LAKSHMI AND ME
Director Nishtha Jain in person
“What sin did I commit to be born a woman?” Lakshmi wonders aloud. A 21-year old housemaid in Mumbai, she works ten hours a day, seven days a week. One of her employers is Nishtha Jain, who begins to make a documentary that explores their relationship. Nishtha films Lakshmi at home, and at work in various houses. Lakshmi's is a precarious existence to begin with; illness and romance compound her problems in unexpected ways. As the filmmaker is drawn deeper into Lakshmi's life, she is forced to question many of the things she takes for granted. During a year and a half of dramatic changes, the process of filming has its own impact on unfolding events and on the relationship between the two women. Nishtha's previous film City of Photos was showcased at 3rd I in 2005.
In the filmmaker's words:
Then, how do you get beyond role-playing? I was taken aback by Lakshmi’s ease on camera. She would never steal a glance at the camera—she behaved as if it didn’t exist. I wondered if she would also know the right things to say. And in some of the filming, she did begin to give me almost too-perfect sound bytes—be it about her rotten fate or her father’s drinking.
Also, how would the process of filming affect our relationship? Though my attempt was to bridge distances and see if we could be equals, could it end up doing the opposite—making her more vulnerable? After all there was a double hierarchy at work here—not only of employer and employee, but also the inevitable power equation between who’s behind the camera and who’s before it. There were days when she was bubbly and cooperative, days when she was moody, almost sullen. In a way I liked it that I wasn’t always sure of my ground with her. Although it made my task as a filmmaker tougher, I was glad she was able to assert herself, sometimes silently, sometimes even telling me not to film.
And what about me? How much would I really be willing to share with her? I often went from thinking we were becoming friends to wondering if our worlds, and world views, could ever really meet…”