Published: 19th June 2019
This award-winning filmmaker from Kerala raises awareness about the importance of ambulance drivers with his documentary
Baburaj Asariya drew inspiration from directors who used innovative methods to produce their films
It's not everyday that you find people who live and breathe cinema the way Baburaj Asariya does. Asariya, who is an emerging Indian screenwriter, producer, film director and founder of the film production and distribution house Collective Frames. We ask him about where it all started and how his tryst with film began. Excerpts:
How did your love affair with films begin?
I am an IT graduate working in the technology industry for the last 10 years. My passion for film landed me in the movies and visual media, and I started producing short films in 2008. I have been called to various international film festivals, including those at Los Angeles and Goa. My first documentary film as screenwriter-director was The Unsung Heroes in 2017.
How has the journey been so far? Why is The Unsung Heroes special?
I have directed and produced many films, including Budhiparamaya Neekam, Muscroft the Saviours, Yen Uyir Kadhale, Oochi Mooji and Voice of the Voiceless. Some were poetic, others more serious. They covered several topics and concepts such as child abuse, social awareness and drama. The Unsung Heroes is a non-feature film based on an ambulance driver’s real life experience and their 24x7 service to the public and the nation. This is my debut film as a writer, producer and director, which won 20 awards in various prestigious film festival around the globe, including 4 awards at the Asian Goa Film Festival, Hyderabad Bengali Film Festival, Pune Film Festival, PQFF, Belgium Film Festival and Barcelona Planet Film Festival.
Was there a certain incident or experience that drew you to the medium?
Having an educational background in neither filmmaking nor production, I learned filmmaking by watching films of legendary directors from across the world. I was influenced by the films I watched. Those movies motivated me to chase my dream of becoming a filmmaker. I draw inspiration from directors who have experimented and introduced new storytelling techniques.
Do you feel India lacks adequate awareness/knowledge regarding the steps to be taken towards helping accident victims?
I had in mind a short film based on an ambulance driver’s life. As part of my research, I spoke to around 100 ambulance drivers. Many of the experiences of drivers in various cities were similar in nature. I thought the format of a documentary would be better suited to address the various issues that they face every day. Hardly a day passes by without us seeing them on the roads, risking their lives to save many others, but the struggles of ambulance drivers rarely receive any attention.
The country has a notorious reputation for sometimes hesitating to make way for ambulances on duty. What are your thoughts on this issue?
You may be familiar with this quote, which is famous on social media – “We are living in a country where a pizza reaches faster than an ambulance”. We ‘ROFL’ and forward it to our friends. There is a lot of negative social stigma attached to ambulance services, mostly because ambulances in India are often used for carrying the dead rather than transporting critical patients. Even if the majority of vehicles help in making way for the ambulance, a single insensitive driver can make it a hard task. There are people who don’t care despite knowing that someone’s life is in danger.
How viable is a career in documentary-making in India, given the nation's craze for engineering and medicine?
Documentary-making as a full time career is still questionable as the returns from these films are very low and the market is not that open. We also can’t compare a film making career with engineering/medicine as these are professions which will give you stable income and a sturdy life.
What advice might you have for upcoming film makers? What sort of obstacles might they face, and how do you suggest that they overcome it?
To be honest, I want to quote something here: “If you are passionate about something, don’t wait till somebody comes and pushes you. Go do things and you will discover your own way to create it. Opportunities are endless - only you should have the right eye to find it”.