Two weeks in India on a mission to shoot an adventure film with a group of kids aged 3 to 15 at a care home in Jaipur…..
We travelled 6,000 miles from home not knowing whether all the things that were on our “things that could go wrong” list would go against us. Working with 40 people to shoot a story that the director had never heard of, in just one week is hard at the best of times. Let alone when it is 40 children, in 45 degree heat and in a foreign language.
HERE IS THEIR STORY
Following the success of our previous projects, we sat down to plan our next volunteer project. We had the opportunity to do another HIV/AIDS documentary within the UK but we wanted to focus more on Arms Around the Child, and the kids they help support in Jaipur, India.
The decision was made to turn a traditional Hindi tale into a short adventure film; The Indian and the Cowboy.
It had taken us a few years, from the very first project until then, to really figure out what the purpose of this volunteer trip was going to be and why we were doing it, beyond fundraising for a brilliant charity of course.
Our mission was to work with young people to create an adventure film. Have fun, teach them new skills, and together make something they can use to put on fundraising premieres, which drives funding back into the charities that care for these great children.
We gathered a small but very talented team to join us on this adventure to India. We weren’t the most well travelled group. My first impressions of Delhi were, it was hot. So so hot. And incredibly colourful. We got our bearings together and headed towards the airport exit to be greeted by a really happy fella holding a sign saying “Jamie Hary”. We figured that it was unlikely a Jamie Hary and a Jamie Hay we’re staying at the same hotel getting picked up at the same time so we said “Namaste” and jumped in his taxi. We stayed one night in Delhi, spent the evening exploring before continuing on our way to Jaipur.
It was 40 degrees when we arrived in Jaipur. It was a stunning place, lots more colour than Delhi but still crazily busy. On the way we passed camels pulling carts, families pushing elephants and monkeys chilling on the roadside..
Meeting the children was one of the best experiences of our lives. The children were so friendly and happy. Smriti, the founder of the care home, was so welcoming and we felt at home immediately. We arrived during prayer time which sounded great and shortly after, whilst signing the guest book, we looked up to find 40 smiling faces saying hello.
The kids were aged between 3 to 15 and each one came up to us to introduce themselves and find out our names. Cricket was mentioned and before we knew it a game was in full flow on the road outside. I sat on the side showing a group of youngsters my eyebrow raising skills.
After the cricket match, we were invited to join everyone for a tasty dinner. We hadn’t sat cross-legged like that in a while, one of us had to move to the steps, another had pins and needles, and the third tried hard not to dribble sauce down his shorts. The kids laughed so hard, so at least we kept them entertained. After dinner we headed briefly into the playroom before our taxi arrived. An incredible experience for us all and we couldn’t wait to do our best for this brilliant bunch of kids!!
After meeting the kids for the first time, and being completely bowled over by their happiness and enthusiasm, we couldn’t wait to start the project the following day and get stuck right in.
We arrived around lunchtime and tucked into some grub. After lunch the staff explained to the children what these four volunteers were doing stood in front of them with cameras and matching t-shirts.
Thanks to some brilliant interpreting skills, we explained that we had travelled 6,000 miles to come and shoot an adventure film with them, with their stories, characters and costumes. Immediately the kids went crazy with excitement. We then gave them the choice to be actors/actresses, cameramen or sound/lighting.
We took the kids into their groups and ran through some skills and ideas with them. We let the children use the equipment and showed them how to use it.
Smriti, the founder of the care home, then sat all 40 children and told a traditional Hindu story to the kids which would become be the basis of our film. It was fantastic to hear it and see the children’s interest and intent.
Later in the afternoon the yoga instructor arrived. Within 5 minutes we were sat doing the sinking swan. I’m not sure we were close to touching our toes but it was well worth getting involved.
After the yoga we were treated to some group dancing that the kids had choreographed!! So after our first day of the film workshop these brilliant bunch of youngsters had chosen their characters, began learning some camera work and sound and lighting. At the request of the kids we would start the dress rehearsal the next day.
AND SO IT BEGAN….
When we walked back into the care home the following day we were greeted with elephants, monkeys, lions, tigers, bears, birds, rabbits, Krishna, trees, and more. It was like a Bollywood movie set filled with amazing colours and sounds of the kids practising their noises.
The story the children had chosen was a traditional Hindu tale, about a young boys frightening journey to school and his wavering faith in God (Krishna). It was a brilliant day of filming, the kids were so patient for us. We had them out the back for the jungle scenes for nearly 3 hours in 43 degrees heat, and as we repeated the scenes over and over, not one of the youngsters moaned or got agitated.
They learned so quickly, our selected and new sound team quickly knew more than we did about the recording equipment, the newly selected camera crew were taking fantastic pictures, and our little actors and actresses were doing a top job.
The first days of the film workshop had been very productive. We were so excited to carry on developing and filming the story further as we headed back to our accommodation. It was a relief to get some of the adventure film on camera and we were excited to return and shoot some more scenes. We had so much fun working with the children, and hoped it came through on the film.
“I set up the children’s home, to support children who are discriminated against.” Smriti told us, the founder of the care home for children living with HIV/AIDs we were based with, making an adventure film.
After spending 4 days at the care home, we were delighted to have a chance to chat to Smriti one-to-one about her life long committed work with the children. When we arrived in India we had no idea what to expect. We knew very little about the country and the people who live here, and less about the situation the children at the care home were in.
Having been fundraising for Arms Around the Child for the last few months we were so pleased to see what an utterly brilliant job Smriti and the team are doing with the support from Arms Around the Child. The kids were so happy and being provided with a fantastic childhood to achieve whatever they want with their future.
Next on our filming agenda, was the school scenes of the adventure film. The boys dressed up in trousers and robes in an orange colour. As always they followed our directions perfectly and the story was beginning to really come together.
All in all it had been another top day. “working” with these kids, Smriti, the employees and the volunteers had been such an incredible experience. Tigers to follow, back to the children’s home, followed by Delhi and then it would be time to return home to the UK.
The following day we went on Safari, which was organised by the children’s home, and a 3 hour drive away. Tigers, elephants and monkeys are just a few of the animals we’ve been told to expect. We’re hoping to use the footage to add to the film!
We sat and had a cup of tea with Ambika, before we set off for safari. It was great to have a chance to pick Ambika’s brain about India, Rajasthan, which was the Indian State we were in and where the children’s home is based. Rajasthan is the desert state and rains only 4 days a year with peaks of 48 degrees in late June! It’s incredibly hot!
Ranthambore was a lot of fun, we saw some monkeys, lots of deer, birds, crocodiles, boar and a tiger! We got some good footage for the adventure film which was the aim. The following day was was our last whole day with the kids filming.
FINAL DAYS OF FILMING
We arrived the next day around 11am and got straight into shooting some final jungle and classroom scenes. The film was a wrap by mid afternoon which meant it was dance time! All week the kids have been practising their dancing and we spent a few hours mucking about, playing games, and learning dance moves.
What a rollercoaster we had been on! There were lots of tears as we said goodbye after shooting the final scenes of the adventure film with the children. We knew it would be hard, but not as hard as it was. We barely said a word on the drive back to the hotel which summed up how attached we had all become to the kids and everyone at the children’s home.
It was great to bring creative ideas and colourful projects and it was a real privilege to spend time with these incredible children. It’s fair to say we had the most amazing experience. It had been a short trip but one that will no doubt stay with us forever. In reflection, we would have gone for longer, but it is amazing what you can achieve in a short space of time, with some amazing kids, a traditional story, a great crew and an ambitious idea…..
We were prepared for a challenge. We weren’t prepared for the incredible experience and people that we met. It has blown us away how welcoming the people and children have been. How fantastic the staff and children have been in organising, planning and largely directing the film.
The hope was that the kids would also get involved in the filming, sounds and lighting, which they’ve taken to like a crocodile to water.
The experience for the four of us will live with us forever. It was a blast!
The final film: The Indian and the Cowboy can be viewed here