DU student’s hard-hitting short on the prevailing Rohingya crisis in India
An allegorical short film titled Upavahana, by a St. Stephen’s College student, uses ants as metaphor to explain the wrongs meted out to the Rohingya refugees.
The Rohingya crisis is known to most. It has been widely televised, talked and written about at length, yet is slowly fading from our memories. And that’s exactly what a short film by a Delhi University (DU) student seeks to change. Upavahana — the short film — is directed by Anson A Athikalam, a third-year Economics (Hons) student of St. Stephen’s College, DU. It uses ants, as a metaphor, to show how Rohingyas have been forced to flee Myanmar, and seek shelter in India and Bangladesh, and to persuade viewers to wake-up to the violation of their human rights.
Before further discussion, watch the film, Upavahana here:
Student-filmmaker Anson A Athikalam hails from Kerala’s Alappuzha, and has been in Delhi for quite some time now. Exuding confidence, Athikalam says he wants to go beyond keyboard activism, and do actual groundwork: “Keyboard activism doesn’t help any situation. We’ve all heard about the crisis, but many don’t know the real situation. My movie is an effort to bring these people out of the shadows, and explain the plight of Rohingyas in India. It highlights the detachment between the two warring beliefs of Rohingya and Pali, and the real actors in the film are ants.”
A scene from the short film Upvahana.
Explaining how the film was conceived, Athikalam explains, “In October, we’d been seeing videos on the crisis and came to know more about it. That’s when the idea of doing our bit towards the situation, arose. I had always had an idea about using ants for a movie, but that was for a different topic. But my friends — who are also scriptwriters for the film — suggested that I use that idea for this movie. I wrote the original script in Malayalam during my mid-semester break, and charted out a course for making the film. Upavahana was chosen as the title since it’s in Pali script, and means ’washed away’, which is pretty much the situation of these people.”
However, the project wasn’t exactly a smooth ride as Athikalam reveals: “It was a complete challenge since the start because the film wasn’t made with producers or any backing. We then set out on an ant hunt, and shot the movie. It was difficult to get the ant shots right, but then that’s the magic of filmmaking. If you have an idea, you find a way around it!”
A scene from the film, which was shot in both Delhi and Kerala.
Going further, language barriers, difficulty in pursuing people, scouting for locations, and lack of funds made the filmmaking process even more complicated. But all this wasn’t enough to deter Athikalam from completing the project. “There was a lot of struggle that went into the research for the film, too. The Rohingya language is unlike Burmese, contrary to what most people believe. It exists without a script. We, however, did have a lot of support in interacting with the people in camps and received help in translating the script from Malayalam to Hindi, for a wider audience reach. A few of my contacts pitched for equipments, and the movie — unbelievable as it may sound — was completed in a budget of under ₹10,000,” says Athikalam.
Anson A Athikalam, director of short film Upavahana, who is a student of Delhi University.
Athikalam, who has earlier directed socially-relevant films to aware viewers towards environment conservation and extremism, wasn’t bothered about irking certain groups who might have opposed the message of this film. “I always choose topics for my films, which need the masses’ attention. So, Upavahana came about because there was a need to sensitise people about this grave issue,” he says.
The role of this DU student doesn’t end here, as he sounds determined to help the Rohingya refugees further. “It’s a way of building hope for a threatened community that’s made to feel like secondary citizens, and to live a life of fear and deprivation. The people we met at the Rohingya camps told us that they had been used as subjects for other such projects, too. But filmmakers forgot them after they receiving awards and accolades. We, however, want change and justice for them, and will keep visiting them in the camps to show our support and solidarity,” adds Athikalam.
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First Published: Dec 17, 2017 17:22:41