Interview with Laal Pari director Sadia Halima

Sadia Halima’s film Laal Pari screened at LFFF 2013 on 27 November at 6.30pm as part of the sold out INSPIRING WOMEN session of short films. We spoke to her about her film.

Laal Pari - Dir by Sadia

Where did you hear of Laal Pari and what inspired you to capture her story?
I’m from the same region in Bihar, India as Laal Pari, the film’s protagonist. While growing up I saw many women around me who would exercise their agency in their own way – it was always very inspiring to see that. So I wanted to break myths surrounding those women who are generally considered to be oppressed and in need of saving by outsiders. To answer your first question, I met Laal Pari during my field study in a meeting of all elected women representatives, where she was very forthcoming about the issues which she and most of the elected women representatives of the village councils face.
Her grit and fearlessness were remarkable and I couldn’t get her out of my mind, and next thing I found myself following her on all her field trips and meetings.

What is your background and how did you get into filmmaking?
I come from a small town where filmmaking especially for a girl was unthinkable and I had not thought I would ever become one. But one thing led to another, I went to the University of Delhi to pursue my undergraduate studies in Mass Communication, and that exposed me to the variety of options and I realised I particularly enjoyed films and filmmaking. My first short documentary was on contemporary Indian Muslim women in New Delhi and around, and it was a thrill to make. After that I worked in film and television production, eventually realising I wanted to work on my own independent projects which led me to film school at the University of California, Santa Cruz. For me the process of filmmaking was a gradual one but surprising nonetheless.

Sadia Filming - Laal Pari

What challenges did you encounter making Laal Pari? How did you fund it?
The main challenge I had was time, or lack of it. I had only two and a half months and most of that went into field study because I wanted to do very extensive field research before embarking on the film. This eventually really helped because it also became a vehicle for talent/story scouting for the film.
I was partially funded through grants, and being in grad school helped with renting out equipment from the UC Santa Cruz’s film lab.

What are your plans for the future? And is there a running theme throughout your projects?
I’m looking for funding to finish stories of other women leaders who I have also filmed but who could not make it into the film. I would like to produce webisodes of these elected women leaders working passionately in rural grassroots politics. And I would like to continue making more films.
I didn’t think of a running theme before, but to think of it it seems I like to make films that challenge stereotypes related to women and their experiences. My earlier film A Woman Is a Woman First on contemporary Indian Muslim women and Laal Pari a story of an illiterate elected woman leader’s journey in grassroots politics in rural India both break a certain misconception about women in our society, especially women in third world countries.

Sadia Filming - Laal Pari 2

What is your favourite feminist film?
A feminist film for me would be a film that is true to a woman’s experience. There are quite a few films that are made with that sensitivity. One film that particularly touched me was an Iranian film Roozi Ke Zan Shodam (The Day I Became a Woman) directed by Marzieh Meshkini Makhmalbaf. It is a beautiful film that brings together three generations of women in different contexts together. Beautiful and thoughtful storytelling.

Interview by Carla Grande