. I hope that the film can make viewers question and examine their own relationships with people working in their homes and vice versa.
Currently, the domestic workers in India are organizing themselves and demanding better wages, leave, pension and other benefits. It’s a difficult struggle—especially as they are not even recognized as workers yet being in the unorganized sector—so they need all of our support. I hope the film can contribute to bringing this struggle to the forefront so that more people can join in. I want to distribute the film, possibly in regional language versions, to NGOs and trade unions that are working with domestic workers.
There’s widespread resistance to acknowledging that our comfort is based on someone else’s hardship and on the perpetuation of that hardship. But it’s an opportunity for change: at the individual level as well as through legislation for better wages and benefits for domestic workers.
I’ve been screening the film at a number of colleges and universities and am hoping for even wider dissemination and discussion.
Her three favorite films:
The Gleaners and I by Agnès Varda
Belovy by Viktor Kosakovsky
The 3 Rooms of Melancholia by Pirjo Honkasalo
Her advice for aspiring filmmakers:
First of all, you have to have a story that you are dying to tell. If that’s the case, then nothing should really stop you. You can shoot with a mobile phone and edit on your laptop. It could be a film shot in your home or neighborhood, as long as people are able to connect to it. It’s not the bigness of the budget that matters; it’s not about how great the film looks or sounds—these are secondary to how well you tell your story.
You also have to remember that the subject/topic is not the film. Seeing a film has to be a different experience from reading. If you can create an experience in the film that goes beyond the written word, then it’s worth its while.
What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film?
Observing people and life around you—over pots of tea and lots of talk—and when it gets late enough, stronger beverages!
Nishtha Jain worked as an editor in television before joining the Film and Television Institute of India, where she specialized in film direction. Since 1998, she has been making documentaries and shorts, and briefly worked as commissioning editor for a documentary channel. Among her special interests are the individual and collective narratives that abound in photographic images. Her 2005 film, City of Photos, explored neighborhood photo studios, unearthing the fantasy worlds buried under gritty physical realities. In her current work, she moves closer to people who inhabit her immediate surroundings and whose lives and work profoundly, if implicitly, touch her own.
Smriti Nevatia has worked as a film and theater critic. She has been associated with many independent documentaries as well as TV shows in the various capacities of research coordinator, scriptwriter and director. Since 2002, she has been collaborating with Nishtha Jain on several documentary projects and was associate director on City of Photos. She recently wrote the dialogue for a play by sex workers about their own lives. Nevatia is currently working on writing projects and conducting workshops on documentary film.