Little Cinema was invited by the Paschimbangla Griha Paricharika Kalyan Samiti (West Bengal Domestic Workers’ Welfare Association) to screen films for the children of their village in Bidyadharpur on 20th May. We set up screen against the house of one of the villagers—next to the Sealdah-Canning railway line— everyone pitching in to make sure that the arrangements were just right. Almost as soon as the tarpaulin was laid on the ground, children gathered around, even though we were still more than half an hour away from the time we were scheduled to start!
As we waited for dusk to settle in, we chatted with the children. They introduced themselves, giggling amongst each other. Some of the boys taught me a game, getting a little impatient when I wasn’t able to understand the rules immediately. We had tea and biscuits and I was beginning to feel very much at home, almost like this wasn’t the first time I had come there.
We began the session with a fun game, where the children had to imitate my actions. First slowly and then, at top speed. I find that the game serves two purposes. It is fun and breaks the stereotypical student-teacher dynamic—where the presenter talks and the children listen. I purposely make my actions as ridiculous as possible because it is important that the children can laugh. Both with me and at me. Mimicking actions and having to remember the sequence of the actions also encourages observation.
The first film we screened was Zoo. The children burst into peals of laughter watching the antics of the animals and people and very enthusiastically named all the animals they could recognize. We then moved onto A Chairy Tale, followed by Neighbours and Two and Two, the common thread binding the films together being conflict and the resolution of conflict. While A Chairy Tale drew laughter from both children and the adults, Neighbours drew exclamations of shock. How could neighbours destroy everything and ultimately even themselves over a plain flower? Labani spoke about how these conflicts happen not just between neighbours but also between countries. After Two and Two we discussed how it is important to speak up for what we know is right and true. I asked them if they would listen to me if I told them that two and two equal five. No! They replied in unison.
We then screened The Boy, the Slum and the Pan’s Lids. The children loved the film, immediately commenting that the boy had done nothing wrong because he used the lids to play music. We then showed a clip from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. Before we started the clip, I asked the children if they would be able to do a thousand maths sums in 15 minutes with no breaks in between.
Orrey baba! Impossible, they said.
After the clip was over, we discussed how many factories have inhuman working conditions—using the maths analogy to make it relatable. We ended with Gaon Chorab Nahi. This is a song that tells the story of the adivasis’ struggle for their land—land that is taken away from them for so-called development. We asked the children if they had ever had to face someone, maybe at school, asking them to vacate their seat. Essentially, to give up their place. After the screening, we discussed how many people—in particular the adivasis—have to face and fight against forcible taking of their land.
After the screening was over and our equipment packed, we settled down on the tarpaulin over cups of aada cha and muri, under the flickering light of the halogen bulb. We really enjoyed ourselves, said one of the ladies sitting next to me. Refreshments and goodbyes over, we crossed the railway tracks back to where our auto driver was waiting for us, the murmurs of the village faded.
But the memories will not.
Photographs by Kunal Chakraborty