Mainstream narratives in cinema have traditionally been dominated by men, and consequently, the stories told are from the male point of view too. Now, Kaala director Pa Ranjith's Neelam, a web channel, has launched a forum exclusively for women and trans persons from marginalised and minority communities. Called 'Neelam Women & Trans Persons Cinema Forum', the platform will offer learning opportunities in various aspects of cinema.
Prashant Ramasamy, Creative Lead of Neelam web channel, tells TNM that the forum's decision is in line with Ambedkar's thoughts.
"Ambedkar said that to know the progress of any society, we have to see the progress of women in that society. It's not just a philosophical thought. Today, if you see any kind of development studies, the first issue you need to address is the problems that women face because everything else will be connected to that. Without addressing this, if you try resolving issues, it's like beating around the bush," he says.
Elaborating on why the forum has been set up, Pa Ranjith, in an interview with Edexlive, said, "It is important that we create opportunities for marginalised women and trans persons, so they can voice out their lives and experiences. I think cinema is very powerful and has the ability to massively influence people. So what we are doing here is offering some workshops for those who have an interest in the art."
Prashant points out that there are forums and central government programmes for women in academia, especially in the sciences, but that there is nothing of this sort in cinema.
"Even other art forms like Bharatanatyam have such forums but we don't have this in cinema. This medium is the only powerful mainstream art that reaches the bahujans. It's also the medium that immediately concerns them. Their presence here is important. Not like any parallel art movement but as mainstream. They need to have capital here and tell their stories. Neelam's objective is to create social capital for them in the mainstream cinema space," explains Prashant.
While stories about marginalised people have been told in cinema and increasingly so now, Neelam is particular that the oppressed speak for themselves. The forum is geared towards creating such a space.
"The trend today is for the upper caste, the creamy layer from the OBCs or Brahmins to tell stories about adivasis and marginalised bahujans. What happens is that the latter never get to tell their own stories. And even if we go to a dalit or adivasi community and launch a programme, it will be crowded by men. We lose out on the aspect of gender. To address this, we said we will specifically include women and trans persons from Dalit, adivasi, OBC communities and religious minorities," he says.
Neelam will train those who enroll in the programme in different aspects of filmmaking and also help them get public funding for their projects. They will not be charging a fee from the students. As of now, the classes will happen online because of the restrictions in place for the COVID-19 pandemic.
"In the initial phase, we will release the films in the Neelam YouTube channel. Later, the decision is to take them to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and other OTTs," he says.
Neelam is planning to begin the Zoom workshops with a session on scriptwriting.
"Two people who have made feature films will take the session. It will be a one or two-hour workshop...Ranjith may also end up doing it," he says.
The other sessions will be on cinematography, direction and editing. Based on the response, Neelam will structure the workshops as a periodic series.
There is no age limit for applying. If you are a woman or trans person from a Dalit, adivasi, OBC community or religious minority and would like to apply, you may send your details and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org.