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|May 8, 2000|
The story of a Little Red DotShoma A Chatterji
Mitra Sen, a young Canada-based Indian filmmaker, is credited with converting an Indian custom into a movement against racism in Canadian schools. The feat has been recorded in a film - Just A Little Red Dot - made by Sen herself.
"It all started when a group of children, who faced racism in their school in Scarborough, went out on a mission to help everyone understand the importance of respecting people for what they are. This initiative was the inspiration for my film,'' says Sen.
Sen, a teacher in that school, not only watched the movement grow from close quarters, she also played a vital role in sparking it off.
When Parvathi, a newcomer from Sri Lanka, stepped into grade five, wearing a little red dot on her forehead, there was a sharp reaction in her class. Some of her classmates were curious, others plain hostile.
Then something happened that took the bindi out of Pravathi's class, beyond the school campus, and turned it into a national controversy.
However, there was a section of students which did not like this. They would jeer and make racist remarks at students wearing bindis. The conflict did not take long to spill over to town streets and some parents began criticising school authorities for allowing such flagrant defiance of dress code.
What for the children was just a bit of fun, awakened serious misgivings in the minds of the adults. Would their children reject their upbringing? Was the East taking over the West?
The bindi lovers in Sen's school were, however, unperturbed. They began educating their friends about the importance of imbibing alien cultures. They would spend the recess time to communicate with those opposed to their love of the bindi.
Soon they formed the 'The Little Red Dot Club' and the movement rapidly spread to neighbouring towns and cities.
Born in Calcutta, brought up in the UK and now based in Canada, Sen says that when her student presented her with the packet of bindis she thought it was a lovely gesture. "But I did not foresee the undercurrents of hostility that would follow. But looking back I realise that the hostile reaction was more out of ignorance than any racist feelings."
The narrative of Just A Little Red Dot is simple and linear. There are no gimmicks, no pontification and the characters seem to be unaware of the presence of the camera.
Directing children is a challenging task, but Sen has done a great job. "I auditioned more than 400 children...drawing up the final list was not an easy task, " recalls Sen.
But it was all worth it. Just A Little Red Dot has won many international awards.
"Our goal is to make our generation realise the importance of sharing and understanding the different cultures of the world, so that when we grow up we will know how to cooperate with all people no matter what they look like or where they come from. That is our mission and we are taking steps to make it come true."
The film opens with the little Sri Lankan girl and her neighbour. Sen cleverly juxtaposes cultural differences through deft close-ups and collages. In the 36-minute film, Sen manages to flesh out each character, define tensions and hostilities, and create just the right ambience of a Canadian school.
Sen was in India twice last year. Her film was screened on both occasions. The first time she came to scout locations in Varanasi and Jaisalmer for her new film. The film was screened finally at the Max Mueller Bhavan in Calcutta. She then came in November when her film was screened as part of a special programme on young NRI filmmakers at the Calcutta International Film Festival.
"I am happy that my film has been received well by children and adults alike who have complimented me on the project. Many of them come and tell me at parent-teacher meetings that they learnt a lot from their children's club. I value this much more than all the awards my film has won," she says.
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