Akshaya Sawant is a multimedia artist from Mumbai, India. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts with a major in painting. Riding the popular trend of digital photography during her undergraduate years, her brother gifted her, her first DSLR camera to explore new avenues of art; at least that’s what she told him. However, it was when she created a stop motion animation film, Out Of Boredom, that she truly discovered her voice through the lens. Created with the help of her friend, the film won ‘Moments in Motion’, an online competition by renowned international filmmaker Shekhar Kapoor. She is a recipient of the Dean’s Fellowship at Emerson College, Boston.

1.Tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from and how you ended up in film school?

My name is Akshaya Sawant, I am from Mumbai. I studied painting in my undergrad. While in art school, I made a stop motion film in my 4th year, and I really enjoyed the medium and later started studying digital filmmaking, before working as a wedding cinematographer and editor for a year. That’s when i decided to apply to Emerson in Boston and ended up here!

2. Tell us about your documentary Talking to the Wind? What inspired you to make this documentary film?

This is my thesis film as part of the MFA program at Emerson. One day after a shoot, a friend threw a gallon of water in the trash shoot and when I asked him why, he said it was inconvenient for him to carry and that he recycled it. I have always been environmentally conscious and it was a different perspective for me. I saw myself as a connect between the two very different lands of USA and India. I thought I could make a film based in India, but make it have a more global appeal.

3. Tell us about your experience and process of making this documentary? What was this process like?

My uncle, Rajaram Desai works for the Center for technology Alternative in Rural areas (CTARA) in Mumbai and does a lot of work around bringing technological solutions to drought prone Maharashtra. When I decided to make the film, he guided me with his research which was extremely helpful. It spoke about farmer suicides but also spoke of women’s rights as a additional factor making things worse there.

I came to Mumbai, met with a lot of people, did some more research, collaborated with an NGO and started the process. It involved a large amount of uncertainty on an everyday basis, but we pulled through!

4. What were some challenges you faced along the way?

Funding was a big issue, since it was still technically a student film, even though I really think it’s not. I did receive a grant from Virgin Unite Social Impact Film fund, that helped us carry out production. The first few days of production were also difficult since I had to navigate the idea that of being in charge of every decision.

The editing process was the most challenging. It took me a year and a half to edit this film. I wanted the narrative to come together to tell the real story, connecting so many things together. On one hand, it was my job to make western audiences understand the context of the situation in India, but also treat the subjects with the respect that they deserve. I didn’t want any audience to look down on them.

5. Talking to the wind tackles some intense subjects and addresses some important themes of drought, dowry, women rights, farmer suicide and the sad state of agricultural support in India…what made you tie these all together in one narrative?

While conceptualizing the film, I worked backwards from the mass suicides. These suicides were the result of drought, water scarcity, lack of support from government and societal pressures on men to be the ‘Man of the family’. I couldn’t justify the suicides in the film if I didn’t explore the issues that the community tackles on everyday basis. And that became challenging while editing because some of the issues seemed so disconnected but at the same time, together resulted in the suicides, I wanted the film to depict just that.

6.Talking to the wind is a beautiful title – what’s the story behind this title?

The title is actually taken from the Marathi children’s poem Ranvedi which is also a part of the film. The title went through many changes but my professor actually suggested Talking to the Wind. What it means is that you are talking but no one is really listening to you…  it just felt right for the film.

7. How do you imagine or hope Talking to the wind has an impact on the world?

There’s so much talk about climate change, and realizing that it is real.Unless we act fast things are only going to worsen. There is a 9 min shot in the beginning of a farmer walking from his home to a well for a pot of water. I wanted to play with relativity of time in the film, to take the audiences through the journey of how urgent the environmental crisis really is. On a personal level, if people become more aware of the resources around them, I’d consider that a huge win!

I also want to introduce the concept of gender equality in children as well as the adults. The girls in the villages would tell me how they didn’t want to get married and wanted to study further Through this film, I hope to give them a voice which is otherwise robbed off!

8. Tell us a little bit about your campaign for this documentary?

I went to the village earlier this year and showed the film to the village folks. We put a screen outside the temple and all sat and watched it. I was nervous but it was a very special moment. During the screening I realized once the film gets into gender equality, there was a shift in the audience’s reaction and they seemed to have internalized a lot of the connections the film made. I want to replicate that on a larger scale using “Mobile Cinema” method. It’s basically having travelling film screenings on the surface of a white truck. So, I want to do a campaign where mobile cinema is used as a tool through rural Maharashtra – screening Talking to the Wind as well as films on gender equality –  even animated short films for kids’ entertainment.

I have partnered with an NGO called the Red Elephant Foundation based in Chennai. Their volunteers would accompany us to teach gender equality to the kids in village with games. so that there is some change happening on ground.  Through this campaign I want to screen the film, but also have discussions and talks after to include the community in a way that sparks some real change.

Support the campaign here: https://www.talkingtothewindfilm.com/make-a-difference

About the Author

Natasha Nargolkar, is an independent writer and ethnographer based in Mumbai. Her research interests spread across visual ethnography, environment policy, intangible heritage and documentary filmmaking.