Rashmi Aired in Attappady by Nemmani Sreedhar

by tuftsigl
Aug 10

It’s been more than a month at Attappady, a remote tribal area in Kerala, a state in South India. As I wrote in my previous blog post, we, three students from the Fletcher School, Tufts University, decided to create a video program called "Rashmi" (ray of sunlight) that could be aired on a local cable TV channel as part of our summer project. Well, the trick in making a great video, I thought, was in getting the raw videos. Once we have inputs, how long will it take to make a great video? Not much, right?

Channel Plus, an Attappady-based cable TV network came forward to air this show. We were elated to see that the cable TV representatives were also excited to work with us. Channel Plus had a local news program which was discontinued as the channel could not generate enough advertisement revenue. Though the Cable TV representative was happy at the prospect of filling a vacant spot, he was also intrigued by our preposition – giving a voice to people and broadcasting videos shot by the villagers themselves.

But like all new ventures, our endeavor too had a few curve balls waiting for us. While we did get videos readily supplied by the villages explaining us about their problems, we needed voice from local officials and politicians to complete the story. In our quest for gathering official response, another old learning of mine was reinforced – a promise is just a promise till the time it is honored. For reasons ranging from reluctance to lack of time, the promises we got from local politicians, officials, and experts about their complete and full-fledged participation remained just promises. In the process, we also lost some amount of time.

What do we do when we fail to get information from officials about the issues we were trying to address? Well it was time for us to jump into the fray. Based on the number of responses we received from people, we already identified wildlife menace to crops and vanishing cultural awareness among tribal communities as the subjects for our first episode. We had videos of people highlighting their problems, all we had to do was to figure out if such a problem was tackled by anyone else. On wildlife menace issue we got lucky when we found that similar problem was tackled by one of the government agencies based in Wayanad, a neighboring district in the same state, Kerala. And just when we thought it was impossible for us to get responses from experts or officials, we were rescued by an official from that agency. This official did not just explain what their agency did to tackle elephant menace in Wayanad, she also composed a precise two-minute voice recording and sent it over Whatsapp (as we requested her).

Armed with the data we received from people and this official, and with the information we gathered during our own research, we jumped into the process of making our first episode.

The opening jingle was done, introductory video was shot, and even a two-minute advertisement skit was made by our talented team members. I was quite confident of completing the video in a few days, but here comes another curved ball – sickness. Blame the spicy South Indian food (well, we were in the spice land guys, very close to the place where first of the Europeans landed in India in search of spices and ended up colonizing a major part of it for more than two centuries), or the weather that was either dry and hot, or wet and cold in quick successions due to the hide-and-seek played by monsoons in that particular area, or on lack of our own robust immune systems (eating in local hotels thrice a day had its risks), but each of our team members were down with at least once.

But of all these troubles we faced, the worst was that we had just one computer to work on. There were several aspects to making of a video - translation, identification of clips, storyboarding, assembling of the video clips, cross-checking of these clips by a person proficient in the language in which the videos were in, identification of gaps so as to address them, and last but not least we had to make embedded subtitles in English (the link language) as participants in our project spoke in different tribal language as well as in Malayalam, the official language of Kerala. We realized that the process of making a video would have been much faster if we had at least one more system to work on.

Well, despite these curve balls, we did complete our first episode that was aired on July 24, 2016 in Channel Plus at 9 a.m. local time. While I sit back and reflect on the incredible experience I gained in this two-month long experiment in grass-root participation and community empowerment through greater engagement, please have a look at our first episode (link shared below) and share your thoughts.

I will get back with the lessons learnt and my final impressions in the next instalment in a few days.

Until then, so long.

Watch our video here.