Documenting the inspiring journey of Ayesha Noor

Her father, a driver, died when she was 13. She has epilepsy but wanted to learn karate. She did and won medals in India and abroad. She is a Muslim and has inspired dozens of others to break taboos and join her karate classes. Ayesha Noor, 19 years old, has braved all odds to make it to one of the five personalities from India, along with Bangladesh, Kenya,Peru and Jordan to be the face of Women and Girls Lead in partnership with USAID. The documentaries initiate to promote positive change, in order to address a range of gender issues.

Abhijit Ganguly spoke to Netherlands film producer and director Koen Suidgeest of Independent Television Service (ITVS) who was here in Kolkata to shoot the film 'Girl Connected' in the dingy bylanes of Beniapukur where the black-belt Ayesha Noor lives. The film would be screened in different parts of the world to inspire other women.

What was the main criteria based on which the girls were chosen?

We were looking for inspiring stories. One of the most important element was that they are all teenage girls. They are all not only fighting some kind of injustice or inequality in their own community, but at the same time they are also transferring their own struggle to other girls. In case of Ayesha, she is teaching other girls self defense and self esteem in order to fight the recent wave of violence that has been occurring here in India. She is not only successful in and of herself but inspiring other girls.

What kind of challenges did you face?

The challenges were many. First of all finding the girls was very difficult. I wanted to make sure we got the right stories.  Another challenge was that in case of some of the stories the culture themselves were not interested in sharing the stories. For instance we take the example of Bangladesh. The story about the child marriage. I understood that telling the story there was some opposition in the neighborhood and the community for us and coming there and shoot the film.  In general the production is going very well, girls have been very incredible and I think it is going to make for a very good film.

Any memorable moment you would like to share?

Each country has had a special moment. In Kenya we ended up being invited by the family of the girl for dinner and late at night everyone was dancing to Dutch music even with a ninety year old grandmother. This has been an incredibly memorable and special moment for us. Here in Kolkata before we started shooting we were being honoured with flowers and had to cut a ribbon.

What was the most inspiring part of Ayesha’s case?

To me the important factor is not only she comes from a very underprivileged background and made it to the international karate scene but more so she is using her talent to teach other girls, help other girls, empower them and create more self-esteem and feel more safe. Every Sunday, Ayesha helps her coach to teach karate to girls free of cost at a nearby park. It is a campaign called ‘Mission Against Rape and Crime’

How have you shot the documentaries?

I am trying to tell an observational story, in which each girl tells her own story basically. I am following them in all of their daily activities, and over the top we hear a voice over of the girl herself who tell her own story.

You have been making  documentaries highlighting social issues. What role does a filmmaker play in bringing forth issues to the public space?

Many social issues are hidden issues. There are many social issues in the world which are not seen, not known off or they happen in such a small scale that nothing can be done. As documentary filmmakers one of the roles we can have  is to bring those issues to the surface, have a larger audience , learn about them and also use our films as activism or simply creating awareness. So, I think documentaries can make a big difference.

What’s next for you?

I am working on three films simultaneously and once I delivered all three films by this summer…next is a holiday!

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