Saturday, July 22, 2006

From child slave to film director

Via: The Age

Andra Jackson
July 10, 2006
THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD internationally acclaimed children's film director Sahiful Mondal draws on his early experience of slave labour in making his latest film, The Inner Eye.
Sahiful is one of more than 500 children rescued from child labour by Swapan Mukherjee, founder of Muktaneer (meaning Open Sky), a home for destitute children in Kolkata. In Melbourne to speak to schoolchildren, the young director described The Inner Eye as a parable about indifference and cruelty."When we were hungry, the masters were eating, but they had not the eyes to see that we were hungry," said Sahiful, who was put into servitude at the age of four.

His father had died and his destitute mother, two sisters and a brother had ended up living in a roadside hut made of bamboo, plastic and leaves.
He worked nine hours, seven days a week as a dishwasher in a household where he was beaten for breaking a glass. He was "paid" a bowl of stale rice a day, which he shared with his mother.He also did back-breaking work crushing mud with a brick for which he earned the equivalent of 20 cents a day.His last job was goat herding, for which he earned two portions of stale rice a day.

"One day I couldn't find a goat and I came back and told my master and they didn't give me and my mother food for two days and I was beaten," he said.
He was seven when taken into Muktaneer. There he received four meals a day, slept in a bed and was allowed to play for the first time.

Sahiful is one of 40 boys who live at Muktaneer, the house Mr Mukherjee set up during the devastating floods of 1978 that left many homeless. Some of the children had worked as slaves, while others had been kidnapped and sold.
Mr Mukherjee is the secretary of the Centre for Communication and Development in Kolkata, which runs Muktaneer, its own school and physiotherapy centre and 65 schools in West Bengal villages.

He is in Australia to establish links with educational and medical organisations and appeal for more volunteer teachers, after the Melbourne-based Friends of Kolkata attracted 18 volunteers. It is also helping build a new English-medium school and a girls school.Sahiful's fascination with Mr Mukherjee's video camera led to the idea of boys making their own films.

His first effort, I Am — about the boys' dreams — won the Grand Prize at the 2004 International Children's Film Festival in Athens. His second film, We Are, won the festival's 2005 Grand Prize. This year, he attended the festival in Cyprus, where The Inner Eye won second prize.The bright-eyed youngster's ambition is to make films in the tradition of the great, socially insightful Indian film director Satyajit Ray to "help people".

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