The Children’s Wing of Budhan Theatre

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Towards the end of Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir! there is an interview with two boys who had written a play about the Budhan Theatre library: Harry and Siddharth. They admit how scared they were that someone might forget their lines. We always get a laugh when they reveal that they wrote the mother role in their play just for the girl Nandini because they knew she would be good in the fight scene. Well, shortly after we finished primary shooting, Harry’s father passed away. You might remember Harry’s father from the film. He was the one who was beaten by the police after he tried to “go straight” by opening a store. Once a promising student and playwright, his father’s death forced Harry to leave Budhan Theatre to work at his father’s shop on the main road. Now history is repeating itself as Harry is frequently in trouble with the police. Siddharth, on the other hand, was able to continue with the theater. He is still in school, now in 11th grade and studying arts.

Read More Redesign

Henry Schwarz, Alan Sussman, Shashwati and I created Vimukta to help support Budhan Theatre’s community development activities. For the past few years we’ve been supporting a community library and informal school in the community, but now that the film is coming out we are getting ready to support more ambitious projects. To prepare for that we needed to launch a social media campaign centered around a website redesign. For the past month I’ve been working with Kellen Parker of Spectacle Creative Media who has been very generous with his time helping me achieve what I think is a look that reflects something of the community we work with. A site that is neither generic nor corporate nor stereotypical of the numerous clichés of Indian non-profits. I hope we have achieved what we set out to do.

Before we make the site “live” however, we need to be sure that it works on a variety of computers and web browsers. For that reason we are asking people to take a look at a demo site. When you visit the demo site, please note that much of the text, the video and some of the images are just temporary. They will be updated when we launch the campaign later this month. It is also on a slow server, so be patient if things don’t open immediately. Also, because it is a demo site, please don’t link to it. That said, please click around, let us know what works, what you think could be improved, and what is completely broken. You can leave your feedback in the comments, or by email (there is a link at the top of the page). Please be as specific as possible with your criticism, and provide screen shots wherever possible.

Here is the link to the demo site. A screen shot of the front page is below the fold.

Thank you!

UPDATE: It seems the site is still not working well on Firefox or I.E. I will update this when we’ve addressed those problems. (The picture below shows how it should look.) [Firefox problems should be fixed now. Still working on I.E.]

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Moral Hazard

Writing in the WSJ about a program to provide food security to India’s poor, Rupa Subramanya reveals her ideological bias in towards the end of the article:

After all, if someone is offering to give you free food, why would you bother to get a job and earn income so that you can feed yourself? Economists recognize this problem as “moral hazard” in which a welfare program leads to perverse incentives which perpetuate its existence.

I would really like someone to apply this logic to CEO pay. After all, many CEOs are now paid more in a single year than most people need in a lifetime, even taking into account differences in “lifestyle.” Shouldn’t they just be given the bare minimum to live from year to year in order to keep them motivated to work the next year as well? Or does moral hazard only apply to poor people?

Jean Rouch Award and our Kickstarter Campaign

We have some very exciting announcements to make regarding our documentary film, Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir! But before I get to that, I wanted to thank everyone who contributed to our Summer fundraising campaign. We raised just over $5,000 through the generous donations of over fifty people. Thank you all so much! And thanks to the many other people who helped out in other ways: translating subtitles, organizing fundraising parties, and otherwise helping get the word out about our film.

Thanks to your help we were able to get a beautiful new master tape out for the Busan International Film Festival in Korea, where we are having our “World Premiere” next week. For anyone whose seen the film before, the new sound mix and coloring, done by some of the same studios responsible for Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s films, will knock you out of your seats. It is like looking at an entirely new film.


Unfortunately, even with your generous donations and Shashwati’s tough barganing skills, we still ended up having to borrow money to pay for this work. That’s why we’ve launched a new Kickstarter Campaign to raise an additional $5000 to make ends meet. We’ve already received $940 in pledges, but because of how Kickstarter works, if we don’t reach our goal by October 15th, we won’t get a dime. If you pledge just $15 or $20 you would be making a huge contribution to the film, and you could earn one of our many prizes at the same time – including the opportunity to download your own digital copy of the film.

Jean Rouch Award For Collaborative Filmmaking

Jean Rouch

Shashwati and I were very proud to learn that the Society of Visual Anthropology will be awarding us this year’s Jean Rouch Award for Collaborative Filmmaking – the SVA festival’s highest honor. In making Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir! the films of Jean Rouch were a great source of inspiration for us. In particular, we admired the way Rouch collaborated closely with his subjects, employing a variety of devices which we ended up using in our own film. We can’t think of an award we’d be more proud to receive.

Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival

We are also very excited to announce that our film was selected to be part of this year’s Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival (TIEFF). TIEFF is organized by the Taiwan Association of Visual Ethnography and, under the leadership of esteemed Taiwanese ethnographic filmmaker Hu Tai-Li, has grown to be one of the most important ethnographic film festivals in the world. It is truly an honor to be one of the handful of films selected for this year’s festival.

A Note on Donor Prizes

Whether you donated to our previous campaign, or to our new Kickstarter campaign, we have been giving out prizes for each level of donation. These include a poster, access to an online version of the film, the DVD, etc. We have been working hard to make sure that each of these prizes is worthy of your support. We promise to get these to you as soon as they are ready, but we need a little more time. Please be patient.

Those who have access to the online version of the film will be getting an updated version of the film for free. We’ll be putting this up soon after the Kickstarter campaign ends. This new version will include the new sound mix and color correction which were paid for with your generous support.

Institutional Sales

There has been a lot of interest in using the film for teaching. We hope to be ready to start institutional sales soon. If you are interested please send us an email and we will let you know as soon as we’ve finished the DVD. And let us know if you’d be interested in a campus visit or online discussion via Skype.

World Premiere

We are very happy to announce that our film, Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir!, has been officially selected to have its world premiere at the 2011 Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) in October! The Independent listed BIFF (“Asia’s largest film festival”) as one of the top twelve film festivals of 2011.

In order to make the most of this exciting opportunity, we need your help to make an exhibition-ready copy of the film to show at Busan. In return, we are offering our supporters the opportunity to watch a special “Sneak Preview” version of the film, either online or as a DVD. Read on to learn how you can be one of the first people to watch the film by making a donation.

Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir!

Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir! is about a troupe of young Chhara actors using theater to fight police brutality and the stigma of criminality. The Chhara are one of 198 communities in India, over sixty million people, whose grandparents were labeled “born criminals” by the British. Although the British are long gone, the stigma still remains.

To learn more about the film and make a donation visit our webpage.

Crowd-sourced Filmmaking

A significant portion of the film’s budget came from individual donations collected over the internet. Donations received during our initial round of online fundraising ranged from $15 to $5000. The film wouldn’t have been possible without every one of these donations. People have also helped out in other ways: translating subtitles, recording music, designing the poster, etc. We also received grants and assistance from The Bhasha Trust, The New York State Council on the Arts, and the Asian Cinema Fund.

Now, after five years, and thanks to your support, we are ready to show the film to the world. Our goal is to have as many people see the film as possible. For a documentary film that means trying to get on TV. Film festivals like Busan are a great way to meet producers and purchcasing agents, but we’ll be competing with hundreds of other films showing at the same festivals. That means having the best-quality exhbition master we can afford, attending the film festivals in person to meet with potential buyers, and even hiring a professional publicist and graphic designer to help promote the film. We can’t do any of this without your help.

See the Film Now!

We’ve been overwhelmed by all the support and encouragement we’ve received, and we’re happy that we finally have something to give people in return for their generosity. Starting today you can watch a special “Sneak Preview” of the film online (this includes a download link) or, for a little bit more, we’ll send you the DVD.

For every level of donation we also have some special rewards, including a signed poster, your name in the credits, your name on our IMDB page, and even (for the most generous donors) a private screening with the directors.

Donate now.

This Sneak Preview is intended for personal use only, and is not intended for institutional sales. If you would like to use the film for teaching, or for public screenings, please contact us directly.


We’ve created a series of goalposts for this final round of fundraising. Each goalpost we reach will exponentially increase the film’s chances of success. The first twenty-two thousand dollars are essential—they will pay for an exhibition quality mix and color correction—after that we will spend as much on travel and publicity as we can raise. Everything we raise will go towards the film. All donations are tax-deductible (for U.S. taxpayers).

Donate now.

1st Goalpost: $24,000 for an Exhibition-Ready Copy.

This involves color correction and an “online” edit at a professional studio. [Watch a short video about the difference color correction can make.] Even the HD tapes required by some festivals are expensive. We urgently need to reach this goal in time for the Busan International Film Festival in October.

2nd Goalpost: Travel and Accommodation for Three to Four Festivals or Markets @ $3,000 each (max $12,000).

Since we live in Taiwan this is more expensive for us, and high oil prices mean tickets are more expensive now. But it is essential that at least one of us attend in person if we are going to close a deal.

3rd Goalpost: $10,000 to Hire a Publicist and a Graphic Designer

If we can raise a total of $44,000, the last $10,000 will pay to hire a publicist and a designer. To really do things properly we need to spend money publicizing the film. Making posters and post cards is cheap enough, but if we could higher professional graphic designers and a publicist we feel we could have an even bigger impact.

Donate now.

Other Ways To Help

The easiest way you can help is by spreading the word. Share our page on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. Share our trailer. Like our Facebook page. Or just tell your friends about the film. Independent documentaries like ours live or die by word-of-mouth. You are our buzz-machine and we depend on you to help get the word out.

If you have a blog or newspaper or journal and you’d like to review the film, just let us know and we’ll send you a review copy of the DVD. If you are a graphic designer or publicist who can donate your services, you could help us meet our third goalpost before we’ve even started fundraising. And if you have another way you’d like to help just let us know! Thank you.

“Born Criminal” Found Not Guilty!


Activist and playwright Dakxin Bajrange was arrested on May 11th, 2003 for allegedly assaulting Prahlad Chhara. The real reason? Performing plays critical of the police. News of his arrest motivated Shashwati and I to go to India and make the documentary film, Acting Like a Thief. That trip changed our lives – and while Dakxin has gone on to become an award winning documentary filmmaker, even as he continues his work in the community, his case has not gone away. For years the case has dragged on through India’s notoriously slow legal system. Until now. I’m happy to say that today I received word that Dakxin’s case has finally been settled and he has been cleared of all charges. For a member of a community once declared “Born Criminals” this means a lot.

Our new film, with brings the viewer much deeper into the life and work of Budhan Theatre members and their families, including Dakxin, will be completed later this year. To stay up to date, please sign-up for our newsletter and stay tuned for major website updates later this summer.

Want to help Chhara kids? Help sponsor the Chharangar Library!

More Than A Library

(Reposted from Vimukta.)


[Attention: Please help us raise Vimukta’s membership count! Scroll to the end for details.]

The Budhan Theatre Library is much more than just a library; its a community center and an informal school as well. But its first and foremost a library – and a very good one at that! It houses a large collection of (mostly donated) books in three languages: English, Hindi, and Gujarati. Each book has been carefully cataloged and given a call number! In the above picture you see Ruchika updating the catalog for a man who has just borrowed the book Six Russian Short Novels.

Shashwati and I have been visiting Chharanagar every year for the past four years, to work on our nearly completed documentary film, and every time we go the library has moved to a new building. Yet somehow this valuable community resource not only remains in tact, but manages to flourish.

The current library is not the first library in the community. That would have been the meager collection of books housed at the Reform Club Library, hosted by the father of journalist and Budhan Theatre member Roxy Gagdekar. Roxy’s father died when he was still a teenager. He died after being released from police custody, where he had been severely beaten. The Chhara continue to suffer from police brutality, as documented in Budhan Theatre’s powerful plays, but the new library offers children a safe haven where they can learn, play games, and just be kids. (See this wonderful video by Dakxin Bajrange of the children making music with the tools their mothers use to brew liquor.)


It was to support this library that Shashwati and I, together with our producer Henry Schwartz (who did the hard work of applying for 501(c)3 status) initially founded Vimukta. The library doesn’t cost much to maintain. Rent, and a small stipend for the young people who work there, currently costs a mere $1000 a year.

Donations are always welcome, and any amount over our annual goal will be held in trust by the Bhasha Research and Publication Center until such a time as Vimukta and Budhan Theatre are ready to expand our efforts beyond the library. And, indeed, we have big plans. Our dream is to set up a scholarship for Chhara girls, many of whom drop out of school to marry at a very young age. Such a scholarship would be contingent on their finishing school. We’d also like to help Budhan Theatre buy a permanent home for the library.

But to do all that we need your help. We expect that our film, when it comes out, will be a powerful recruiting tool for Vimukta, but we’d like to have a strong network of supporters already in place before that happens. Currently our Facebook group has 24 members. We’d like to see that grow to 500. Please join. Or, if Facebook isn’t your thing, please sign up for our newsletter directly on our website. We know as well as anybody how annoying it can be to be flooded with e-mail, and we promise to keep our e-mails announcements to the bare minimum (about four a year, on average). If you are already a member, please help by spreading the word and inviting your friends.


Music from Liquor

Yesterday Chhara playwright and documentary filmmaker Dakxin Chhara posted a short “musical documentary” to YouTube which shows an original composition by the children of Budhan Theatre. What isn’t revealed until the end of the film is that the musical instruments they are playing are entirely composed of utensils used to brew liquor. Brewing liquor is illegal in the dry state of Gujarat, but it is one of the main sources of income for the Chhara, who are excluded from other forms of employment by deep seated racism.

This summer we are heading back to Chharanagar for the fourth time. We always look forward to our trips, but this one is special. It will be the tenth anniversary of Budhan Theatre, and we will be there for the celebrations. We also plan to show a rough cut of our film to the community for their feedback. But one of the main purposes of our film is to record some music for our soundtrack. We will be joined by the multi-talented musician John Plenge.

There are three kinds of music we wish to record: folk songs still remembered by the older generation, popular songs sung by some of the community’s professional musicians, and music by the members of Budhan Theatre, like what you see in Dakxin’s music video.

If you wish to support Chhara youth, please consider making a donation at


BBC NEWS | In pictures: Gujarat's nomad voters

The BBC has a nice little photo essay about voting rights for Daffers [pronounced Dafirs], a DNT community. I suspect that these photos might be the same ones mentioned in this 2006 article by my friend Roxy Gagdekar:

From eking out a living as highway robbers, members of the once “most dangerous” denotified tribe – Daffers – seem to have turned a new leaf earning their livelihood out of guarding fields and doing odd jobs.

The rise in remuneration from guarding fields in the past five years has been the main magnet for the members of this tribe. “We guard fields from thieves and cattle round-the-clock throughout the crop season,” said Latif Usmanbhai Daffer, a resident of Vasna village in Sanand at the inauguration of a photo exhibition organised by Vicharta Samuday Samarthan Manch (VSSM) in the city.

Unfortunately, this Indian Express article makes it clear that their new job guarding fields comes with its own problems:

UNTIL 1951, they were officially branded as the ‘tribe of crime’. And so trips to the police station were a regular feature in every Dafer member’s life. They were also the first on whom the scepter of suspicion fell every time a crime took place in the areas they lived in.

But 56 years after being denotified, the community still has to bear with the stigma. The law still looks at them with suspicion, subjecting them to occasional harassment and intimidation, alll while the community is trying hard to come to the mainstream of life.

Even today, in rural Gujarat, police pursue Dafers who work for farmers in their fields. Police visit the thatched settlements (dangas) of Dafers in search of some suspect or the other.

…. Musabhai says most of the Dafers like him are employed by rural farmers to protect their crop from cattle and wild animals. But their socio-administrative vulnerability exposes them to the exploitations by the farmers as well.

“I was asked to protect the crops at Vakrana village last year. After working for the entire season, the villagers sent me off without paying the dues in November last,” says Latifbhai Dafer.

He adds: “With the fear of police, we just had to run away, we couldn’t approach anyone for help, the Vakrana panchayat still owes me Rs 1,35,000. ”

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