Vidyut Latay: Directing Beyond Silence, the Story of Deaf people in India
Published: Apr 8th, 2013
I am Vidyut Latay, filmmaker of the award- winning documentary, Beyond Silence.
I was born and raised in India and currently I live in Los Angeles, USA. Filmmaking is my passion. I love to explore issues and subjects that touch me and make me a better human being in the process. I have always liked to work on subjects that matter and make a difference to people at large. Currently, I work as a Film Consultant for the non-profit, Filmmakers Alliance in Los Angeles. We are a community of filmmakers and help each other in making films by providing and sharing resources and time to make quality independent films.
Highlighting diverse voices
Whilst studying in San Francisco at the San Francisco State University, I saw an interpreter signing an address by the President of the University. In all my years of life in India I had never ever witnessed any scene like that! This experience was truly new and intriguing for me. I was a bit disturbed and very inquisitive at the same time to know more about why India had no acknowledgement of this language and the community called DEAF. That was one of the trigger points to take up this topic for my documentary ‘Beyond Silence’.
ALFRED Hitchcock rightly said, “In feature films Director is God, but in documentaries God is the Director”. The spontaneity and the organic nature of story telling in documentaries is what I truly like. I am interested in making documentaries that highlight diverse voices and attempt to express the unique perspectives of the under-represented communities in our society. Previously, I made a short film based on the issue of female infanticide in South-Asian countries; the film was well received and had educational and private screenings. My current film “Beyond Silence” also has a unique take on the subject of deafness and the film has been screened successfully at film festivals around the world.
Though I worked a lot in television in India in important roles as a Director and Executive Producer, I always had a drive to make my own films. I like writing scripts and one of the scripts was even selected as a quarterfinalist at the ‘Ultimate Filmmaker Competition’ in Los Angeles in 2009; however, I have always found directing documentaries extremely rewarding, challenging, and gratifying. Handling of subjects, developing compelling characters, deriving the right content from the characters, building a strong story line and having a good sense of editing are some of the hallmarks of a good director.
I was fortunate to work as a researcher under Academy Award winner director Davis Guggenheim and producer Lesley Chilcott in their documentary ‘Waiting for Superman’ on America’s failing public educational system. I am keen to explore ideas that can help me highlight a unique perspective of looking at life and cinematically portraying it in my documentaries.
Creating Beyond Silence
For me working on a film about deaf people in India was a human issue. The documentary “Beyond Silence” is a celebration of deafness. It tries to explore and bring about a strong emotion of self-confidence and belief among deaf people. The film nowhere depicts the lives of deaf people as people with disabilities, on the contrary it questions and argues about the concepts and ideas around ‘being handicapped’.
My experience of working with deaf people in India was extremely inspiring and enriching. What I learnt during the process of making the film is that deaf people in India and all over the world believe in just one thing ”Live and Let Live”. They are not asking for any special favours, but want the government and society at large to accept them as they are and not try to make them hearing.
Deaf people in India deserve equal opportunities and are ready to fight for their rights! The current situation of deaf people is that there are just 250 certified interpreters for 18 million deaf people; most deaf schools have the oral method as the medium of instruction for teaching deaf students, no closed-captioning services on Indian television, non-availability of text phone services, etc. Deaf people in India want the society to accept their way of life, sign language and deaf culture.
I realized while researching for the film that there are lots of incorrect notions and ideas about deaf people in the minds of the larger hearing population in the country. Awareness of deaf sign language, culture and way of life is not yet fully developed. One of the biggest myths about deaf people that I saw among hearing people is that they conveniently believed that all deaf people can read lips and therefore understood spoken words!!—This assumption is wrong – it is impossible for a deaf person to read lips 100%.
Another thing that really shocked me was that of addressing deaf people as “deaf & dumb.” Deaf cannot hear – their inability to speak clearly and articulately is because of their inability to hear not because they are “dumb”. It is high time people become sensitive towards the use of words while addressing the deaf community.
Another interesting revelation I had while making the documentary was that deaf people are commonly labeled as “handicapped”. One of the deaf participants in the film rightfully expressed that “handicapped” isn’t just a label used for deaf people; in fact according to him the label can be used for hearing people too. I proved that he was correct in my documentary. In the film there is a shot where I as a hearing person was interacting with my deaf participants, and I felt handicapped because I could not communicate with them in their sign language!
Sensitization about deaf life in the larger hearing population, awareness and education of Indian Sign language (ISL) in society, recognition for ISL interpreters jobs, adoption of sign language at deaf schools, mobilizing the electronic media to adopt closed-captioning, plus making substantial policy changes with regards to deaf people, are some of the ways to make a difference in the lives of deaf people in India.
We have launched a fundraising campaign to raise funds for spreading awareness about deaf people in India through this documentary and motivate the electronic media in India to start closed-captioning services.
Here is the link to the fundraising campaign:
We invite you all to join us in our efforts of improving services to deaf people in India.
Documentary trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNwFLeEJXKU
You can also use the link below to donate and learn more about Beyond Silence documentary- festival screenings, synopsis, and director’s note, press articles: http://www.vidyutlatay.com/pages/beyond_silence
Vidyut Latay is the filmmaker of Beyond Silence, a documentary exploring the situation of the Deaf community in India. She is passionate about highlighting unique voices through the medium of documentary filmmaking. She works as a Film Consultant with the Filmmakers Alliance in Los Angeles, a non-profit community of filmmakers who provide and share resources and time to make high-quality films. Beyond Silence will be screened at the London-based Festival ‘Incloodu,’ which is aimed at celebrating deaf culture, on 9th November 2013.
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