Ajitesh Sharma’s debut documentary W.O.M.B. to open the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne
W.O.M.B. is the journey of a social activist who walked the length of India to empower women
The Indian Film Festival of Melbourne which begins on August 12 will open with Ajitesh Sharma’s debut documentary W.O.M.B. (Women of My Billion). Last month, the movie was also screened at the London Indian Film Festival and it garnered some rave reviews. Women of My Billion is a documentary that captures the story of Srishti Bakshi who walked for over 240 days, covering 4,000 kilometres from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. Srishti, who is one of the UN Women Champion of Change, a Commonwealth Point of Light Winner and a Young Connectors of the Future Fellow, undertook this mammoth journey during 2018. Her purpose was to meet as many women as possible along the journey, empower them and make them aware of issues such as illiteracy, gender disparity and financial independence. But at that time, there were no plans of making a film. However, when she was crossing Delhi, Ajitesh who was then an assistant director for the show Delhi Crime, met Srishti and was quite intrigued by her commitment.
“I was completely blown away by Srishti ’s work,” enthuses Ajitesh, adding, “Her sister Apoorva Bakshi was one of the executive producers on Delhi Crime, and we decided that Srishti’s work needs to be showcased to the world. We had a lot of discussions about it, and then because I strongly believed in it, Apoorva sent me 1,000 hours of footage that had been shot over 230 days by Srishti’s team.” The director watched all the footage that included more than 300 interviews with women across India, before he decided on the script. Watching real stories of women who have survived some devastating situations in their lives was no easy task for Ajitesh. “I was angry with my own community and my gender. It was an eye-opening experience. I had to channel my anger, so making this film became all the more important. The issues it highlights must be addressed everywhere, starting from our homes,” says Ajitesh. It may seem odd that a documentary has been made without the director actually shooting the film. But Ajitesh says that he took his role of putting it together like a narrative very seriously.
Behind the scenes
But executing it wasn’t easy, considering the amount of footage and the way it was shot. “My biggest challenge was that there was no grammar of filmmaking in the visuals. So, I had to start from scratch, write the script, and then we started editing the footage from the mid-point, literally from Madhya Pradesh which was the middle point of Srishti’s journey. We then shortlisted three other protagonists, Sangeetha, a widow, Neha, a marital rape survivor, and Pragya, an acid attack survivor — who are the driving forces of the narrative,” explains Ajitesh. Srishti, who was in Scotland when the post-production work was going on, would give her feedback and approvals virtually. The film was finally ready two years after her walk, and started doing the rounds of international film festivals, and is likely to be released on a streaming platform shortly. For Ajitesh it has been a life-altering experience. “I have started believing more in the artform of storytelling through cinema. I believe it has the power to move people and bring about change,” he concludes.