Sunday, January 14, 2018

Mahi Ramakrishnan

Today I interview documentary maker Mahi Ramakrishnan who has been winning one international award after another  

Headline: The People's Storyteller 
By Bissme S

THE DOCUMENTARY Bou by Mahi Ramakrishnan has been making waves at various international film festivals. 
Last month alone, the 48- year-old Malaysian filmmaker and freelance journalist earned three awards for her film – best short documentary at the Around International Film Festival in Amsterdam, the Netherlands; best director at the 6th Mumbai Shorts International Film Festival in India; and the ARFF Globe award at the Around International Film Festival in Paris, France. She also recently received the RCPJ President’s Award from the PJ Rotary Club for her advocacy work to promote and protect the rights of refugees. 
In her 28-minute documentary Bou, she tackles the heart-rending issue of child brides among the Rohingya refugees. These child brides are victims of traffickers who seek out poor families in Myanmar willing to give up their daughters – girls from the ages of 11 to 16 – with promises of a better life in a foreign land. Unfortunately, a better life is the last thing these young brides will find. The traffickers torture them sexually and physically, before selling them to Rohingya men for RM7,000 each. 
“Bou means bride in the Rohingya language,” says Mahi, who took two years to complete the documentary, her eighth film to touch upon social issues. 
“I am really surprise that I [received] all this recognition. The main reason I entered my documentary into [these] film festivals is not because I want to win awards. 
“I really want the [issue] of the ill-treatment of child brides to reach as many people as [possible], and the best way to achieve this is to send my work to as many film festivals as I can.” 
With this issue getting more exposure, Mahi is hoping the international community will help find a suitable solution to the child bride issue. 
She has already picked the subject for her next documentary feature – a look at the Hindu transgender community in Malaysia.
 “I have many friends who are transgender,” Mahi says. 
“I have listened [to their stories of] the abuse they have [suffered from] a society that is not accepting of them. I want to show the layers of discrimination this community faces. The Hindu religion is very embracing of everyone, and I want to show that [transgenders] have the right to be a part of [society] like everyone else.” 
Aside from its provocative topic, the documentary is also unique for another reason: Mahi will have a co-director for the first time – her daughter, Savita Saravanan, 22, who is in her final semester of studies for her mass communication degree. “It will be a mother-anddaughter team working on this documentary,” Mahi says. “Working together can be difficult, because no two people will see a subject in the same way, and I cannot let my ego get in the  way.” 
Despite these challenges, Mahi is looking forward to starting a new adventure with her daughter.
 “I have been working as a journalist for the last 20 years and you can get [jaded],” she says.
 “But young people like my daughter have new incredible ideas. She might look at the issue [from] a different perspective, and it will be great to learn from my daughter.” 
Mahi remembers always wanting to be a journalist since she was young. 
“My grandfather (on my mother’s side) was a journalist, and he used to teach me English,” she says. 
“I believe I must have inherited [my] journalistic dreams from him.”
 In fact, Mahi started her journalism career in this paper, theSun, before moving on to prestigious international media outlets such as Time magazine, USA Today, and broadcaster AlJazeera. It is probably these experiences that helped hone her instincts for seeking out certain stories, and also given her the strength to tackle sensitive issues in her film, despite the risk of attracting controversy. 
“I am a storyteller and if there is a story that needs to be told, I will try to tell it, regardless of [any] backlash,” she says. 
“I look at myself as [merely] an intermediary.” She insists it is merely her job to report people’s stories. 
“I would not even refer to myself as ‘the voice of the oppressed’.” She adds that films are great way to make people compassionate about issues. 
“That is the reason I dabble in film. I really believe it is ordinary people like you and me [who] make the positive change we want to see taking place in the world.” 

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