Rani Maria’s story deserves to be told: Filmmaker
By Matters India Reporter
Shaison P. Ouseph, an internationally acclaimed documentary filmmaker, is all set to make a film on Blessed Rani Maria, who was assassinated by a contract killer in central India in 1995.
The Franciscan Clarist Congregation nun, who was 41 at the time of her death, incurred the wrath of landlords for encouraging landless agricultural workers to demand just wages and their other rights. The assassin inflicted 54 stab wounds on her body.
Rani Maria was beatified on November 4, 2017, at Indore, the commercial capital of Madhya Pradesh state.
Shaison, as the filmmaker is popularly known, says the film on the martyred nun is a dream project for him. The credits of this native of kerala’s Chalakudy range from director of photography to art director on many documentaries and independent feature projects.
His public service campaigns promoting literacy, empowerment of women and against child exploitation have won him many national and international accolades including United Nations, International Labour Organizations and US Embassy awards.
His works as a director for various commercial and non-commercial audio-visuals have been well recognized and appreciated.
In April 2017, a documentary filming of the celebrations of life in western Puerto Rico, Playa Azul I Love You, won an award in the International Independent Film Festival.
Shaison recently spoke to Santosh Digal of Matters India about his new project. Excerpts:
MATTERS INDIA: Why do you want to make a film on Rani Maria?
SHAISON J OUSEPH: Sr. Rani Maria’s story deserves to be told. It will have a word wide audience since it is about a Catholic nun, who singlehandedly fought against injustice and paid with her life for that. There can be no greater love than to lay down one’s life for others, Christ has said. Rani Maria sacrificed her life for the poor landless laborers who were oppressed and pushed to the margins.
When do you plan to do the movie?
My current plan is from August to November this year. This is a Malayalam-Hindi bilingual feature film.
What is so unique about this movie?
Sister Rani Maria is an example for the world on how to fight against the injustices. She fought against an unjust system that oppressed the community she served. Those injustices were local in nature but have universal application. Therefore I want to impact society on an international scale with her story, the story of her family and the story of her murderer.
The script is already ready.
What is your timeline for making this film?
We have scheduled it for August to October 2018 –Pre-production in August, Shooting in September and Editing in October.
Have you selected the artists for the movie?
Yes, we have the main casts and the technicians ready. But reveal the names later.
What do you hope to communicate through the movie?
We hope to draw attention to the needs of oppressed women throughout the world and the disadvantaged of India in particular. As you are aware film has a far greater power to move minds than either written or spoken words.
What challenges do you foresee in making this movie?
Since the film is based on a Catholic nun and considering the present political scenario in India, there can be some reaction from certain political/religious wings.
How will show in this the film what you said earlier, “Blessed Rani Maria is a true example?”
We have very clear incidents from the life of Sr. Rani Maria. These incidents will be enacted and captured on location. We have a great support from the local people and the Church.
How will you generate funds for the movie?
Through crowd funding and from like-minded people. I would greatly appreciate any assistance you can offer our production team, to seek out like-minded people. We are looking or people who can envision the difference this film can make to the world and are willing to bring this dream project to reality.
Could you tell us about you?
I am an assistant professor at Xavier Institute of Communications, Mumbai. I live in Mumbai with my wife Bindu and two kids.
I have made nearly 40 documentaries on various subjects ranging from child sexual exploitation, literacy, rare customs, hidden lives, women empowerment, health issues and education system, covering over 20 countries.
In fact, I began making documentaries in 2005. Back then, I used to travel a lot and happened to come across the child prostitution rackets in the northeast. That was my first work. Then came a document on domestic workers in Mumbai and another on street children.
How did you go international?
An award at an international photography contest earned me contacts and slowly, I could widen my realm by travelling to many countries and shooting what caught my eyes.
At Denmark, I worked on the side effects of cancer treatment, whereas in Sweden, I documented the local folk culture. At France, I came across people practicing a secluded lifestyle, away from technology and rest of the world, living off raw food. In Kenya, I made Rescue on a woman named Christine, a former sex worker, who rehabilitated kids from prostitution rings. At Puerto Rico, Dr Serena Anderlini and I collaborated for Playa Azul: I Love You made on the theme of ecosexuality, where people get married to trees and live in harmony with nature. I have also made documentaries on the Bali Spirit Festival, migrant issues in Australia and a mystic healer in the US.
Do you recall any memorable experience?
Each work has been a great learning experience for me, both as a person and a documentary filmmaker. I have come across many strange lives and practices I haven’t even heard about, like the headhunting Naga tribes. Ages ago, people used to kill men from other tribes, collect and display their heads as part of proving their masculinity. Many in the current generation keep the skulls, though the practice no longer exists.
Once, at an Ethiopian village, I was roaming around with a camera, shooting the huts and the smiling faces of the kids. Suddenly, a dusty jeep arrived on the scene and armed militia jumped out, pointing guns at my head.
They started shouting at me and pushed me with the barrel. Neither of us knew the other one’s language. They held me at gunpoint for hours till a gangster went over to the city, made enquiries and brought back a friend who took me home.
Once, at the New York Central Park, I was filming a beggar sleeping on the footpath when he suddenly woke up and pulled out a gun and shot at the sky. It all happened so suddenly that I just froze. After that, I always make it a point to ask permission.
Are there any other projects in the pipeline?
Yes, two documentaries — one one the kids of Thailand and the other on the spiritual life of Las Vegas.
There is a lot more the world is yet to know. I want to take to the world those real stories that need to be heard.