BANGALORE: "I watched a film about Sivakasi when I was in the tenth standard, and I haven't lit a cracker since," says Mayank Rungta. More than a decade later, he met Sushil Katre and Priyanka Varma, techies like himself who were looking to find an alternative career, and the three friends often attended screenings of documentary films. "We'd go to venues for festivals and to PVR that has started screening films like Fire in the Blood and World Before
Her, but we noticed that only a certain section of people came to watch them," says Mayank.
So, earlier this year, when they started Khula Manch — 'a platform to discuss critical, sensitive, controversial issues people can't discuss otherwise' — their aim was to get people who normally don't watch such films to get interested.
"We started off in February.Both Mayank and I had quit our jobs, so it seemed like the right time," says Priyanka.
Along with attempting to introduce the more sensitive films to new audiences, the techies took up another challenge alongside: to get them to explore spaces that they normally don't visit.
So far, the regular venues have been Cobalt S2M, a meeting space for people on Church Street, Paradigm Shift and Carrots, the vegan restaurants in Koramangala.
"Actually, the owner of Carrots wanted us to do something to bring in more people. Though this was an idea we'd been mulling over for a couple of years by then, you could say this was the trigger point," Mayank chips in again.
Khula Manch is also looking towards schools and collages to hold screenings. "That would be great because a lot of these films talk about issues that get sidelined in mainstream media. While many say that the claims they make might not be proven, they enable you to question the possibility," continues Mayank.
So they hope to tie up with educational institutions to help them reach out to bigger audiences. The name of Khula Manch was coined by Sushil, Priyanka's husband, and he says the initial intent was to organise workshops.
"We wanted to conduct accessible workshops, like a photography workshop for those who normally couldn't afford a `2,500 one," he elaborates, but they are yet to start off on this.
So far, apart from screening documentaries like Plastic Cow, There's No Tomorrow, Economics of Happiness (this has been a favourite at all of the seven screenings, they say), Sea the Truth, A Bottled Life, Candles in the Wind and Life Cycles, Khula Manch has hosted talks of Dr Vijaya Venkat, (who practises alternative medicine) and environmentalist Claude Alwares.
In fact, its 25th event held recently at Cobalt was a screening of documentary, Workers in the Shadow. The film is a dialogue on the problems of domestic workers, followed by a discussion with Geeta Menon of Stree Jagruti Samiti that strives to ensure dignity of labour. Quite a hit, it will be repeated today at Paradigm Shift, Koramangala at 6.45 pm.
Organising free events cannot be easy. Ask them about it and Sushil replies, "Right now we're spending out of our own pocket. From the start, we didn't really worry about this too much— we thought, if Khula Manch is required for the community, it will sustain itself, and that's how it's been. We have to shell out money for the projector and screening rights of the films. Even there, some venues like Cobalt have projectors, and some filmmakers have also told us that we can use their film free of cost."
Despite the growth of their idea, the founders of the forum don't plan to formalise Khula Manch.
"Not unless it becomes difficult for us to function. Even now, we ensure complete transparency: anyone who has a doubt can look at our expense sheet on our website," Mayank explains.