Film-maker Aarti Bagdi, the winner of Filmfare Award for her slice-of-life short film Khamakha, chose a rather serious subject—child abuse—for Udne Do, her second short.
Bagdi’s journey on the film started last year (2017) when she was approached by Usha Kakade, philanthropist and founder of Gravittus Foundation, to make a film on the subject of—Good Touch and Bad Touch. “Her (Usha’s) team of experts had been working with schools in and around Pune. They had created awareness in the lives of nearly 3 lakh children. Usha ji stated that parents and teachers are critical in shaping a child’s worldview and it resonated with me. I decided that these two would be extremely crucial in my storytelling,” says Bagdi explaining what made her opt for addressing a grave issue early on in her film-making career.
The film revolves around two school-going children —Yug (Ayaan Jain), an autistic boy and Appy (Anaya Shivan), a chirpy girl and how their innocence comes under threat by those they trust. Along with the two children, Udne Do stars veteran South actor Revathy, in a pivotal role of the headmistress of the school.
For Bagdi, having Revathy in Udne Do was a dream come true. “Revathy ji’s name came up as a suggestion by our music director Amit Dasani. I have grown up in Chennai and had always been her fan. Usha ji —our film’s producer was absolutely keen on her. She read the script which I co-wrote with Sulekha Bajpai Karkare. Revathy ji liked it and agreed to do it for the cause.”
In one of the poignant scenes of the film, Revathy calls for an emergency meeting with the parents and asks if any of them had been sexually abused as a child. It’s a telling scene and according to Bagdi, the actress improvised the scene by putting up her hand first.
Considering that parents of sexually abused children rarely talk about the issue, the award-winning film-maker’s source of inspiration for this scene was another play and the reactions to it. “I had read about a play on the same subject staged by Poorna Jagannathan at NCPA around five years ago. Apart from the play, a conversation with the audience— how many of you have faced sexual abuse as children— had become a talking point. There was silence around that question. Initially, not everyone joined in. Slowly, 50 percent of the hands went up and more than half were men. We tend to believe only girls go through the abuse,” reveals Bagdi.
Given the disturbing theme of the film, the process of shooting with the children was complex but Bagdi elicited commendable performances from the children. What helped her cause was that both Ayaan and Anaya had attended the sessions of good touch and bad touch in their school, prior to the shoot of the film. She says, “They were not unaware. They understood that they were a part of something that was about to create awareness for other children and that it was for a good cause.”
Udne Do, although it showcases a dark truth is hopeful for a better future. Given the sensitive nature of the subject, the young film-maker had to keep a number of things in mind. “Child sexual abuse is a very disturbing subject. We had to keep it real and show a positive way of dealing with these situations because such incidents shake a child’s confidence. I wanted to show a world where even when things could be going awfully wrong, one can still find the strength to come out of it. That’s what I wanted the takeaway to be.”
The movie in a short span has earned itself a recommendation from the Ministry of Women and Child Development on their official Twitter handle. But there’s more— Nobel Laureate and child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi too praised the movie for its compelling theme and said, “Our silence on rape and abuse of children is the biggest threat to their freedom and safety. #UdneDo gives a powerful message empowering children and parents to fight child sexual abuse.”
About the possibility of victims coming out and sharing experiences publicly as has happened with sexual harassment at workplace given the #MeTooMovement, Bagdi says, “I don’t think it’s going to be easy to come out with the names of people who have abused you during childhood since that person is mostly someone known to family and friends.”
And though victims naming and shaming the guilty may not be easy, short-films like Udne Do are baby steps towards sensitising adults to such situations and starting a healthy dialogue about them. As Madhuri Dixit Nene puts it succinctly, “Our children deserve better.”