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SpiritW | Miditech's Manira Pinto talks on social activism via films and more

Possessing over 21 years of experience spread across all genres of communication, Manira Pinto started her career in 1991, cutting her teeth at print journalism with the popular weekend newspaper, The Sunday Observer. During this period, she developed a keen interest in social and environmental issues.  After a short stint with the new media at Encyclopaedia Britannica in 2000, Manira returned to Miditech to launch the Radio and News and Current Affairs Division specializing in social documentaries. 

In an exclusive interaction with Adgully, Manira A Pinto shared her professional journey with us and also spoke about her applauded documentary ‘Silent Screams’ and much more.

Pinto mentions that her media journey began by default while she innately wanted to be a lawyer. “I always wanted to be a lawyer, but I didn’t make it to the cut off marks for the course in law that year; so I thought I would take a year off and redo my papers. But that was the summer of political upheaval as Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in the midst of very hot May election. As I watched these events unfold in front of my eyes, at that time it just felt logical to apply as an intern in a newspaper while I prepared for my exams. I started my career, in 1991 and by 1993 TV was beginning to happen. A group of good friends of which two were my brothers including Amitabh Shukla – now Bollywood’s topnotch Editor, Julius Packiam- now a Bollywood music director, Barkha Dutt as a visiting intern, Pria and a few others got together to form Miditech production house. It was both fun and hard work as one was constantly challenged. I worked as a peon, cheque collector, receptionist, typist and got trained for the real world”, she shared.

Starting career with print journalism, she later moved to broadcast media and at present holds the profile of a writer. On asking what stimulated the shift in profession, she said, “In 2000, I had just had a baby and thought I would do something “regular”. Following this statement, I joined Britannica in Delhi but the internet was not as fascinating and keeping USA time didn’t work for me so I came back home to Miditech to launch ‘Radio and current affairs’. Having covered the spectrum, you know you are in a good place when you can mentor easily and can choose the kind of work you want to do”.

She has worked with Miditech as Executive Director Miditech where she worked on social documentaries and several developmental films like the re-building of earthquake-devastated Gujarat, documenting best practises for UNDP-sponsored initiatives, following women Sarpanch’s and assessing the efficacy of the SHG movement and programmes to promote female education.

“Miditech has always been about thinking beyond the supposed job profile. It has demanded leadership 24x7 and it has also been a very democratic organization with no definite hierarchies. I think that Miditechers rule the industry. It has often been harrowing and there is no doubt that we have stood up to so much that my varicose veins continue to protest!! All said and done, it is easy to respect Niret and Nikhil and that is what makes it worthwhile”, she stated.

In her recent projects, Pinto has written documentary titled ‘Silent Screams’, which is produced by Miditech and has won many awards. Sharing the thought behind the film and the plausible reason for its success, Pinto said, “From the minute I read that newspaper the morning after, I was involved with Nirbhaya. More than anything else I could not understand how Delhites could drive past them and not stop to offer help yet come out and protest 48 hours later. I was in Delhi at that time when there was political bungling happening followed by their insensitive statements. All of us in the team had been affected in some deep way. I only wanted Nirbhaya’s story to be heard. As we went along we started getting involved with the other cases that included the Park Street case in Kolkata where we wanted to examine whether women in decision making make a difference. The fact that this documentary was being created while events were unfolding every few hours was pressurizing and we had 17 or more official drafts. We were tracking live events as they were unfolding in the country; Nirbhaya’s case in court, the Verma Commission Report, the anti- Rape Bill, national & international recognition of Nirbhaya’s brave stance of wanting justice even as she breathed her last”.

On asking how challenging was it to make a film on a brutal rape case which was and still is amongst India's one of the most discussed issues, she said, “Let’s just say it can’t be as challenging as surviving a rape but it fills one with extreme heaviness. You carry those stories in your heart while you are still trying to get on with normal daily life. It’s like you feel you know these people and you know how much they have suffered and you can’t do anything except tell their stories and defend them. And despite all the heaviness, personally, I still do not believe in the death penalty”.

The film ‘Silent Scream’ was shown on several screens in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Bhutan apart from the on-air telecast on Singapore’s Channel NewsAsia. At these screenings, men and women from different fields/backgrounds were present; lawyers, doctors, Human Rights workers, NGO’s, politicians, policy makers, educations, students, parents etc. The screenings were followed by group discussions.

“The film in a way raises several questions and those became the starting point for discussion and conversation around the issue of Rape. The intent of the film as with the protests was to change the conversation around rape - from being one where the girl is blamed to one where it’s seen as violence - a human rights violation and a criminal act by the rapist. We had an overwhelming response from the audience and what was heartening is the audience was 50% men and 50% women, a huge change from an early time when rape and violence against women only drew a female audience. That, I think in itself is a big change”, cited Pinto.

Pinto is also a social activist and serves on a Government of India committee that is putting a report together on the Status of Women. “Every week we meet women from all regions, backgrounds, professions and we listen to them- what is it that will empower them? Safeguard their constitutional guarantees? Give them an equal footing? It is a battle and the battle is against culture and mindsets and until Indian society is not ready to change their minds about women, their rights and position in society stand vulnerable, she said.

Having a large body of work at the hind-side, when asked about her endeavors that make her proud, Pinto instantly replied, “I never get proud about stuff doing well. I’m just glad when ones work is seen and generates debate. Today one can make a film on their cell phone and that to me is great when a social conscience is active and takes note of things happening around them. I guess, I am an activist at heart and even if I ended up being a lawyer I’m pretty sure I know that kind of cases I would be arguing better than reality programming!!”

Briefing us about the roadmap ahead, she said, “A lot more gender-related documentaries and sinking deeper into the women’s movement where a lot can be done as we are at crossroads. I also believe the country needs an engendered media policy and a national campaign to spread awareness to end violence against women”.

“Being a writer according to me is a foreground - background thing. You have to be able to capture the background that is unfolding against the foreground or the main character and you have to spend a lot of time with your story- looking at tapes, listening to voices, watching expressions and drawing conclusions. For example Nirbhaya died not knowing what a heroine she had become, not only in India but across the world. It’s ironies like this that one has to capture, I guess.” she concluded. [ By Ranjana Gupta | Twitter: @RGrightsreserve]

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