Published: 28th November 2017
This DU student's film on Rohingyas uses ants to explain the crisis like never before
Originally from Alappuzha, Anson's film Upavahana will earn the ire of the ABVP ahead of the SC ruling on Dec 5 as it explains how Rohingyas are the victims. But he isn't worried
As the SC hearing that will decide the fate of Rohingyas in India approaches, a third-year Economics student from Alappuzha studying at St Stephen's College, Delhi, decided that keyboard activism was just not enough. He made a short film that not just explains what the plight of Rohingyas is in India, but also why deporting them will be a crime. Shot in two states, Upavahana highlights the detachment between two warring beliefs — Rohingya and Pali — and stands out especially because the 'actors' he has used are ants.
His Professors at St Stephen's College are fearful, however, that the film may irk right-wing groups like the ABVP, especially after the Supreme Court told the Centre that deportation of Rohingyas before the hearing on December 5, is prohibited. Anson Athikalam, though, is hardly worried and does not care. "After people heard of our film through the media, Intelligence (agencies) inquired about us and the short film we made by calling one of our professors," he said. The short film, Anson's third such, is not his first criticising the current political situation. Right Turn Ahead released last December and deals with right wing ideology in the country. "Anybody who knows me by now knows these are the kind of films I do. My first two projects were on the environment, and the second one last year was on the right wing ideology, on Patriotism. These are the kind of issues that interest me. Any issue can be portrayed through short films," he confidently states.
Flee-dom call: The residents of the Rohingya camp say that they are often used for documentaries and such films but don't hear much after | CineMealsLive
Why Upavahana's going places
Anson adds that praise and encouragement have poured in from other individuals and groups including CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. " We got amazing feedback and will also be meeting Tharoor in December," gushes Anson. While people are hoping for more screenings to be held across DU and was viewed globally in 74 countries and even got noticed by the directors of Malayalam movies Sakhavu and Guppy.
Good Intentions: Anson had gone to Kerala for his grandfather's death anniversary but used the days to also shoot the film
When The Ant Bully met the Rohingyas
Anson's team includes friends and acquaintances from Kerala and the film was shot in Kerala in two-and-a-half hours. "We were on a hunt for anthills," recollects Anson, detailing how they spent four weeks with the Rohingyas in the slums, decoding their stories and studying their lives. The movie stands out not just because Anson has chosen to show how red ants overpower black ants in their habitat — an obvious parallel to the plight of the Rohingyas who fled Myanmar — but because of his choice of using a female narrator (an actual Rohingya woman refugee). "Movies always have a male narrative voice and we know men dominate the film industry. We wanted to portray a woman, a mother narrating the story of their lives to her daughter. We would have completed the film much earlier had we opted for a male voice... but we thought this gives a much stronger, important message," says Anson, who hopes his film brings about a lot of much-needed awareness about the plight of Rohingyas.
This one's for the people
And awareness, for him, is a big goal at this point. He talks about the sheer number of people who knew very little to nothing of the Rohingyas until he started publicising his film. "My friends and I showed people a lot of images and clips," he states and adds that people are slowly expressing interest and concern. "The issue needs the public's attention, we can't let them be deported. The red ants butchered all the black ants, much like the situation in Rakhine right now. This is to influence and impact others. Merely acknowledging the issue is not enough now, it has to be thrown out there until there is a reaction. Our aim is an impactful movement." he said and adds rather dramatically, "Viva la revolution!" He defends the Rohingyas and condemns their deportation, adding that the documentary is for them a means of unspoken protest as subjects of this crisis. "They are traumatisedafter being treated as secondary citizens," says the Economics student whose aim was to bring them out of the shadows.
Stray lines: The Rohingya camp in Delhi was part location for the film
Initially scripted in Malayalam before it was translated into Hindi and English, Upavahana is a Pali word — the language used by the Buddhist majority, that means 'washing away'. But why not just go with a language that more people would understand? "We realised only later that Rohingya is their official language. Their grip on Hindi is not that powerful and we had to switch from our Sanskritised Hindi to simple Hindi and even then we took a while to communicate," he remembers. Until then, Burmese was thought to be their mode of speech. "I heard that there were some people who had once tried to script the language, but they were killed," he says, adding that today it has no script.
A long shot at hope
To him, the film is a means of hope for this threatened community — at a time when the Rohingyas at the camp are fast losing hope, "We visited the Rohingya camp twice and will go there again. They were telling us how they are often used as subjects for films but once the award is bestowed, are forgotten," he says. He has no such intention and has decided to spend time with them. "We will go back to the camp, this doesn't end here for us. We will keep visiting them and show our support and solidarity," he says resolutely.