Tara crashed and burned — addicted to Dendrite, a common adhesive which can bought easily and costs little — as the drug killed her hunger, made her work longer while the mafia exploited her.
Her plight mimics those of thousands of kids who lived off the streets, collecting plastic bottles and selling them to earn a daily wage enough to buy their fix, which would inevitably lead to an early death. Most of these kids have been abandoned, orphaned or have simply run away. Showcasing this brutal reality, Toot Ta Tara is a touching and heartrending short film, but it is so only because it has been made by children from the same community.
Films are a medium to address issues and tell stories which don’t get media spotlights. Teaching marginalised children, who are the most neglected segment of Indian society, to express themselves via the audio-visual medium is 45-year-old Nameeta Premkumar from Mumbai. She founded Filmbug, an organisation that teaches underprivileged kids the art of filmmaking — from making story-board, scripting, directing to lighting, camera work and editing.
“I started this initiative two years ago when I was going through a very difficult time after my mother passed away, in a bid to give back to society. Today, it’s a personal milestone when the kids from Odisha called to tell me that their movie Toot Ta Tara was being screened for ministers of the state, highlighting their plight,” she says.
Filmbug holds extensive workshops across the country, with kids who are have been rehabilitated from a harsh life — like scavengers, abuse victims and even trafficked children. “These are gruelling workshops that train them to be thorough professionals, building skill-sets that are employable,” says Premkumar who goes on to name Bollywood biggies like Farah Khan and Prakash Jha who have already taken such kids on their team.
With a chequered career in the industry, where Premkumar started as a journalist to go into production and direction, as well as being an entrepreneur, her experience makes her an apt mentor. Filmmaking is a vast industry, which can generate almost 850 different types of employment like set creation to costume designing to lighting. Her aim, along with Filmbug co-founder Kapil Mattoo, is not only to train these kids and help them find their niche, but also give them voice to tell those stories which only they experience.
Most importantly, she finds that these movies are a way for the children to vent and tackle personal setbacks and issues. “When we started a workshop in Haryana, most of the girls were shy and withdrawn. Towards the end though they made a beautiful movie about abuse, which they face regularly and deeply affects them,” recollects Premkumar, adding that all such short films can be watched on their website www.flimbug.in.
There’s a long way to go, and she insists that the Filmbug’s team of trainers are themselves learning and adapting with every workshop, regarding the lives and times of such marginalised children.
“I had the privilege to study at top colleges like, St Xavier’s and Sophia in Mumbai, followed by a course in New York. But I realised that many don’t have the opportunity to do so, and so I wanted to give these children the same level of education and training,” says the single mother who makes it a point to take her seven-year-old daughter for as many of these workshops as possible so that she can understand and relate to a world of non-privilege, poverty and deprivation.
One of most important things is to generate visibility for such movies. However, the biggest challenge is to make equipment available for the kids to train with, since most of the camera work and lighting means that it has to be hired for the duration of the workshop and their film production. Film screenings too come at a cost.
All these require huge funds and if Premkumar’s team can reach out to more underprivileged children, the expenses will shoot up exponentially.
Currently in Rajasthan for a workshop, Premkumar is however quite upbeat about the future of Filmbug as an initiative: “We have just registered the company so that we can increase the scope of our work. We plan to showcase more films during the second season of ‘India Alive Short Film Festival’. We are also planning to collaborate with state governments so as to widen our outreach.
The idea is to build a talent pool with kids who are inclined towards the craft, teach them further and eventually, make a space for them in the industry.”