"TOI" says, Spreading hope

Posted by The Elements On Monday, March 29, 2010 0 comments

Winner of two National Awards this year and a host of international awards, Children of the Pyre is a haunting documentary that deals with children making a life by stealing shrouds from dead bodies. Shocking, right? That is why Rajesh S Jala, the man behind the documentary, began to capture their harrowing lives on celluloid.

“Actually, I had gone to Benaras to make a film about the city. I didn’t know my subject; I just wanted to explore,” begins the filmmaker, who was in the city recently in connection with a charity event.

“During my stay in Benaras, I went to the Manikarnika cremation ground, which is the biggest cremation ground in India. I spent quite a few days there and one fine day, I saw a kid snatching the shroud from a dead body. I followed this kid and I saw a bunch of children doing this as a business. So, I tried to establish contact with them and continued to follow them. We spent a lot of time together and I thought their story was one that had to be told. So, for the next one and a half years, I followed them with the camera,” reveals Jala on what made him take up such a subject.

Jala says that a cremation ground is a difficult place to shoot as it is a very sensitive location. “I tried to keep a low profile. Perhaps, that is why I didn’t face any opposition from religious organisations,” says Jala and adds that there were other challenges as well. “Initially, when I started shooting, it was very challenging physically as well as emotionally. When you see a dead body, it affects you and scares you. But these children gave me a lot of strength; they inspired me to be there and I continued to shoot them for many months,” says Jala, who awards the entire credit for the project to these children.

To Jala, Children of the Pyre is not only a film, but a mission to change the lives of these kids. Even during the making of the film, Jala says that it was painful to see the children working at a cremation ground. “That’s a horrible thing. I thought I should do something for the children and I approached a leading NGO. They liked my idea and said we could launch a project.”

And so, on September 4, 2009, they launched Project Bhageerathi, which aims at transforming the lives of 300 children working at the different ghats of Benaras. “But I wanted to do something for these seven children, in particular,” says Jala, “An American couple came forward to sponsor the education of the kids and we sent four of them to a boarding school last month. Among the other three, one is a talented dancer and he has joined a dance academy, while the other two will be learning other skills.”

Jala, who is planning to screen the film across the country and launch the DVD of the film in a month’s time, gives two reasons as to why he didn’t choose to make a feature film, despite knowing fully well that it would have a wider reach. “Making a film on this issue would mean a lot of money, and I didn’t have the funds. Also, I thought making a documentary would be more realistic. Documentaries make you believe that something is happening for real,” he explains, but adds that there should be feature films made on such issues.

Jala says that the government, the civil society and the corporate sector have to play a role in rehabilitating exploited children. “Apart from the government, every individual should at least think about it, if not contribute to this cause. This thought process, hopefully, might lead to some kind of effort, which might, in turn, lead to the rehabilitation of more children,” he feels.

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