Scripting real change

Sunday, 20 April 2014 - 7:05am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Trishya Screwvala's search for a good story she could translate on reel spun instead a script on her life, casting the filmmaker as a social entrepreneur who means business

With a Masters from USC's Peter Stark Producing Program, Los Angeles, it was perhaps considered a given that Trishya Screwvala would soon join her father, Ronnie Screwvala, who then headed Bollywood's most powerful production house, UTV. That she produced a documentary with Shekhar Kapur on 100 years of Indian Cinema as soon as she was back, only added more fuel to the speculation. But Trishya admits that while things could've turned out that way, it was not her plan, and so was not turning social entrepreneur with Raindancer, her Not For Profit Organisation that works to create platforms for sustained volunteerism.

Finding her way
Her trajectory makes for a good story to dole out to youngsters who beat themselves up for not being sure of every step they have to take. For one, Trishya switched majors about twice, before she went on to study filmmaking, going for undergrad studies in Biology, then switching to economics and hating it, and discovering filmmaking by "accident".

Two, she arrived at her choice of the visual medium – documentaries and their social messaging potential – by trying her 'hands at it all'. "I thought I'd come back and change Bollywood, and develop exciting films. So, I started working with big production houses in LA," she says. But soon enough from Fox, she'd moved to interning with Fox Searchlight, then to The Kennedy/Marshall Company, and finally with independent documentary film productions. "My sentiments just lie there. To be honest, I was a little jaded by the whole Hollywood scene; the way films were being churned out by the studios was mechanical, all about the market wants. That for me was a bit difficult to digest," she says. "Maybe I was being naive or too idealistic… but when I found the independent (cinema) world, it was very inspiring, and I got into that."

More discoveries
While she returned wanting to do something in the independent documentary film circuit in India, she realised there was a very limited audience for it here. "Youngsters weren't really excited about documentaries, and still consider it to be boring and very serious." But what made her "really get out of the idea," she says, was, "We didn't have that many platforms where people like me could do something sustainable even if they got excited by kickass movies and campaigns on social message. If there's no platform, where is it going to go?" she asks.

And this for her was the trigger point of how we could create a system of sustained volunteering. "This is why I kind of stopped and said, let's put something in place first, and the focus on awareness." And that's how Raindancer was born.

Action plan
The being of Raindancer is very sorted at its core. With the name like that, Trishya wants to strike out any ideas of the social sector being slow-paced and boring. So, the 27-year-old, who loves her ballet and hiphop, decided on a name that would convey "that ecstasy and feeling of joy."

The model they've taken up is tying up with NGOs that have strong community relationships in certain areas, "purely because we didn't feel we wanted to reinvent the wheel".

"A lot of NGOs are doing good work taking care of academics, but don't have enough resources for personal attention." Their first project, the Light House Project is a youth mentoring programme to fill this gap.

"The idea is to have a didi or a bhaiya, as simple as someone they can talk to, and look up to. More often than not, no one in their community has gone to college, so their aspirations are low. Just talking to someone who has gone to college can help them see and believe that 'I can be here, I can do this'."

Raindancer mentors help kids with goal setting, managing stress and emotions, English speaking, personal safety and knowing their rights, she tells us.

Starting with 30 children from Salaam Baalak, Trishya is proud that from May, the programme will reach out to about 120 more children from organisations like Pratham that works with slum dwellers, and the Apne Aap Women's Collective, that works with daughters of women in Kamathipura area.

Besides being busy
When Trishya isn't working with her team on refining the mentoring programme, she's busy over calls to the US, as her "long time" documentary on semi arranged marriage system, a romantic comedy documentary on Indian Gujaratis in US, Meet The Patels, that she has co-produced is ready to hit the festival circuit.

Then there's the Philosophy classes Trishya looks forward to every week, something that started out much like her foray into filmmaking studies. "My step mom (Zarina Screwvala) mentioned she was going for one after someone recommended it to her, so I decided to check it out, too. I did a bit of reading and liked it." After completing a 15 week course, Trishya is now a member at the philosophy school, New Acropolis, in Colaba. What's drawn her to it, says the thinking girl, is that "It's about Philosophy in action. Today, I think there's a big disconnect between what we say and what we do, and between what we believe and what we do. Reducing this gap is what philosophy is all about.

Walking the talk
This is something Trishya's always had in her. As a kid, she'd bully her cousins into being socially and environmentally responsible, making them shun fire crackers in Diwali because, "they encouraged child labour," and saying no to kite flying because "glass coated strands were deadly for birds." Trishya jokes, "my cousins tell me, I ruined their childhood." She says, "I think I was just one of those very opinionated, strong willed kids. I'd pick up things, and act on it."

The only thing she says has changed is that she doesn't bully other people into doing it; like her active participation in this year's elections. Ask her of her association with the Aam Aadmi Party, and she smiles, almost wishing we hasn't asked, but quickly adds, "If you believe in a certain party, why can't you voice it? We need to create an environment of accountability, good governance, and ethics in politics, from bottom up." She says being a foot soldier for AAP, and going door to door to talk to people has been an experience. "These have been very educative months on details on how elections work; and, it feels great to be involved."

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