She is the first woman director from Kerala to make it to the competition category of the annual prestigious film festival held in the state.

Vidhu Vincent to TNM First Malayali woman at IFFK on why stories of invisible folk need to be told
news Interview Sunday, October 16, 2016 - 15:37

In its two-decade old history, never has a woman director from Kerala made it to the competition category of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK)…at least till Vidhu Vincent came along with her ‘Manhole’ story about the manual scavengers in Kerala.

Speaking to The News Minute, Vidhu makes no efforts to hide her elation over the “totally unexpected honour” that has come her way: “I am equally astonished and elated knowing that in all its 20 years of existence, no woman director from Kerala has made it to the IFFK competition category!”

Her movie is one of the two Malayalam films in the category, the other being ‘Kaadu Pookkunna Neram’ by Dr. Biju.

“Some stories need to be told and retold, and ‘Manhole’ is one such story,” Vidhu says.

It was as a journalist in 2014, that she first came across the story of manual scavengers in Kerala, a community that lives in her native district of Kollam. A 30-minute segment on the television channel then led to the making of ‘Vrithiyude Jaathi’ (Caste of Cleanliness), a documentary on the community.

The manual scavengers of Kerala belong to the Arundhadiyar caste that had migrated to Kerala from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in the 1920s. They speak a language that is a mix of Tamil and Telugu.

According to Vidhu, the continued denial of their existence by mainstream society is what pushed her to re-tell the story after nearly two years. 

In those two years, she revisited the community on numerous occasions…visits that led to shaping a close connect with many of its members.

‘Manhole’ is heavily inspired by the story of Ravi Kumar -whom Vidhu refers to as Raviettan, an auto driver- whose parents and grandparents were manual scavengers.

Though he had accompanied his father during his childhood, he later made a conscious decision not to take up this loathsome job in future, for fear that his children would have to follow suit. 

The film is an inter-mingling of execrable experiences of many such others from his community. 

“There is a constant denial, when it comes to talk on manual scavengers. The government denies their very existence; the society gladly does the same. As a child, I remember dark-skinned men visiting my house in the cover of darkness to clean the toilets. The doors and windows would be shut and the kids sent to sleep early, so that the stink does not get to us. And in the dark, those invisible people would come, carry our excreta and leave,” Vidhu recalls.

The community -Vidhu avers- is still mired in poverty that forced them to opt for manual scavenging in the first place: “Poverty not just in terms of lack of material resources to aspire for a better life, but also poverty of dignity that is so essential to build an individual’s sense of self-respect.”

"The search for wanting to do something more than what has already been done is what made me make this film. In fact, this has always been the case with me. The urge to constantly re-invent myself has been an integral part of my adult life," Vidhu smiles.

After nearly ten years in the field of television journalism, Vidhu chose to go back to her studies. In 2014, she returned to her profession. 

"When I started off in the year 2000, there were very few women journalists at the time. This also made me the rebel that I am. It made me carve out a space of my own in the field to address issues that are neglected, to tell stories that are ignored. I firmly believe women should be allowed into every profession without exception. Then more women will naturally opt for these," Vidhu opines. 

(All photographs from Vidhu Vincent/ Facebook) 

Edited by Chintha Mary Anil. 

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