Team Of ‘Ladies First’ Play Flashback Of BTS Moments With Archer Deepika Kumari
- IWB Post
- March 9, 2018
“It was shocking to see the way our athletes are treated. Our prized athletes traveled in economy class while the Federation traveled in business. The team had an exhausting 11-hour layover at Dubai and players barely had money for food.”
Well, such is the condition of our hard-working athletes in a cricket-obsessed country.
The hard-hitting, super inspiring story of one such athlete – Archer Deepika Kumari, struck a chord with Uraaz Bahl and Shaana Levy-Bahl. They took this story to heart and made a documentary named Ladies First.
Deepika became World’s no.1 Archer at the age of 17 and won Arjuna Award and Padma Shri. She qualified for the Olympics in 2012 and 2016.
I got a chance to have a conversation with the producer Shaana, who was very humble to take some time out from her busy schedule of screenings. To my delight, director of the documentary, Uraaz, joined as well! Excerpts:
How was your journey with Deepika from India to Rio?
Shaana: We followed Deepika’s story few months before the Rio Olympics 2016 started. In a blink of an eye we had a meeting at her academy TATA Archery Academy, Jamshedpur, arranged a crew and began with the shooting. Uraaz and our DOP joined her in the Olympics journey from Delhi to Rio. It was a 32-hour long journey. It was an eye-opening experience. It was shocking to see the way our athletes are treated. Our prized athletes traveled in economy class while the Federation traveled in business. The team had an exhausting 11-hour layover at Dubai and players barely had money for food. It was so heartbreaking to see this attitude. With Khelo India and more of such initiatives, few changes can be seen and expected.
What was Deepika’s reaction on hearing about the documentary?
Shaana: Deepika at first was quite hesitant when we told her about the documentary as Olympics were near and she was in the middle of her training for Rio. But with time she was convinced with the way emotions and situations were put forward. She was incredibly helpful and cooperative. We have had a beautiful long journey with her and our bond got even stronger after the Olympics.
How are the screenings coming along?
Shaana: We recently had a screening at Tribeca Screening Room in NY on 4th Oct which was hosted by Freida Pinto. It was an incredible screening with few dignitaries from the UN. It was so overwhelming to see everybody’s response. They loved it.
At the end of this month, we’ll be in LA, San Francisco and NY for screenings.
When will we get a chance to watch it in India?
Shaana: We want to promote it in India in a big way. For now, we are concentrating on screenings. For India, we have started showing the documentary to NGOs and orphanages in Mumbai. The premiere date has not been finalized yet but should be in December or January.
We have held a screening for Menaka Gandhi, Union Minister for Women and Child Development, in Delhi. She absolutely loved the movie. She wants an inquiry to be done on the discriminative behavior of the federation and its VIP culture. She wants to arrange funds for the budding athletes to improve facilities available.
— Maneka Gandhi (@Manekagandhibjp) September 29, 2017
Do watch this film, which has an inspiring social message of the triumph of a brave young sportswoman against all odds — Maneka Gandhi (@Manekagandhibjp) September 29, 2017
I want to congratulate Uraaz Bahl & @shaanadiya for picking this important subject and treating it with such sincerity
— Maneka Gandhi (@Manekagandhibjp) September 29, 2017
Comes in director Uraaz with euphoric tone and zeal that sent vibrations through the telephonic line that showed how much he feels for the movie.
Uraaz: We’ve made this documentary with so much passion and Deepika has become our role model. We want the HR ministry to include this in the curriculum so that it becomes a source of inspiration for all the young girls and boys, especially for boys, to make the idea clear that girls are not born to cook, this is not their inherent job. They are much more than that. We want to empower girls through sports and through this documentary.
Was there a moment in the documentary that challenged you or made you learn something?
Uraaz: Speaking for both of us, it was when she lost at the Olympics. All of us truly believed that she would win. Of course, she was devastated and all of us were. But Deepika collected herself with determination to win the next time.
This made us learn that from failure comes greater strength to succeed.
Shaana: And frankly, Deepika has won, not in the Olympics, but in the way she conducts herself. She is so inspirational, and winning or losing does not define her.
What amazed you the most about her?
Uraaz: She is so young and yet so strong and level-headed. Her dedication and determination are beyond imagination and she is so simple-minded. Like we said, she initially was so pissed off with us when we went to her with the idea of the documentary because she didn’t want to get diverted from her goal. She wanted to concentrate on her game and training.
She comes from rural India who stumbled upon archery and chose to excel at it. She has carved herself a way that made her own destiny despite personal and professional obstacles. She has encouraged millions of girls to follow their dreams.
Shaana: She is feisty and strong-minded, not only with archery but at everything. She doesn’t let anyone take control of her or speak for her. Mansplaining will not work with her at all.
Do you see sports as a good medium to empower girls?
Shaana: Of course, it indeed is. Taking up a sport will help abolish child marriages. Girls will have a dream and a profession to follow that can give her good income and lifestyle along with dignity and honor. It’ll only make her more confident and make her believe in herself.
Uraaz, I read that you could relate to her situation when Deepika struggled to get permissions from bureaucracy. Tell us about it.
I had a hard time taking permissions for few things for my real-estate business. It was a struggle to take the work ahead. All I wanted to do was something good for the country, provide more jobs. But every time I took a step ahead, I was taken two steps backward as I ran through government offices.
Something similar happened with Deepika. My heart aches about how she had to struggle to get support from the system and circumstances pulling her back from doing a great work for the country. I could instantly understand what she must have gone through.
Was there a moment in the documentary which was so intense that you could feel it?
Uraaz: There’s a scene where Deepika narrates her story and breaks down while talking about a part of her journey. And then there were three grown-up men crying. It was me, our sound manager and the American director of photography (who BTW didn’t understand Hindi at all). We were so broken to see her break down. It was because all of us were emotionally connected to her story. For 2 years, we’ve worked together and seen the journey and felt every bit of it.
Wow! And what about favourite off-screen moments?
Uraaz: Deepika is very passionate about her sport, and she deals with bullshit related to it like a pro. She can crack you up unintentionally with her reactions to the situations.
Shaana: And for me, there’s another touching moment. We left from her training academy to her house in Ratu Chati village, which is 15 km away from Ranchi, to meet with her parents. Her mother got up at 4 am to cook food for us and make all the arrangements. She had borrowed chullas so that everything would be ready by the time we reached. It was so touching to see her efforts and time invested to welcome us. We could see where Deepika got her generosity from. We were immensely touched. Her parents are very supportive of her career!
That’s heart melting! Tell us about the scenes which are not part of the documentary but you wish were included.
Shaana: There are few parts of her journey where her career is affected due to the loopholes in the system, which could have been included in the movie. But we know it’s very easy to blame and the movie is basically to show what you can do with the limited resources you have. We wanted to show the efforts put by Deepika and her dedication and urge people to change the mindset.
We hope the movie becomes an example for all the young girls and inspires them to take up things they like, take up a sport for a better future. The documentary hopefully works as a tool for a better change.
Sports movies often bring out the patriot in us. Did it happen with you during the shoot?
Uraaz: When we reached Rio, we were with Deepika, following her everywhere. She started unpacking in her room and the first thing that came out of her bag was our Indian flag. We were moved and it showed how much she wants to win not only for herself but for the country.
She is an inspirational personality! How has she inspired you?
Uraaz: Of course, you do get motivated and want to be a healthier, a better person. Being with her for 2 years has been a life-changing experience for me. She has changed my life. We often cry at small problems in our life but she is an example of how you change a hopeless situation into a winning situation in your life. When you hear her problems, her struggles, you realize your problems are nothing. She has made a name for herself despite the system not being in total favor. She has done great for herself. This story had to be told!
Shaana, having worked both on and off the screen, how deep do you think the gender bias in the industry and our country goes?
Shaana: When I came to India, I was an aspiring actor. I had done my drama schooling from Columbia University. But when I landed here, the middlemen asked me to go to the meetings and act dumb to get roles. They told me, they don’t want an opinionated girl. It was so shocking and staggering for me.
All they had to offer was a side-y role or an item song. Thankfully, women are no more ready to handle this bullshit. I love how few women are fighting the stereotypes and breaking the rules like Priyanka Chopra and Kangana Ranaut. Priyanka in the West got herself neater roles.
You can see the bias with the number of female directors we have. There’s hardly any female director in our country. Do you think we are less on talent? It’s just that we don’t give enough opportunities to the women.
Uraaz: There are so many talented women in our country, but none of them have ever won a gold medal. And that’s because of the lack of the right system.
In fact, we spoke to a sports psychiatrist and he said our country sports women feel inferior when they go abroad and meet other players. It’s because of the way they are raised, listening to things like Indian women cannot outshine and achieve success outside the kitchen, you can’t do this or that, you don’t have the strength as much as a man, get married, etc., and eventually, it becomes a psychological thing.
Shaana: Deepika told us that she never understood why her brother was allowed to play after school, but she had to rather help her mother in the kitchen.
A movie you think every Indian woman should watch!
Ladies First has won Best Inspirational Film at the Los Angeles Film Awards, Best Short film at London Independent Film Festival and is an official selection at Evolution Mallorca International Film Festival 2017 and a qualified IMDb film with 9.8 rating.
Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar has also supported and endorsed the film.
I can’t wait to watch the documentary! Can you?
Keep updated on the latest news from the team at www.ladiesfirstdoc.com.
This article was first published on October 13, 2017.