I never imagined in my wildest dreams that one day I would fly down to New York to accept an award,” says Warli tribal, 18 year-old Jayashree Kharpade, when I meet her at a foster home set up by the NGO Vidhayak Sansad at Virar, where she is staying and completing her formal education.
Kharpade’s 27-minute documentary, Fire in Our Hearts, which is based on her life, bagged the prestigious ‘One to Watch’ award from among 50 worldwide entries at the 35th Asian American International film festival held in New York on August 13.
How did a tribal girl, who hadn’t seen a camera in her life, direct an award-winning documentary? “Well, it’s my life story. Through it, I have tried to explain the immense social and economic potential of educating girls in the developing world,” says Kharpade.
It happened when Kathy Shridhar, a US-based human rights activist, associated with Vidhayak Sansad, got in touch with BYkids — an NGO that pairs master filmmakers with youth from around the world, to create short documentaries that educate society about globally relevant issues. “Shridhar recommended that Bykids talk to the kids at Vidhayak Sansad, which shelters and educates rescued child labourers,” says Hindprabha Karve, co-ordinator, Vidhayak Sansad.
Documentary filmmakers Joyce Chopra and Cat Papadimitriou then got in touch with the rescued children at the shelter to pen their life stories. The scripts were then translated to English and sent to the directors, who selected Kharpade’s life story for turning into a documentary.
“The directors flew down to the shelter in January 2011 and took a four-day introductory session with Kharpade on how to handle the camera,” says Karve. “Though I had never seen or touched a camera in my life, the entire process of shooting my life story got me very excited,” says Kharpade, who aspires to become a civil engineer. “Jayashree is a quick learner. Within a few days of explaining how the camera functions, she had already started filming events,” says a pleased Chopra.
Kharpade shot the movie over one month at her tribal village at Wada and a school at Palghar. The documentary was edited in the US and shown at the film festival on June 25 this year. The award was declared on August 13. “As she has to give her SSC board exams this year, we will send her to New York next May to accept the award,” says Vivek Pandit, founder, Vidhayak Sansad.
Kharpade, who lost her mother a few days before she started shooting the documentary, says, “I really wish my mother was with me today as she would have been very happy with my success. I dedicate my documentary to her.”
Close to her heart
In 2003, eight year-old Kharpade was forced to drop out of school by her parents so that she could raise her three younger siblings and work with her parents at a brick kiln site. Exceptionally bright and motivated, she pleaded for years with her parents to let her return to her studies.
In 2006, volunteers from NGO Vidhayak Sansad who were present for the annual village committee meeting, urged her parents to send her back to school. Since she dropped out of school in Class two, three years later, she rejoined the same class. She is currently in Class 10.
In December 2010, her mother succumbed to a prolonged illness and her relatives started pressurising her to stay at home to take care of her younger siblings.
This time around, Kharpade’s father stood by her, realising that only through educating her could their family hope for a bright future