Meet the women farmers from Zaheerabad who are all going to use the camera for a treasure hunt
In the farms of Pastapur village of Zaheerabad mandal, it’s a
common sight to see Laskhmamma, Narsamma, Mullamma and Manjula
working not always with ploughs and pitchforks, but with huge
cameras and tripods as well. These women farmers, who are part of
the agri-based NGO, Deccan Development Society, have made over 500
short films to spread awareness about practises of food
sovereignty. But never did they expect that they would land an
offer to shoot a whole feature film. Yes, the farmer-filmmaker
quartet have been roped in by Hyderabadi filmmaker Apoorva Marur
for her debut feature film, All About Michelle.
The movie is an opportunity to prove that farm hands can make films too, given the opportunity, says Manjula. “People only think of us as illiterate villagers who are only capable of working in the fields, even though we have been making a lot of short films. people who know about our work also think we can only make films about farming that focus on rural subjects. We want to show people that we are equipped to shoot feature films on urban subjects too,” she adds, confidently.
An “investigative thriller-cum-travelogue” the film is a fictional tale of a researcher who gets suspended after three volunteers die during clinical trials at a medical research centre. Explaining why she chose this unusual crew for her debut, Apoorva says, “I have known these women for over a decade and have worked with them for a film on malnutrition. They are as good as any other professional that you will find in the cities. These women have been trained in all aspects of filmmaking, so I thought why not use them? I approached them to work on my film and they were game.”
Having zero experience of working with professional film cameras, the prospect did seem intimidating initially, admits Narsamma, who’s handling the cinematography for the film. “We have only shot with DSLRs for our short films. Handling such heavy cameras for a feature film was completely new to us. So we were all very nervous to begin with. When Apoorva approached us for this film, our unfamiliarity with such advanced equipment made us question ourselves, and we weren’t sure if we could pull it off,” she says. But things became easier as the farmers got a hang of it with practise. “What eventually made us take up the challenge was curiosity.
When Apoorva showed us the camera, none of us had seen anything like it, so we found it very interesting. We also saw it as an opportunity to explore more about
filmmaking. Yes, we had a few hiccups but we got better with time,” adds Narsamma, who along with her crew has already shot the trailer for the film.
The multi-talented farmer-filmmakers are also involved in the sync-sound for the film. “In India, there are only two female sound recordists who do sync sound but they were too expensive and I couldn’t afford them. I was trying to look for a solution and spoke about my situation with the farmer-filmmakers. that is when they shared that they do sync sound as well. And now, they’re a part of the sound department too,” Apoorva shares.
Interestingly, 28 of the film’s 30-member crew are women. While Apoorva managed to assemble an all-women (well, almost) crew, she says that it’s a happy coincidence. “I didn’t set out to rope in an all-women crew, but am sure the women are going to rock it,” she says.
Financing the film however, has proven to be a challenge. With not many producers coming forward to back them, the filmmaker has chosen the crowd funding option. Through their online campaign, they have managed to raise nearly `15 lakh, but they still need `10 lakh in the next 24 hours to achieve their goal. “Learning that the
farmers are my crew, most of the investors showed reluctance. That’s when I decided to try crowdfunding. We are confident that the funds will come through and we
can begin the shoot by February. To the farmer-filmmakers, I promised to pay the same amount I would pay to any professional in Hyderabad or Mumbai,” Apoorva says, signing off.