October 1, 2013 was the day when I, along with my two Marie Curie CoHaB research colleagues, flew out from the Mumbai airport and made our way to Chennai’s L.V. Prasad Film and TV Academy. The item on our official agenda, which was supported by Centre for Advanced Studies in India (CASII) and the Marie Curie Initial Training Network Diasporic Home and Belonging Project (CoHAB-ITN), was for the three of us to receive training in film and filming. Hands-on-experience with cameras, video-cameras, sound equipment, constructing a storyline and experience with direction made up the practical training of how to make a film.
We were taught how to analyze a film act by act, and often discussed and contextualized themes in the films we watched together. While based in Chennai for the month we had the opportunities to see places in and around the city like Bessy beach, Marina beach, Fort museum, St.Thomas Basilica. Our travels outside of the city took us to Mahabalipuram, Pondicherry and Auroville.
What I learned over the course of the month was that to understand film better it was necessary to function within film but also outside of it. I sat in on lectures that broke down the various parts of films into areas like film analysis, sound, editing, cinematography and how they work together to create the entity of a film. In addition to this, my understanding of film was further developed through discussions on world history and conflict, music, health, attitudes towards life, impacts of economies on academic thought, finding ways to remain challenged, and to be able to laugh at one’s self. By getting more familiar with Chennai and its surrounding areas, for example, I was better able to contextualize references made to Tamil Nadu in film discussions; and by getting to know new people in Chennai and hear their personal stories I was better able to not only expand my appreciation of individual experiences, I was also able to put together a script of the short documentary film I made while in the city.
I had been very excited to come to Chennai for this technical secondment, arranged by Dr. Sridhar Rajeswaran at CASII, Dr. Nilufer Bharucha at the University of Mumbai and CoHaB, in collaboration with the director of the L.V.Prasad Academy, K.Hariharan. Before reaching Chennai and starting this practical training I had already decided in my mind that this month of film training would be an experience to remember. I was wrong; it was going to be much more than that, because this experience exceeded my expectations. Indeed I learned many new things about films and how to understand and deconstruct meaning within them. I even made my first film; a short documentary about an Indian diasporic individual, her family and their journeying between their current and previous homes. Making a film was a very exciting first for me and it also taught me that films, regardless of whose creative ideas shine brightest or who has veto power at the end of the day, are more about collaborating with a team to complete the film. The unexpected lessons from this month came in the way of inspiration and feelings of hope after our daily conversations with Hari, as we called him, the director of the L.V. Prasad Academy.
Shedding one or two tears when one wishes another farewell is something I have done; but I shed a few more than two tears on my last day at the institute while listening to our last heartfelt story of the month from Hari. I was quickly reminded that whatever the training or education might be, for me, it ultimately is an issue of who is doing the training and how. During several moments in our training at the film academy I felt sincerity and joy both from my own interest to learn about film and by the teachers’ interest to teach and encourage us to realize our own strengths. The incredible sense of ease I felt at the institute from Hari, Anand, Narayan, Subramaniam, Grace and the other wonderful instructors and staff really enhanced this month for me. Being so involved in stories, by listening, telling, making and watching, simply made my month. The stories were often heartfelt, sincere and captivating, and whether it was related to a film or a personal experience I was reminded that in order to tell a story that resonates with people it is very important to be able to also understand dynamics outside of film and filming that make people tick – it is important to understand the audience. What made me leave Chennai with a heavy and very full heart was that I was not sure if I would meet such a person who was such an inspiring storyteller, who almost always appeared to be full of life, laughter and ease. Hari, the director of the institute took the three of us under his wing, despite his incredibly busy schedule, and taught us in classes with us students, gave us lectures, screened films with us, took us around and outside of the city, checked-in on us when we weren’t well and connected us with other people that would help us with our specialized training. I had a heavy heart because I did not want to leave such an a wonderful time in my life; but I left with a full heart knowing that if I could meet someone else who recognized the beauty in other people, who celebrated life and shared joy and knowledge with others then there were more people like this that will be crossing my path. After all this is only Act One, in the big picture of “Ruby’s Film Adventures”, there are still many more characters to be woven into the storyline.