Films and shows on child marriage are not uncommon in India because this issue has been persistent in our society since time immemorial. A lot has been done to curb this evil and filmmakers have always played an important role in bringing forward these issues to the public eye. Vijayeta Kumar’s recent documentary also attempts to speak of the evils of child marriage but does so in a unique way. The filmmaker, who made her debut as a documentary director, traced the journey of an NGO in Rajasthan’s Ajmer where young girls are empowered through the game of football. It follows an NGO which trains child brides and helps them find sisterhood and independence through sports and break away from patriarchy.

The film is been produced by Oscars winner producer Guneet Monga’s Sikhya Entertainment. In an exclusive chat with News18, the filmmaker opened up about her film and how documentaries from India reaching the Oscars help filmmakers back home.


About the film, Kicking Balls.

This is about an NGO that has been working for the last 30-40 years in Ajmer trying to fight child marriage and they came up with this unique concept that instead of preaching to the parents and elders, because nobody listens, why not make the girls speak for themselves and teach them agency and give them the kind of self-confidence where they can stand for themselves and say that they don’t want to be a part of this. So they decided to do this through football, which is conventionally supposed to be a boy’s sport and also a very physical sport. What they saw was the girls loved playing football and they took to it immediately. There are more than 300 girls who are a part of the program.

And a lot of these girls who started playing stood up against the system, they got their marriages annulled and they said no to going to their marital home. They even go and stop other child marriages from happening in their villages. The girls get together, protest and put their point forward and they have actually succeeded to do that. The documentary is about how football has changed the way of life, giving them so much confidence and agency to speak for themselves. They have also formed a sisterhood of their own.

Football is considered to be a man’s game. Were the girls apprehensive before taking this up?

The girls had to convince their families and initially there was a lot of resistance but all the mothers supported them and that was a beautiful thing that I saw while making the film. Because the moms were also married off early and had kids at a young age. Then you realise that there is nothing more to life after that. So they were fully supportive of their daughters and encouraged them to go and play and said that they will take care of whoever is opposing in the family.

Once you play football properly, you cannot go and play in a ghagra choli or a salwar kameez. The coach was asking them to wear shorts to play and that became another struggle where they had to go and convince people that they have to wear shorts. So they faced a lot of resistance from the rest of the village but they stood their ground and said boys also wear shorts so what’s the problem with girls wearing them? They fought for it and now they wear shorts on a daily basis. It is their uniform. It was a small rebellion which paid off.

What were some of the shocking incidents you came across while working on this documentary?

The whole idea of girls as young as one year or two years old getting married is shocking enough. Then you delve into the reasons and it is mostly poverty that makes you do that. People are poor and there is also a lack of education where people still think that having a son is everything. Now while trying to have a son, some of them end up having several daughters and they need to marry them off. It is sad because they are made to give up their studies. And these girls are married to boys roughly f their age so it takes a toll on them as well because when the girls go to their husbands’ homes after reaching a certain age, the boys are told to stop studying and start earning because they have to support their wives now.

Boys have their own hopes, dreams and ambitions which they have to give up and take random daily wage jobs. And there is a lot of resentment which takes the form of domestic violence or alcoholism. Overall, there were not one or two specific incidents to say but it is something very sad. You see how everyone, even the boys struggling. Now they have found a way to fight against it and there is a lot of support from the boys of these villages as well for these girls.

State of documentary filmmaking in India.

It’s picking up. The only Indian films that have gone to the Oscars are documentaries. Last year it was Writing With Fire. (This year it was The Elephant Whisperers and All That Breathes). So slowly it is picking up and there’s interest and people are getting curious. We just have so many stories to tell as documentaries so why not. I think it is a nice and positive sign.

How do those documentaries going to Oscar’s help?

It helps get visibility. People are curious about these Indian documentaries that have gone to the Oscars and want to know about them. So many people did not even know about The Elephant Whisperers but once it got nominated and started getting awards, it picked people’s attention. You get curious and you want to see that story. And a lot of people did and were moved by the story. That’s how it picks up. It is not as popular as mainstream cinema but it has found its audience. Documentaries are not for everyone so it is a little unfair to expect an entire country to watch a certain film or a genre but the audience has become more open.

How would you ensure that your film reaches everyone on the grassroots level?

We plan to hold screenings and we have been doing that. The film has been to a lot of festivals as well as the United Nations Association Film Festival. So internationally, wherever we have shown it, people were very interested. They made donations and wanted to help the subjects and the people involved. Once we release the film, it will have more accessibility and people can watch it.

On having an all-women crew.

We had an all-women crew for this and as well as my last two projects. I keep pushing for it and I wish we had more and more women working behind the scenes in the film industry. Working in a very patriarchal society, in a rural area, where women aren’t even allowed to step out of their house, having an all-women crew not only helps in making the film but the village people also got to see that women can really do anything they want. They thought that filmmaking is something that only men do so it was amazing for them to see my DoP doing handheld shots with a camera and were also impressed that she could lift a heavy camera by herself. It was amazing to see and we learnt from them as well. We are people from cities and our problems are like the internet not working but these are real people with issues where your life is at stake. How they made football a part of their life is impressive because they have to study, do household work and then come and play.

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