It's a widespread phenomenon for Western documentary filmmakers to journey into the world and return home with images and stories from foreign lands. "Lakshmi and Me" stands apart from the crowd because it was made by a local filmmaker. Nishtha Jain, a talented and poetic Indian woman, has made a deeply personal film about modern India for a Western audience.
STEPS INDIA / CHANGING INDIA
It was a magical experience, travelling to the other side of the globe, being confronted with a stirring country brimming with colours, noise and unfamiliar smells – while taking in a full range of India's manifold human, social and political problems at the pitching session for some 25 documentaries for the "Steps India" project. Naturally, I came prepared, having read the many project descriptions. Before leaving, I had singled out Nishhta's film, which in a peculiar way spoke to me directly across cultures.
LAKSHMI AND ME
depicts the relationship between the filmmaker and her maid Lakshmi, as the filmmaker films her own attempts to get closer to Lakshmi. The question is, can they even be friends? Is there an unbridgeable gulf between employer and employee? Are they only “friends,” because Lakshmi thinks she is serving her employer by pretending to be friends?
We see how Lakshmi acts when she is filmed on the job, working for her employer. And we see how she acts when she is in her own home. Is there a difference? Does it help to illuminate their relationship? In a voiceover, the filmmaker discusses her reflections on forming a relationship across social boundaries.
Nishtha Jain and Lakshmi talk about how Lakshmi eloped to marry a man from a lower caste. We see her get very ill during her pregnancy and follow her when all of a sudden she runs away from her husband’s family and seeks refuge with Nishtha.
The film also shows Lakshmi discussing her own daughter’s possible future. "Lakshmi and Me" is a film about modern India – with all its ties back to a centuries-old caste system and the upper and lower classes of India’s colonial days.
"Lakshmi and Me" is a universal story of a woman and her maid, an issue that many women the world over can relate to. Watching "Lakshmi and Me" , Western audiences will experience that we may have more in common with people on the other side of the world than we tend to think. The film gives viewers a contemporary impression of India – as seen through Indian eyes.
LAKSHMI AND ME
DIRECTOR Nishtha Jain / EDITOR Rikke Selin Lorentzen / PRODUCER Smriti Nevatia, Raintree Film / COPRODUCER Karoline Leth, Tju-Bang Film / COPRODUCER Kristiina Pervilä, Millennium Film Ltd. / EXECUTIVE PRODUCER Steps India, Iikka Vehkalahti / FINANCE International ITVS, YLE, Finish Foreign Ministry, et al. Domestic TV 2/Denmark, Danida, CKU, DFI.
STEPS INDIA / CHANGING INDIA
is a project under Steps International, a non-profit organisation based in Denmark. Steps International was founded on the backdrop of Steps For The Future in South Africa. Steps International’s board numbers several highly respected commissioning editors and producers from different parts of the world, including Denmark, France, the UK and the US. The purpose of Steps India is to produce a series of documentaries on India by Indian filmmakers in coproduction with Western producers. The goal is to make 5-10 documentaries, of which "Lakshmi and Me" is one.
When my assistant Nynne Selin and I met Nishtha and her producer Smriti Nevatia, it was like seeing someone we had always known. Professionally as well as personally. Our ways of discussing and describing the process of filmmaking were in complete sync. We understood each other's methods and felt a deep connection. This surprised us so much that within a few hours we were rolling on the floor laughing, talking about our personal and professional experiences higgledy-piggledy. We spent nearly three days together. Four women filmmakers on a stone floor in India. We looked through many hours of raw footage and talked about which direction to take the film in and how to do it. They were fruitful and inspiring days that, apart from moving the film along, gave us friends for life.
This process continued into the actual work with the film, first in translating all the material and, particularly, during the whole editing process. We brought in a Danish editor, Rikke Selin Lorentzen, to work on the film. On her own initiative, and her own dime, she went to IDFA last year to meet Nishtha before they would team up at the editing table in Goa a few months later. Nishtha and Rikke collaborated intensely on editing, mainly in India, where Nynne and I made sure to join them for the final
phase. After a break, we had a brief editing bout in Copenhagen, where Nishtha joined us and had the opportunity to familiarize herself with the workings of a Danish production company.
In the editing process, quite literally, two very different and very strong film cultures came together in a contemporary and global cinematic language. Pacing and transitions were things we discussed a lot. Claustrophobia in terms of storytelling was another big issue. Having a natural, equilibristic visual language was crucial.
Our collaboration was always challenging, rewarding and deeply inspiring.We are richer in experiences now, smarter about our own abilities and our own work has been inspired by meeting the others. At the same time, I am happy and proud to be a part of presenting "Lakshmi and Me" to the Western world, both via TV transmissions and at major festivals. We are extremely excited that the film has been nominated for the Silver Wolf at IDFA.
"Lakshmi and Me" is intimate and lovely, a universal film about modern womanhood.