In the last two weeks, 25-year-old Juhi Sharma, has been told to become a prostitute, to offer sexual favours at Marina beach and to stop begging by anonymous internet users. Her only 'crime' – trying to raise funds to study movie direction at a premier institute in New York.
On April 11, this cinematographer – who has worked with brands such as Flipkart, Club Mahindra and TI Cycles – got an acceptance letter from her dream institute. She has been selected for a three-year Masters programme in Directing at the Brooklyn College in New York.
She was offered a partial scholarship but it will cover her tuition, living expenses and supplies for less than four months. When Juhi approached banks in the city for loans, she was turned away because they don't support 'cinema'.
"I climbed up and down the stairs of so many banks – HDFC, ICICI, Andhra bank and even SBI but they all turned me down," says Juhi. " These banks that give thousands of loans for students doing their MBA and MS degrees said they can't support loans for cinema," she says.
With most of April and the beginning of May spent attempting to get a bank loan, Juhi was left with very limited options and turned to crowdfunding. "Crowdfunding is a beautiful platform where those who can afford to will help you in some small way," says Juhi. "I am not begging here for money. I am telling you what I have done so far. You can judge my potential and decide if you want to contribute.”
However, the reaction she received from some quarters was completely unexpected. While many people understandably questioned why they should contribute towards Juhi’s education when there are other more ‘deserving’ causes, some internet users turned downright nasty.
“I have been trolled so badly for this and been through such a harrowing experience. People think I am a spoiled rich brat. But why would I come here and ask for money if I could afford it?" asks Juhi.
Although Juhi has been working for a few years now, a series of unfortunate events have made it impossible for her to pay her own way through the course. To begin with, Juhi is currently the only earning member in her family.
"The business that my mother was running failed, following which my parents split. My father is currently unemployed as well. We are already paying off a personal loan we took after mortgaging our home. The money was used for the business but it didn't work out," says Juhi.
Juhi had managed to save about Rs 3 lakh, but all of her savings were spent in the past year. "We discovered that my 15-year-old sister was diabetic. She had to be pulled out of a regular school and put into an open institution. It is a great place for her, but the fee was over Rs 2.5 lakh and I had to foot the bill," she says.
However, says Juhi, her enthusiasm has not been quelled, and she aims to learn direction in order to make better movies, 'with values that children in the society actually need to learn'.
"Today, heroes are these macho men who wink at a woman to woo her. If she does not respond he stalks her till she gives in. This is the story we tell children in our society," she says. "I want to learn direction because I need to understand how to tell a story well and this course offers me some of the best faculty and resources. I want to give back to this society by making movies that will make a difference," she adds.
Juhi, has set a target amount of $18,000 and raised only $5,000 so far. Even if she does achieve her target, it will only cover her basic expenses for the first four months. "But that is alright. I will start working and taking up projects the minute I get there. I will earn the rest of the money myself," she says.
With her VISA interview scheduled on June 29, Juhi has very little time to make her dreams come true.
Right now, she is working on a children's film about a young boy who puts all his efforts towards saving money to buy a single red balloon, that he really wants. Juhi laughs about how the film seems so similar to her own situation, and adds, "And do you know what, he finally manages to get the balloon."
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