From community films to community leadership – life changes for a rural producer

 Rihana lives in Juhapura slum of Ahmedabad. It’s this slum she was born and grew up in as well. Poverty and hunger had been her constant companions, like everyone else around her. There were days when there would be no food at home and to suppress the hunger clawing inside, she would chew tobacco, among other things, just like other kids around her did.


Years later, Rihana was now a videomaker, working for a community media organization called Samvad, a joint effort of Saath and Video Volunteers. As a film maker Rihana took up community issues, highlighted the wrongs, screened them to the slum people and engaged them in a discussion leading to taking action. The action would then bring positive result, setting the wrongs right.


In Dec’ 2009 Rihana was working on the script of their new film, focused on drug addiction. Named Chokdi, the film was to highlight and make aware of tobacco and drug addiction in her city’s slums. As she worked, Rihana realized, in many ways she was now playing a community leader’s role, talking of problems, generating awareness and initiating discussions. And then she was hit by a bigger realisation – she, Rihana, who was asking others to give up addiction, was a tobacco addict herself.


‘The realization made me feel ashamed and guilty. I thought, what right do I have to tell people ‘don’t do this,’, when I was doing it myself? I couldn’t possibly be preaching something that I didn’t practice! I was so disturbed by this, I couldn’t go on with shooting even days after my script was complete’, she confesses.


The dilemma couldn’t go on forever. So, on the morning that the shooting for Chokdi was to begin, Rihana took an oath – to give up chewing tobacco forever.


“All day I shot, like a mad person’, she recalls, ‘my body was asking for a pinch of tobacco. But my mind was full of enthusiasm – of giving up tobacco and setting up an example’.


8 months have passed since then. Chokdi film has been completed and thousands of people in and around Ahmedabad have watched it since then. They include slum dwellers, school children, policemen, teachers and doctors. ‘The Police Commissioner of Ahmedabad saw our film and said, ‘You must show this to all my men. It has the power to help people give up addiction. We have also witnessed about half a dozen cases where people have given up smoking, drinking and other addictions’, she adds


The reason behind such impact, feels Rihana, lies in the fact that it’s a story told by someone who has lived the reality. She knows how it feels to be an addict, not even knowing it was killing you and then the struggle to give it up, because she wanted to live. This makes the film honest and also full of hopes. So It’s bound to make change.


After all, the film has already got its first positive impact story – in the filmmaker herself.