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Bollywood defies our Indian culture: Kajri Babbar

Life&More November 8, 2019
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She doesn’t just come from an illustrious filmi family with a producer father, an actor uncle, actor-director aunt and actor cousins. To her credit is being one among four Indians selected for the British Council’s Future Leaders Connect programme, a global leadership network for emerging young leaders (18-35 years) from around the world who the British Council anticipates will play a significant role in politics in the years to come.

Daughter of producer Kishan Babbar and niece of actor-politician Raj Babbar, Kajri Babbar is an award-winning filmmaker whose works reflect her vision to harness the power of films to initiate a change of perception towards gender equality and the LGTBQ+ community. With a postgraduate degree in film direction from Arts University Bournemouth UK, a diploma in social communication media and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Mumbai University, Kajri has made short films and documentaries aimed at initiating a debate on some of the most pressing social issues.

A few of her works have been selected and screened at ‘Student Oscars’ and The Cannes Film Festival. While studying film direction in the UK, Kajri wrote and directed her first short film, Pardaa. Her second short film, Khoj deals with the pressing issue of wife abandonment by NRI husbands in north India. She also creatively produced a Russian documentary directed by Anna Saridi called This Is My Place based on the lives of women who grew in the Soviet Era.

The young filmmaker in conversation with Saurabh Tankha…

How does it feel to be selected for the British Council’s Future Leaders Connect Programme?
I feel really privileged and blessed to have been chosen to be a part of such inspirational young leaders from over 16 countries. Besides the entire programme set up by the British Council and the meetings, there is so much to learn from the others. From the youngest female MP of Egypt to chair of Youth Commonwealth, our cohort is rich with new ideas and passion.

You plan to “harness the power of films to initiate a change of perception towards gender equality and LGBTQ+ community”. How do you propose to do so?
Films and mass media are very important structures of our society as it has the ability to create, influence and reinforce social attitudes. Bollywood defies our Indian culture. We follow the steps of our actors and characters they play onscreen. Hence, there is no better way than films to create awareness and bring about change. What we need today is a set of responsible filmmakers. For this I believe it is very important to teach film ethics and ill effects of propaganda in the curriculum of film-schools in India and worldwide. My plan is to create an international community where policymakers and filmmakers work together to encourage movies as a tool to internalise gender equality related policies amongst the stakeholders. I am a filmmaker and I have and will continue to make content and use my expertise and craft to change of perception towards gender equality and LGTBQ+ community.

Unlike most Gen Next Bollywood kids, you chose to be behind the camera. Any reasons for the same?
If everyone is going to be in front of the camera then who is going to be behind? Filmmaking is my passion. Yes, being born in a ‘filmy’ family might be the reason behind my initial interest but my love for cinema has gone way beyond. I love the power I have as a filmmaker to create and develop a film. As they say a writer can change the world with a pen, I want to with camera and action.

In your opinion, do documentaries and short films manage to leave an impact on the psyche of people?
Yes, definitely. The overwhelming respect I am receiving today is just because of documentaries and short films. Short films have the beauty of conveying the message in just few minutes. I think it can never combat the power of a feature film but with the advent of digitalisation and social media in our lives, short films and content have got its own scope. On the other hand, I am very big fan of documentaries personally. There is no better way to learn and educate yourself about the world than documentaries. It shows you real life with various kinds of perceptions. It makes you think and experience like no other medium can.

What advantages and disadvantages are there if you happen to be from a filmi family?
I would say there are all advantages. I was blessed to be born in family where we talk about creativity and majorly life beyond the norm. There is so much to learn at every family gathering for me. It is just very encouraging to grow up under such strong women like my aunt Nadira Zaheer Babbar, sister Juhi and mother Jasjeet who are beyond their husbands’ identities. It is also very inspiring to have brothers who are so health conscious and hardworking. More than anything, my family has taught me that it is very important for everybody to have their own identity and calling in life. They helped me develop mine, without forcing their own opinions. The only disadvantage I face often is the perception people hold about me without even knowing me. But I am sure once they do know me, they can see that I am beyond just a filmi family child.

What have you learnt from your uncle, the legendary Raj Babbar?
Everything. He is my life’s inspiration and also my biggest support. I know I can take his advice on any topic and he would be able to give me his views without any bias and pressure. He is just phenomenally intelligent and wise, you can talk to him about pretty much everything, even the so-called millennial issues and agendas. I wonder sometimes, how can someone be so passionate and hardworking even after receiving so much successes? He is just never tired!!

Your ideas germinate from…
My research and curious nature that I developed while studying journalism.

How different are you from other filmmakers?
I believe no filmmaker can be alike. We all have different voices that we want tell to the world. My life experience and learnings cannot be the same as any other in the industry.

The word “creative” to you is…
Magic and power

What does it take to be a good filmmaker?
Sensitivity and the blessing of understanding human nature

Favourite film(s)
The Apu Trilogy
by Satyajit Ray, Pyaasa by Guru Dutt and more recently, Haider by Vishal Bharadwaj

Favourite director(s)
Satyajit Ray

photo courtesy (Raj Babbar with Kajri Babbar/ Tribune India)

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