It was 30-year-old Vishnu Priya's desire to resolve sanitation issues in a government girls' school that led her to make Meel, a documentary on waste disposal.
The Chennai-based architect was looking to understand how to design an eco-friendly toilet which would consume minimum water.
"Many government schools don't have functional toilets," says Vishnu Priya. "They have no water, so the toilets are locked up. Children, especially girls, suffer a lot because of this. Girls find it very difficult to manage when they are on their periods in school."
Studies have shown that lack of adequate sanitation facilities are among the prime reasons why girls who've hit puberty drop out of school.
Vishnu Priya researched the subject, looking at eco-san toilet models and case studies that would help her figure out solutions for this pressing problem. The material she gathered evolved into a film with the help of some of her friends who are into filmmaking.
Meel, which is self-financed with contributions from friends, takes one through the journey of waste.
Over a period of a year, Vishnu Priya and her team traveled across Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Bengaluru, trying to understand the difficulties involved in waste disposal, including the plight of sanitation workers and manual scavengers. It is this community which is forced to face the brunt of society's collective apathy towards waste disposal.
One of the community case studies featured in the film is Musiri, near Trichy in Tamil Nadu, where some eco-san toilets have been set up. The trailer of the film shows how ash can be used instead of water to clean human fecal matter.
"The film looks at the effect it has on the health of manual scavengers as well as the environment," says Vishnu Priya.
She notes that untreated sewage water is a problem for everybody, considering it seeps into the water that is used by people in their homes.
"One of the dumping yards for Chennai city is Pallikaranai, which is on wetlands. If we don't dispose waste properly, it leads to water contamination," points out Vishnu Priya, adding that intelligent waste disposal methods are essential to conserve water, especially in a drought-hit country like ours.
Vishnu Priya says that since her documentary is solution-oriented, she received support even from bureaucrats.
"Actually, I found that people were quite supportive when they saw that I was a woman filmmaker," she says. "Some were shocked, but most tried to help me."
Meel features many voices who have actively engaged with India's sanitation problems including Vellore Srinivasan who appeared on an episode of Satyamev Jayatey to talk about waste management (SLRM model), and Paul Calvert, the designer of the eco-san toilet who lives in Kerala.
The hour long film is currently at the post production stage although Vishnu Priya says that they plan to shoot in Ladakh as well as Delhi before wrapping up the project.
"The toilets in Ladakh have traditionally been eco-friendly because they have very little running water," she says, adding that they plan to feature these toilets in the film.
Vishnu Priya hopes to have the film, shot in Tamil and English, subtitled and ready by August and is looking for venues to screen it across the country. And what does 'Meel' mean? "To recover," says Vishnu Priya. After all, we can only re-use what we chuck into the earth's bowels if we do the disposal in sustainable and eco-friendly ways.
Watch the trailer here: