Remember Ryan’s Well? Indian Filmmaker Continues to Make Positive Films

By Kinjal Dagli,Womens Feature Service

Telling positive stories that help change the world comes easily to award-winning documentary filmmaker, Lalita Krishna.

Ten years ago, she made ‘Ryan’s Well’, a film about a six-year-old boy called Ryan who heard that people in Africa were dying because they did not have clean water. He saved pennies in a cookie tin to raise money to build a well in Uganda. From the inspiring words of his teacher that got him started to the momentous trip to inaugurate his well in a village in Uganda, ‘Ryan’s Well’ encapsulates the dream of a Canadian child to make a difference. The film was broadcast to a national Canadian audience and received a phenomenal response.

“That was a turning point in my career. I made it my mission to tell positive stories about young people,” says Krishna, who was born in Kolkata and later moved to Delhi.

Krishna’s upbringing had a profound impact on her career choice. “It was actually television that got me into this field. As a young person, I’d watch a programme called ‘Youth Forum’ on Doordarshan. Those were the days when there were no other television channels in India apart from the national broadcaster, Doordarshan. I remember being cocky about one of the shows and my father challenged me to write to the producer and offer constructive criticism. The producer invited me to the show and I went on to host the same programme,” she recalls.

From a cocky teenager, Krishna went on to become an accomplished filmmaker. She won the Trailblazer Award at the 2010 ReelWorld Film Festival and has also received the DreamCatcher Award. “The awards are humbling. A reminder that you have to do even better to actually earn them. When I got the Trailblazer Award this year, I thought about all the people who had paved the way for me and how it’s my turn to give back. The awards are important not just to decorate the shelf with but to provide a boost to your confidence and make everything seem worthwhile. You feel that someone is watching,” she remarks.

Filmmaking, especially documentary filmmaking, is not everybody’s forte but Krishna isn’t exactly someone you would expect conformity from. “Most people understand traditional jobs or career choices. It’s not just that I am a filmmaker but I make documentaries, which is not a genre everyone understands. But I don’t think I’ve ever encountered any gender specific stereotyping because of this, either here or in India,” she says, adding that the subjects closest to her heart are those that deal with children, women and social issues.

However she is emphatic that “it’s got to be a good story”, and judging from the demand for her films Krishna has succeeding in choosing her stories well. Her 2005 documentary, ‘Jambo Kenya’, focused on 11 Canadian kids who sign up for a trip to Kenya and ended up teaching children in a local village and building a school house. These are children who grew up in a society of abundance and watched Discovery Channel to know more about the world. But they finally did see a side of the world that had no clean water, only shacks for homes and dark and dingy classrooms in which to study. The film was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Gender is a significant theme in Krishna’s films. “I got involved in women’s issues early on and found it very empowering. I did a series on feminism and it was a period of great personal growth for me. It taught me a lot about the history of the women’s movement. I also did a great deal of research into the ways in which different institutions, such as political parties, hospitals, universities, the courts, and so on, all have systems in place that intrinsically discriminate against women and what needs to be done to change this situation,” she explains, and adds, “It’s amazing how much I was able to put into practice in my own life!”

Krishna has had her share of biases and professional battles. “The issues of systemic discrimination exist in all fields. I don’t think the media is any different. Having said that, I don’t think the opportunities in this field are affected by gender. As women, we face the same issues, whether it about funding or anything else. After all, we use the same funding avenues as everyone else,” she explains.

The filmmaker believes her own go-getter attitude towards her work as well as her focus on children who are making a difference can be traced back to her own childhood. “Growing up in India, I never felt I couldn’t do anything, Like everyone else, I too thought I should be a doctor one day. But all my siblings somehow gravitated to the media. My sister is a journalist and my brother, a writer/publisher. So I guess there is something to be said about our family upbringing that was liberal and stimulating,” she observes.

Like the subjects of her films who have charted different paths for themselves, Krishna has done just that.