The environment through a woman’s lens

By: Staff Reporter

New Delhi, March 8: The business of environmental film making demands high levels of physical fitness, given its outdoor nature. But that does not in any way discourage passionate, dedicated women. Shatakshi Gawade spoke with two brilliant, award winning women filmmakers – Rita Banerji and Kavita Bahl – on the eve of women’s day about their movies, interests and women-related issues. Both Banerji and Bahl are driven by their passion for environmental causes. Over a decade of experience and struggles has not fazed these enthusiastic, committed women. Environment films seem to be an extension of their lives.

women directors 2

Left: Journalist turned filmmaker Kavita Bahl
Right: Rita Banerji with her weapon

Banerji heads Dusty Foot Production, a Delhi-based company of wildlife filmmakers in 2002. With 15 years of experience under her belt, this wildlife-environment filmmaker and cameraperson has directed, produced and filmed many award-winning documentaries. Her film The Wild Meat Trail won the prestigious Panda award; also known as the Green Oscar; at Wildscreen 2010. This year, she was awarded the Jury Special Mention Award at the CMS Vatavaran festival for her movie Gaur in my Garden, and her film Shifting Undercurrents – Women Seaweed Collectors of Gulf of Mannar was the winner in the Livelihoods category. Banerji identifies her films as outreach and education capsules.

The film Shifting Undercurrents documents the women seaweed collectors of the Gulf of Mannar. After their work area was declared protected, these women were unable to collect seaweed, which was a source of their livelihood. The movie has become the voice of these women. It has been shown to all the stakeholders – other fisherfolk, government authorities, NGOs – in an effort to bring policy change that will not affect these women’s ability to earn. The film, said Banerji, has become a tool for the people working at the ground level. “I believe this is an important role of films”.

To watch the promo of her film Shifting Undercurrents – Women Seaweed Collectors of Gulf of Mannar –

The DVD is available at

Shifting undercurrents

A still from Shifting Undercurrents – – Women Seaweed Collectors of Gulf of Mannar

To watch the promo of her film Gaur in my Garden –

The DVD is available at

Bahl, who worked with the Indian Express for seven years, took to journalism for she wanted to work for the voice-less, face-less people who exist on the margins and get nothing more than lip-service from those who rule this nation. In 1996, her husband Nandan Saxena and she quit their jobs to focus on ‘real issues’; they work in the genres of documentary and short films which span the domains of ecology, livelihoods, development and human rights. Dammed, the documentary independently produced by Bahl and her husband, was recently awarded the Best Film Award in Water for Life category at Vatavaran film festival at New Delhi in February this year. Bahl was the director and producer for the film.

Dammed attempted to question the modern paradigm of Development that makes a priori assumption that mega dams and nuclear energy are critical to progress. It is the story of the grit and determination of the Dam-affected villagers of Madhya Pradesh, submerged neck-deep in the water of River Narmada, protesting against the apathy of the Indian government and exploitative Dam Corporations.

To watch the promo of their film DAMMED –

Dammed 1

The movie will be screened on 15th March, 2014.
Time: 7 PM
Address: Baba Kharak Singh Marg, Next to RML Hospital, New Delhi-110001

For DVDs contact Kavita Bahl at

In a field dominated by men they do not feel their gender has disadvantaged their work. “What counts here among other things is your fitness. Once people (read men) see that you are ready to rough it out, they view you as any other film maker,” said Banerji. Bahl, who has worked as an investigative journalist, believes that a woman creates her ‘own space’ by her work. “I would always like to be known by my work. In film-making, we work as a team and sometimes one faces opposition from the male members of the team due to their chauvinistic tendencies but then it has never deterred me from delivering professionally,” said Bahl.

The theme identified by United Nation for this year’s international women’s day is ‘Equality for women is progress for all’. Banerji opines that rather than equality, the focus should be on equal opportunities – there should be no difference in the opportunities for men and women. She said, “People should be respected for who they are and what they do. Also, a man’s perception of a woman should change; this can begin only in the family and then extend outwards to the community”. On the other hand Bahl believe that we are all born equal. “Women just have to wake up to this reality and take charge of their own lives”. She added that equal opportunity means the ability to lead a life without biases and taboos.

Bahl and her husband have been working together for the past 17 years. On being asked about the role played by her husband in her life, Bahl said that in a way he has been her teacher. Though is the team leader, by virtue of being the cinematographer, he never imposes his opinions on me. Doesn’t working with hiim so closely mix their personal and professional lives? “When you are so intimately linked, your personal and professional life can’t be different. Movies are such an integral part of our life that we often end up discussing them at the dinner table!” she said.

It is not always easy for a woman to break free from all the conditions and norms, but a woman must learn to speak for herself, opined Banerji. Safety issues for women in India are on top of everyone’s mind. For a city like Delhi, a woman needs to take certain precautions and she needs to be aware because the conditions are such. “When I am in Delhi, I am more cautious; but nobody has the right to violate my privacy if I’m not.”

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