Four years ago when Sachin Shirke, a lawyer, read a newspaper article about how a man was acquitted, after a 15-year wait, in cases of the 1992-93 Mumbai riots, in less than an hour, he was appalled by the ludicrousness of the Indian judicial system. He decided to film a documentary, Audi Alteram Partem — Hear the other side, which would help the affected voice their emotions.
The 31 year-old started off by attending the court trials, interacting with lawyers and activists and getting the contact details of the victims. His friends, chartered accountants by profession, stepped in to assist him, as they believed in the cause. Shirke recounts that winning the confidence of the victims and making them recount their trauma was one of the biggest hurdles. “Initially, it was difficult to track the victims as in some cases, we just got the first name and had to locate them among 10 namesakes within a slum.
When we finally met them, they were too traumatised. So we would just chat with them to gain their confidence. There were times when they would assign us a time for the interview but failed to show up. I realised they still feared they would be implicated. We had to assure them that we had their best interests in mind.”
The Mulund resident also had to face the humongous task of capturing the riots and the victims’ acquittal within a span of just 80 minutes. After interviewing 62 individuals, right from government officials to politicians, legal experts, social activists and the common man, he had to verify facts, separate the wheat from the chaff and present an accurate picture. Shirke says, “It was extremely frustrating but the injustice meted out to the acquitted kept me going. I wanted to make this documentary to highlight the plight of the common man who is a victim of the judiciary, the police and the government.”
Shirke, who has attended a filmmaking course from the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune and assisted director Sai Paranjpe for four years, knew that he wouldn’t get any finances for this documentary. So he invested in it himself. He, however, admits that his filmmaking experience as well as his stint as a lawyer helped him a lot. “Since I was a part of the system, it was easy to see the loopholes.”
Audi Alteram Partem, a commonly used term in legal circles that means hear the other side, got a censor certificate in December 2010 and was screened at the 8th Indian film festival Bollywood & Beyond at Stuttgart, Germany last year, where it was nominated in the Best Documentary category.
Shirke is happy with the response his film has garnered at various screenings in media institutes and hopes it will make a difference in the long run. As for his future plans, the lawyer, who had earlier shot two short films, is now keen to helm a full-length feature film that will take a satirical look at social issues. “The two and a half years that I spent in making the film took a heavy toll on me. I was reeling under its pressure for eight months. Now I want to follow my mentor Sai Paranjpe’s footsteps and make a film that will make people think as well as laugh,” he concludes. Audi Alteram Partem — Hear The Other Side will be screened at Alliance de Francaise near SNDT campus, Churchgate on June 6 at 6.30 pm