Documentary capturing experiences to raise autism awareness

This filmmaker delves into the lives of children with autism through a documentary featuring interviews with their parents
Stills from ‘In Our World
Stills from ‘In Our World

When Aarav Amonkar’s parents came to know that their child is autistic, they admit that they “were shattered and in grief”. Unaware of how to deal with the situation, it took them a lot of time to come around and help Aarav navigate his way through the developmental disorder, learn various skills, and communicate with others around him.

“The attitude of aiming to (sic) the sky hasn’t changed. Only the way has changed,” shares Aarav’s mother in director Shred Shreedhar’s 51-minute-long documentary that takes us through the lives of two other children and Aarav with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the challenges they face as well as the gradual but worthwhile process of a child’s development made easy by special educators.

In the process, Shreedhar not only educates but also sensitises his audience about ASD. In this interview, we speak to the director—who works from Delhi and Mumbai—about the process of working on this documentary, which has received accolades globally. Excerpts…

An image from the making of the film
An image from the making of the film

What drew you into exploring this topic?
There was a music teacher who would teach piano to my children. While having a conversation with him, I came to know that he taught special children as well. It kind of triggered a curiosity in me to figure how music works for special children and specifically autistic children. I wanted to understand that.

So, I went and met their parents. When the parents talked about it, I came to know that ASD is a misunderstood condition. Children from the spectrum are mostly discriminated against in our society. They are not allowed to play with other children because there is a lack of awareness around this topic. After talking to them, I realised that music is just a part of this journey. I sensed that what they spoke had to be brought out to the world.

Take us through the pre-production process.
These children get intimidated or scared when unknown people walk into their house, with no equipment and crew. Pre-production for us was about getting familiar with the children, trying to see their everyday activities.

We wanted the children to get used to us. With time, they became comfortable and it became easier to capture them as their real selves otherwise they would have been very conscious. I never wanted to stage anything or recreate anything; I wanted to tell the reality. I wanted the parents to talk about what’s going on.

Were there any ethical concerns you kept in mind while filming this documentary?
The overall idea was the fact that the awareness [through this documentary] will help children. We named the movie ‘In Our World’. A lot of people ask me if you are talking about the world of an autistic child. I say no, it is our world. They exist in our world and the whole idea is how can we ensure they are one of us. We made sure that the children are not at all bothered, scared, or humiliated and were comfortable.

Your advice to other filmmakers making a documentary on a sensitive topic...
You need to understand the objective [behind the film]. The objective should be to help them, and one must ensure that you do that in the right way. The reality should be brought to the front. Make sure you are creating awareness and that call to action is brought out. It is not just about documenting something. It should be a result-oriented film so there should be some reason as to why you are making it.

‘In Our World’ is currently streaming on MX Player.

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The New Indian Express