animal protection

‘Kill a man or two more, but dare not kill the pig’: tales from Bikas Mishra’s ‘Chauranga’

The filmmaker paid a price for daring to use pigs in his first feature, which explores caste in a Bihar village.

Very few filmmakers make a well-reasoned decision to work with pigs. They are neither as obedient as dogs nor as well-mannered as horses. They don’t have much of a screen presence, like elephants. Plus, most cultures have social and religious biases against them. To quote from Chris Noonan’s 1995 Oscar-winning Australian film Babe, “There was a time not so long ago when pigs were afforded no respect; except by other pigs”.

So when I expressed my desire to work with pigs in Chauranga, my well-meaning producers tried their best to explain the hazards to me. My over-enthusiasm, which I mistook for artistic integrity, prevailed, and I ended up working with quite a few of them – male, female, pregnant, piglet.

Though Chauranga is primarily a tale of humankind, it also deals with pigs. My casting director did a great job but when it came to casting pigs, she flatly refused. I took it as a challenge, since first-time directors find great thrills in challenges. Little did I know what I was setting myself up for.

Our extremely helpful line producer also underestimated the challenges involved in casting pigs. He handed over the job to the local coordinator, who again underestimated the task at hand. He said, “You will find them all around once you reach the location.” He was right. I ended up dealing with far too many of them, but I still couldn’t find the one that would fit the role.

When I insisted on seeing pictures first so that I could choose the right pig for the part, he was dumbfounded: “Why do you need to see their pictures, they all taste the same!”

Wait, I need them alive, to act in the film, not to eat them.

When I said I needed piglets too, he burst out laughing. “Shuerer bacha!” He clarified, “It’s a cuss word in Bengali”. There is a cuss word in every language for them, for instance, suar ki aulad in Hindi.

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But casting is only one part of the challenge of working with pigs. The next step is animal consultants, who obtain clearances from the Animal Welfare Board of India. The consultant was aghast at a scene in the script. “Why do you want the pig to die?” he asked.

Well, because I’m the director and this is my film. I can kill anybody I want.

“No, but you can’t kill a pig!”

Wait, isn’t that pork momo on your plate?

“You can kill them to eat, but not in a movie.”

That’s some logic. Try applying it.

“So you think everything you do in life can be done in movies?” he said to me, as if throwing a challenge. “Are you married, sir?” he winked, “You know what I mean, sir.”

I thought it used to be the other way round. You can’t go to Mars in real life, but you can go there in a movie.

“That’s Hollywood, their moral fabric is torn to shreds.”

I know. That is why the Central Board of Film Certification needs to remind us about the right duration of a kiss, I think. But what does the pig have to do with the moral fabric of the nation? He just smiled.

It’s not just the pig that dies in my movie. Humans die as well. I treat the pigs as well or as badly as my actors.

But they won’t pass that. “Kill a man or two more if your story needs it, but dare not kill the pig if you want your film to release,” the consultant said.

Wait, are you thinking I will actually kill the pig during the shoot? I won’t. I will edit it in such a way that people will think it got killed.

“You can’t show them dead, period.”

But how do I tell my story then?

“Be creative. Why are you stuck with pigs?” He smiled like a Zen master, and I saw an aura appear behind his head. The green screen behind him was transformed into the snow-clad Mount Everest.

So, the pig doesn’t die, humans do, and nobody utters “cuss words” in my film. Despite that, it’s not a family entertainer, because we got an “A” certificate. So the sweet little 14-year old kid (Soham Maitra, a delightful actor), whom the film is about, can’t watch the film in a theatre.

The censors also asked me to delete what I considered a love-making scene. They labeled it “intercourse”, and the reason given behind the removal was, “Scenes degrading or denigrating women in any manner are not presented.” Yes, I get it. Having sex denigrates women even if it’s consensual because they carry the burden of our honour.

Aren’t films over-regulated in our country? Every single body of the government wants to have a say. The Health ministry insists on ugly anti-smoking videos and disclaimers as part of the movie. The Animal Welfare Board of India needs to read scripts. The Censors Board, of course, prescribes what not to show or speak in them. To add to the list is the Maharashtra government-stipulated obligatory rendition of the national anthem before every single film screening.

Well, that’s for another day.

Bikas Mishra’s award-winning feature film Chauranga opens on January 8. Follow him @bikas and the film @Chauranga.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.