A curtain raiser on a path breaking Tamil film Maa — the first film to be made by a crew of people with disabilities who seek to change negative stereotypes about disabled people as disempowered, says Allen Worwood
Maa is a new feature film that will be showing in Madurai and Chennai theatres from 14th May onwards. The production is much more than a mere film though. It is an incredible achievement, a triumph in the face of adversity, and everyone involved with Maa should be extremely proud of what they have accomplished.
This is because the film Maa is the first of its kind. It is the very first production that has been made by an almost entirely disabled crew, and this truly is, to quote the music director, Gideon Karthik, ‘a big change, a big revolution’ in the film industry.
The driving force behind it all is Madhan Gabriel, a professor who specialises in Acting, Teaching and Film Technology in Chennai. For years he was aware of the financial inequality in the Kollywood film industry, and was determined to set the record straight. Madhan was clear in stating that the disabled cast is ‘asking for nothing’ from the public. Rather than casting the actors in a sympathetic light, he wanted to empower them, and hopes that these characters will quash popular negative stereotypes about disabled people, eventually eradicating the prejudice constantly aimed at them. He has big ambitions for the film, aiming to have Maa dubbed in 15 different languages, thus spreading the film’s message out globally.
Madhan Gabriel was inspired to make the film Maa after years of working at the St Louis School for the Blind, and through various competitions in Madurai, he assembled a cast capable of pulling it off. One of the stars to emerge from the competition was Fatima Beevi. Afflicted with polio since childhood, Fatima Beevi was inspired to become involved in film by the great British filmmaker Sir Alfred Hitchcock. More recently, witnessing the success of Kathryn Bigelow with The Hurt Locker has motivated her to emulate such directors. Maa is Fatima Beevi’s directorial debut.
Speaking with Fatima at the press conference, it is clear to me that she is an intensely driven, ambitious young woman, who, with support from her family, has overcome the problems associated with being a disabled woman director, and is surely destined for success in the next few years.
The film itself would be a lot poorer if it were not for the rich talent that is Gideon Karthik, the music director. He has managed to compose a marvelously vivid soundtrack, which, given the fact that he is partially blind, is just testament to this man’s ability. The soundtrack was heavily influenced by the writings of Subramanya Bharathi, the great Indian poet and freedom fighter of the late 1880s, and his words are evident throughout the film. One of the heroines has been named Bharathi after him. Gideon was able to attain an understanding of the music required for Maa by having a sound knowledge of the plot line, an imaginative mind, and an ability to picture the film, scene by scene. His direction in making the soundtrack was to try and emphasise the pain that disabled people experience daily, yet show the strength that they posess. It should also be noted that his sound engineer, Satish Kumar, played a vital role in helping Karthik to transform his ideas into reality.
Maa is a tantalising prospect, and I urge you to see the movie which has been out since May 14, 2010.