As a visual media journalist Vidhu Vincent always took pains to follow serious topics with social relevance. Hence, when she turned to film making, she could not think of any other genre.
Her film Manhole has been chosen as one of the only two Malayalam films in the competition category of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), 2016. This comes as a surprise to many that the feat has made her the first woman filmmaker from Kerala in the 20 editions of IFFK.
“I want to take the issues to a larger audience. If you make a news story, however good it is, it will be forgotten after 90 seconds and that’s why I switched to films,” said Vidhu.
She decided to chose a topic that is familiar to her for her first onscreen venture. Two years ago, she had made an award-winning documentary Vrithiyude Jathi or Caste of Cleanliness about the people in a colony in her neighbourhood at Kappalandimukku in Kollam. It reveals an issue almost invisible to the public - about men who goes down the manholes to work in it. “People won’t eat from their houses or won’t touch their things. They are alienated and the society denies them dignity. Manhole is based on true life. In fact it is not one story, but many,” she said.
When she decided to make a film out of the topic, her friend Vijayakumar, an editor, and Umesh Omanakuttan, who is doing his research in law at the JNU, joined her to draft the script. Saji Nair cranks the camera while Appu Bhattathiri is the editor.
Her movie tells the story of a manhole worker called Ayyan played by Ravikumar, an auto rickshaw driver in real life. His wife Papathi played by Shailaja, a theatre activist, and his teenage daughter Shalini, played by Renu Sounder, who hides her true identity before her friends that she is from this colony.
“When we used dry toilets, people came from parts of Travancore which is now in Tamil Nadu, for cleaning. Though they belonged to the Arunthathiyar caste, they came to be called the Chakiliyar community in this part of the country.
Even after we started using wet toilets, they continued to do the same work. Now, they have been absorbed into the municipality as contingency workers, but they are doing the same job. There is an element of caste in this. According to the 2011 census, there are 13,000 manual scavenging workers in Kerala. However, the governments deny this fact,” Vidhu said.
“Manhole is on the attitude of the people towards this community and the desire of younger generation for a life of dignity,” Vidhu said .
The 90- minute film is made on a shoestring budget, with her father MP Vincent and brother Jose Vincent chipping in as producers along with some of her friends.