Like many prominent filmmakers, Lipika Singh Darai learnt method filmmaking from the roots. Before taking up the camera professionally, Lipika, who hails from Mayurbhanj district of Odisha – a tribal community – had dabbled in Hindustani Classical Vocals for six years (started learning at the age of 7), and spent a lot of time in villages, changed numerous schools and met many inspiring teachers. All this led to many experiences, reflecting it in her life, work, and profession.
Lipika received the Best Director Award in the very recently held 64th National Film Award in the Best Educational Film category, for her documentary ‘The Waterfall’. With this achievement, she now has four National Film Awards in her seven-year career in filmmaking and direction, a feat worth celebrating.
Her achievement has proved that even women from Adivasi areas can achieve gender parity and can conquer anything they desire.
“I made my first documentary film ‘A Tree, A Man, A Sea’ in memory of my late music teacher, which was awarded as ‘the best debut film of a director’ in the 60th national film awards India,” said the alumnus of FTII (Film and Television Institute of India), Pune, exclusively to SheThePeople.TV.
“I find filmmaking one of the ways to express. I don’t wish to remain cocooned in one format or form. I love to understand different mediums and hope to work using many forms and mediums.”
When asked about the precise point in life when she got attracted towards art, Lipika said, “I studied under the great influence of “The Mother”, her idea of love, the regular life and death as I studied in Sri Aurobindo School for a long time. As a child, I wanted to grasp everything — dance, music, painting, writing and what not! My parents (father was a bank manager and mother a housewife) and teachers always stood beside me, strengthened me and opened the doors to explore. The only weakness (as I understand which pulled me back at times) were the limitations you face sometimes being a girl or being a girl coming from a tribal community or being a girl with a dark skin tone in a society, and less opportunities in a small town.”
Married to an old friend, Indraneel Lahiri, who is also a National award-winning Cinematographer, the couple left Mumbai and decided to work independently from Odisha. She won the National award previously for her films Gaarud (2009), Eka Gachha Eka Mainsha Eka Samudra (2012), and Kankee O Saapo (2013).
“The only weakness (as I understand which pulled me back at times) were the limitations you face sometimes being a girl or being a girl coming from a tribal community or being a girl with a dark skin tone in a society, and less opportunities in a small town.”
The inspiration of filmmaking:
After passing out from FTII, mastering in Audiography (film sound recording and designing), I wanted to record my music teacher Late Shri Prafulla Kumar Das’s (the first one to introduce me to the idea of life through music) voice as he never had many recordings. But before I could do that, he left us. I wanted to document his presence in my life after his death. I shot a few things, which later became a film. That’s how filmmaking started and I wanted to continue doing so.
In the meantime, I started working in Mumbai in 2011 as a freelance sound recordist. I was very excited to work as a sound designer for the eminent director, late Mani Kaul’s feature film, but the film never happened because of his sudden demise. He motivated me for my first film, or you can say, my first experience in expressing something very personal, using the camera. As I could never see me fitting into the Hindi film Industry then, that was the best time for me to start something of my own, by making my own films in the language I am most comfortable with. I shifted to Bhubaneswar, Odisha and the rest is history.
Winning National Award for ‘The Waterfall’ — How does it feel?
In 2015, in solidarity with the FTII protest, I announced that I would return my National awards along with many other filmmakers. It is important for me that I keep on working and make my presence felt as a filmmaker. Awards have certainly helped me to create my own space.
‘The waterfall’, a 20-minute film portrays a waterfall’s struggle for survival. Having two versions, English and Hindi, this film is going to be screened in thousands of schools across the country and three countries. Though I wish to make films in Odia primarily, in this case looking at an amazing audience, created by School Cinema, LXL Ideas, the producer of the film, conveying this story to a new generation was my main priority.
The Waterfall traces the evolution of a young city boy, Karun, who starts to appreciate the value of the environment as well as think critically about climate change and development. On a trip to his ancestral home in the interiors of Odisha, he reflects on the nature of his relationship with a beautiful landscape and its relationship in turn with his city life.
What inspired you to choose a topic like ‘climate change’?
I have been focusing on stories from Odisha in all my films. I have been hearing about people’s resistance around the Khandadhar waterfall. I visited the place a number of times and was deeply disturbed by the situation created by the big mining companies in the area. The day-to-day struggle of the people living there to safeguard the forests and the waterfall inspired me to initiate this discussion among school children.
You talk about social evils like superstition and myth and now climate change through your films. Have these all been driven by personal experience?
I think, I am making films around subjects in which I am really involved not as a filmmaker but as an ordinary person. I work around my memories, experiences and new or old involvements. So my films are personal.
What are the challenges you come across while shooting in rural and other areas and why such obstacles can’t stop you from doing what you want to do?
The main challenge as a filmmaker you face is the acceptance of the people you are working with or the people whose stories your film is carrying. How do they receive you? What is your intervention and how responsible you are in conveying the stories?
Why welfare project is important? What people, especially women should learn from your films?
Socially relevant films are important. They reflect our society with various perspectives, they question us. Its reach to the wider audience is more important.
Why are awareness campaigns using the most reachable tool ever — films — important?
A film becomes an experience. You see, you feel, you get involved and you also identify with characters, stories. That is why it connects to the audience in effective ways. Films have power to change mindsets.
What have been some of the high points so far?
My last film, “Some stories around witches”, a 53-minute Odia documentary film, produced by PSBT, India, was a great learning experience for me as a person and as a filmmaker. The film is about the most devastating witch-hunting cases in Odisha. While documenting the film, at many points, I did unlearn a lot of ideas, notions around society which I had for a very long time. I grew up as an individual.
What are your future plans?
It’s been hardly four years that I am making films. I have just started. I am looking forward to be completely involved in filmmaking. Currently, I am doing a feature length documentary on the puppeteers of Odisha for Film Division and developing a feature length script for a fiction film next year.
Join Us on https://www.facebook.com/SheThePeoplePage
Follow Us on https://twitter.com/SheThePeopleTV