A Year in India


A Foreigner’s Gaze
April 27, 2009, 11:21 am
Filed under: In the Field | Tags: , ,

In addition to my Adobe Youth Voices (AYV) work, I’ve started a few outside film projects in Bangalore. One is a promotional video for mChek, a mobile payments company. My friend Valerie is working to bring mChek’s mobile payment technology to the bottom tier of India’s economic pyramid. Using mChek’s platform, people living in slums can pay bills via cell phone.

I’m shooting most of mChek’s video footage in urban Bangalore slums. The camera draws quite a bit of attention in these areas. During an interview with a shopkeeper, an elderly vegetable vendor walked by and started yelling at Valerie and me. We did our best to continue the interview, but both of us were curious as to what was angering him (we don’t understand Kannada, the local language that he was speaking).

Later on, Clara, another mChek employee, told me what the man had said: ‘’Why do you Americans come in here with your cameras like this? You just film our poor lives and then go back to America saying, ‘This is India!’”

The man brought up a conflict that’s often on my mind: though I love observing and documenting cultures different than my own, my foreign perspective colors the nature of this observation, this documentation. In my mind, there’s not much wrong with the inevitable insertion of my perspective, but how can I best treat my subjects in a sensitive, respectful way? And would my subjects themselves tell a “truer” version of their stories? How, then, can an open, honest partnership develop between filmmaker and subject?

When I ask myself these questions, I realize that my work with AYV is one answer. AYV allows me to share skills with my students so that they can tell their stories. In this way, an exchange is taking place: I teach a set of skills (shaped by my individual perspective), and my students are better able to express their views (which influence my perspective on their lives, on Indian culture, etc.).

I’d love for this kind of exchange to exist not only in AYV’s education setting, but also in my freelance work. It would be rewarding on many levels to further involve my subjects and their communities in the production of films being made about them.

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Meera, We are also looking to do some work at the bootm end of the pyramid through our venture, Urja Unlimited. The organisation is focussed on improving the lot of the urban poor initially. Do let me know if we can chat sometime – as we needed some expert help and counsel on the kind of work that you are doing.. It is encouraging to see the work that you have done in the past.

Cheers/
Tanya

Comment by Tanya




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