Cinema is catalyst for raising awareness: Baral


Kathmandu, Feb. 27: Filmmaker Ravi Baral regards cinema as not merely a source of entertainment but a powerful catalyst for generating awareness, driving activism and creating significant societal impact.

His Chameli, which he made in 1999, emerged as a catalyst to generate awareness against girl trafficking, one of the social evils in Nepal.   

A film producer, activist filmmaker and social worker, Baral has been advocating for social transformation through the medium of films and documentaries for years. 

His films tackling human rights, women trafficking, women’s empowerment, education and a myriad of social issues have demonstrated that he views cinema not solely as a medium of entertainment but as a vehicle for edutainment.

Baral started his career as a programme presenter for Nepal Television in 1987 and produced several documentaries and programmes for Nepal Television from 1987 to1993.

Later, he produced documentary films and formed a non-profit organisation called Media Alert and Relief Foundation with the main goal of generating awareness on pertinent social issues through documentaries and movies.

Accordingly, he started producing films on social issues and took them to the doorsteps of villages and remote areas. While making documentaries, he was surprised by the bitter fact of how fathers sell their daughters and how husbands trade their wives to brothels in India.

The prevalence of women trafficking in the rural villages of Nepal compelled Baral to visit Kamathipura in Bombay, now Mumbai, where Nepali girls and children used to be trafficked and sold in brothels.

He went to the brothels and met Nepali girls and listened to their stories.

They were captive, there was no way to escape, and they were living a hellish life there, he said. He collected hundreds of case studies. His friend suggested he write a book on the issues, but he decided to make a film. It was how he made Chameli in 1999. 

Chameli is about a girl from Nepal who was forced into marriage and sold by her husband to a brothel in Mumbai. After spending many years in the brothel, she finally escaped and came back to her village, infected with HIV/AIDS. She was in search of her husband who sold her. She found him, and he admitted his crime, but he died due to an accident.

The film was thoroughly researched and based on real-life circumstances, he said. Even though it was an art film, he released the film in theatres, and it became a hit. The film bagged four national awards including Best Actress, Best Sound, Best Story and Best Art Direction. 

Through this film, he introduced the Dolby sound system to Nepali cinema history.

He did all the post-production work for the film in Bombay. He was one of the few film producers working in the Dolby sound system then in South Asia.

His Chameli was screened worldwide and dubbed into English, Spanish, German and French. 

He said that the budget of his Chameli was over Rs. 20 million, which was a big budget then. 

Then, he co-produced another documentary film about the child sex trade The Day My God Died in 2004 with American filmmaker Andrew Levine.

The Day My God Dies was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2005.

Then, he produced Ramjham, a musical film, which was a new experimental film. He involved more than 17 Nepali artistes from the Nepali film industry and had 17 different songs in the film.

The motto of the film was to spread a peace message through the film as the insurgency waged by the Maoists was at its peak then. 

Later, he produced various awareness-generating documentaries for the UN and various donor agencies.

For the last five years, he has been writing a screenplay on the issues of gender-based violence in Nepal and South Asia. 

He is now producing a film called Far Too Young, which is to be co-produced by an American company by the same name, Far Too Young.

He will be associated with Avinash Sharma for the budget film. He said they would shoot the film in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and America.

He planned to cast South Asian characters and Americans in the film.

He said that he conducted intensive research and collected thousands of case studies in South Asia and the United States for the film. 

Baral holds the conviction that meticulous research stands as the cornerstone of film production, emphasising that filmmakers require a profound comprehension of their subject matter.

A meticulously planned screenplay and pre-production process are essential, ensuring every aspect of the film is carefully considered, he said.

He emphasised that a skilled technical team is essential for smooth execution, covering everything from shooting to editing and integrating appropriate background music with effective marketing strategies is crucial for a film’s success. Besides film, he is also active in social work.

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