The silent call

Mar 25, 2014, 09:15 IST | Kanika Sharma

An award-winning film looks at how the physically challenged are forced to beg in New York, a scenario that is told in the city, every day

Have you always shifted in your seat when a physically or mentally challenged person approaches you for alms at the traffic signal? Filmmaker Maximón Monihan has explored such realities in his first silent feature film, La Voz De Los Silenciados (The Voice of the Voiceless) that centres on a hearing impaired teenager Olga who hails from Central America.

The character, Olga, is a hearing impaired teenager, who is forced to sell ‘I am deaf’ baubles at traffic signals 

The film traces how this teenager ventures to New York to attend a Christian sign language school. However, soon she finds herself in an exploitative situation where she is coerced by the mafia into selling ‘I am deaf’ baubles at traffic signals. Monihan voices how the real-life story echoes everywhere, “Slavery (is) happening in front of people’s faces, every day, in the so-called ‘Land of the free’ and no one (is) noticing, or caring that it was happening. Almost everyone witnessed this scenario, but still to this day, most people are unaware of the full story.” A case that is starker in Mumbai, for sure.

Monihan agrees that money-driven rackets are inexplicable. The Brooklyn-based filmmaker accounts for the perspectives of the onlookers, “Mostly, we are uncertain and so we give a little money, but remain in a numb state knowing that the world is in a messed up place.”

The film targets the mafia that had the biggest ring running in New York and was busted in 1997. Intriguingly, the mafia’s Achilles’ heel turned out to be when the hearing impaired beggar was confronted with a train passenger from her homeland, Mexico. Sensing that something was wrong, the person followed the girl and reported to the police. Since the protagonist is non-hearing, “we decided to make a ‘soundscape’ that replicated the vibratory frequencies that many ‘non-hearing’ people sense,” relates Monihan.

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