My Story: “Win At Cannes As First Indian Woman Cinematographer Was Surreal: How I Broke Into A Male Bastion”

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Modhura Palit recently emerged as the first Indian cinematographer to be honoured with the prestigious Angenieux encouragement award at Cannes Film Festival. She was also the first Indian woman to achieve such a spectacular honour. In an exclusive conversation with Efforts For Good, Modhura shares her journey as one of the very few women cinematographers in India and why the gender disparity in the film industry needs to be addressed.

“I knew from my very childhood that doing a 9 to 6 job was not my cup of tea. I was cut out for something on the lesser trodden path, something creative.

My parents were ad photographers, so, perhaps creativity was inbred in me. I had the exposure to an alternate household environment which encouraged and nourished passion. In plus two, my subjects were far from core science or commerce. I studied commercial arts, fashion technology etc. After that, I joined St. Xavier’s College in Kolkata to pursue Mass Communication and Video Production. That’s when I discovered my flair in videography.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

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I realised that working behind the camera is something I can do for the rest of my life. Then I got enrolled into Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute (SRFTI) and decided to master the craft thoroughly. Gradually, things proceeded on their own, and here I am today, being the first Indian to win the Angenieux special encouragement award at the Cannes Film Festival.

My Story Modhura Palit

The underlying gender disparity of film industry

The journey was indeed inspiring, but far from easy. Being a woman technician in the film industry is breaking into a male bastion in itself. A subtle gender disparity greets every women director, scriptwriter or cinematographer on a film set. Somehow, the persistent notion is that these professions suit men only. Women directors and writers are coming more into prominence these days, but you would hardly find women cinematographers, or say, sound-editors in India.

Except for perhaps a few essentially female jobs like script-girls or costume-ladies, all behind-the-camera profiles portray a clear trend of proclivity towards men.

If a woman can carry a heavy pail of water, why can’t I carry a camera

I am quite used to hearing that cinematography demands quite a lot of physical exertion. This is purely absurd. Who says women cannot do manual labour? If a woman in a village can carry a heavy pail of water for miles and miles, another can very well shoot with a heavy camera. Why is it so hard to normalise women technicians?

We get to hear vague excuses like if it is a woman, she cannot work on her periods. If it is a married woman, she will be busy attending to her family, how can she focus on work? So, better not select her. If she is a mother, then she must be retiring soon. All the stereotypes we get to hear, seem to be around one gender only.

A female DOP? Impossible!

I remember one time during my initial days I was assigned to be the Director of Photography (DOP) for a project. When I was instructing the technicians to adjust the lighting the way I wanted, they were doing it quite half-heartedly.

When I insisted, they expressed their reluctance fearing that the DOP would instruct them otherwise the next day. I did not reveal to them that I, myself, was the DOP. The next day when they found out, they were extremely apologetic. But that’s the thing. It was beyond their imagination that a woman could be a DOP as well. That’s the stereotype we have to break to let more passionate women take on these roles.

Don’t highlight her gender, highlight her achievements

Why don’t we get to see more female technicians? Right now, female aspirants might be clueless about how to be a cinematographer, what to do, where to go. See, if the existing women are never highlighted, the willing ones would also feel excluded even before starting. We don’t have a substantial female representation in the film industry anyway. So, the little bit we have has to be brought under the limelight.

Then again, I am against the idea of hailing a woman professional just because of her gender. Her gender should not define her work or her identity. But, at least, the narrative on their work and achievements should be put across to the public.

To be honest, very few people are aware of what cinematography actually is. I would like everyone to know that it’s not just holding up the camera on your shoulders. A cinematographer needs to have an aesthetical viewpoint, a philosophical perspective of the scene being shot. That’s how a beautiful scene comes to life on screen.

Experience at Cannes Film Festival

The experience at Cannes has been surreal. I have always heard about the grand event, but being there and accepting an award is insane. It’s beautiful, overwhelming to be honest. Meeting the people you have always dreamt about and idolised – I cannot express it in words.

My Story Modhura Palit

I get happy very easily. Something as simple as a veteran actor appreciating my work or a famed director wanting to work with me can make me happy instantly. I guess that’s what keeps me going forward with my passion. Presently, I am working on two Bengali feature films and two short films. Let’s see how everything pans out.

My advice to the aspirants of cinematography

To all the youngsters who want to get into cinematography, I have only one advice – be extremely serious about it. You cannot just think that since it is not a mainstream profession like a doctor or an engineer, your passion would be enough for it.

Nobody has become a successful cinematographer just my carrying a DSLR around and shooting random videos. You need to study thoroughly about the basics of the craft. You need to follow and learn from the experts in the field and practise. There is no substitute for learning and hard work. That’s when success will come to you.”

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

‘Happy Fridge’: The Key To Bridge Food Wastage And Hunger Problem In India

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Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.

Say Goodbye To Throwing Away Excess Food Because Now You Can Donate The Food To The Needy – Happy Fridge

Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge

Posted by The Logical Indian on Saturday, October 27, 2018

Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles

It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.

The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.

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Making memories, sprouting awareness

“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.

In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.

“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.

On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.

Feeding India will set up 500 Happy Fridges

Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.

“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.

After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.

Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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