Q. Tell us about the documentary?
A. I Am Not Here is the story of migrant domestic workers, who leave their countries in search of security and to provide financial assistance to their families back home. Migrants today undergo perilous journeys, risking death, deportation and arrest, physical and sexual violence in the hope of finding a life with dignity. Particularly when they are undocumented, they live in the shadows, afraid to complain and are denied rights and services that we take for granted. This is a film about three remarkable women and their search for a better future. The UN offered me the subject. They chose Switzerland, US, and after a lot of back and forth we ended up choosing Malaysia. We shot for three days in each city; the research, however, took over a year. It had a premiere in Geneva and later opened in Bangkok as well. Post this screening, it will travel to all film festivals.
A still from I Am Not Here
Q. What were some of the most important things you learnt while making the film?
A. Some of my biggest learnings were that humans could be very brutal. I have done projects in Kashmir before so I am familiar with violence and brutality, but the fact that it can be extended to a 13-year-old girl by so-called respectable members of the society was a horrifying experience. Another huge challenge was to put together a film where 2/3 of the film is in a language I don’t know. The idea was to go beyond statistics. I had a translator. For four to five hours of the interview, I didn’t know what the person was saying so, I looked at the eyes and listened to the tone of voice to frame questions accordingly. We had 45 hours of footage for a 25-minute film. Transcribing it and picking the right bits was crazy. It was also tough finding these women, since not everyone wants to talk about their lives, on camera.
Q. What’s next?
A. My next feature is also set in Kashmir, like my last two documentaries. It is about a girl from Kashmir, who lives in the UK, and returns to look for her father. It’s a UK-India project. I am also acting in a film by Sabal Singh Shekhawat. It’s an independent, digital film. I always wanted to be an actor; everything else has been a distraction. Now’s a great time to be an actor. The industry is making films on a variety of subjects, a lot of which are realistic with regular people. I’m also drafting a proposal for a web series about love and urban relationships. It’s a subject I’ve never done before. My work has always been newsier. I love improvisation which is why I like documentary-making and acting. In a feature, you write a script before you shoot while in a documentary, you write as you shoot. In acting, no matter how much you prepare, the actual magic happens after the director says “action!”
On: December 18, 6.30 pm
At: Hall of Harmony, Nehru Centre Worli.
Ashvin Kumar is an Academy Award nominee and two-time National Award winner. He made movies like The Little Terrorist (2004) and Insahallah Kashmir (2012). Son of Ritu Kumar, his recent documentary, I Am Not Here, has been produced by the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (UNOCHR). It tells the story of three migrant women domestic workers in Malaysia, US and Switzerland.