Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir!
TRT: 75 min
Exhibition: HDcam (1080 24p), Digibeta NTSC and PAL
India, USA, S. Korea. 2011
Indian society calls them 'born criminals.' They call themselves 'born actors.' And they are fighting back — against police brutality, discrimination and history.
Synopsis (100 words)
Over 60 million Indians belong to communities imprisoned by the British as "criminals by birth." The Chhara of Ahmedabad, in Western India, are one of 198 such "Criminal Tribes." Declaring that they are "born actors," not "born criminals," a group of Chhara youth have turned to street theater in their fight against police brutality, corruption, and the stigma of criminality — a stigma internalized by their own grandparents. 'Please Don't Beat Me, Sir!' follows the lives of these young actors and their families as they take their struggle to the streets, hoping their plays will spark a revolution.
Synopsis (180 words)
Over sixty million Indians belong to communities imprisoned by the British as "criminals by birth." The Chhara of Ahmedabad, in Western India, are one of 198 such "Criminal Tribes." Declaring that they are "born actors," not "born criminals," a group of Chhara youth have turned to street theater in their fight against police brutality, corruption, and the stigma of criminality — a stigma internalized by their own grandparents. 'Please Don't Beat Me, Sir!' follows the lives of these young actors and their families as they take their struggle to the streets, hoping their plays will spark a revolution.
Not only does the film show the power of art as a tool for resistance and social change, it also takes us inside Chhara society to reveal a community in transition. Made over a five year period, during which the filmmakers worked in close collaboration with their subjects, 'Please Don't Beat Me, Sir!' exposes the tensions that exist between an older generation who did whatever it took to make ends meet and young people for whom theater offers a new world of opportunity.
Synopsis (250 words)
'Please Don't Beat Me Sir' is set in a ghetto in Western India. It's about Budhan Theatre, a group of young Chhara Tribals who are considered “born criminals.”
In 2003 Dakxin, a director and playwright, was arrested on false charges. We started documenting his case. We were concerned because the Chharas are regularly brutalized by the Police. The documentary evolved from that initiative.
Dakxin and his friend Roxy became our guides into why the Chhara are so reviled. They told us how the Chhara were notified as “born criminals” by the British colonial government in 1871, and how entire families were incarcerated in “soft” concentration camps.
The British are long gone, but their legacy remains. Despite being well-educated, nobody will employ a Chhara, forcing them into a life of crime, twenty percent of the Chhara work as thieves, and sixty percent brew illicit liquor. And so the vicious cycle continues. Their identity as criminals has been internalized by many Chhara as well. Dakxin's own grandmother laments, “Not a single grandchild is a thief—they are all useless.”
But theater allows young Chharas to break this vicious cycle. We see theater used as a form of non-violent protest against police brutality. We see theater being used to challenge traditional roles within the community. And we see how theater gives the young actors an alternative vision of their future. 'Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir!' is, above all, a film about the transformative power of art.
Synopsis (500 words)
Set in an urban ghetto in Western India, “Please Don't Beat Me, Sir!” illuminates the struggles of Budhan Theatre, a young troupe of Chhara Tribals whom tradition considers to be “born criminals.”
In 2003 Dakxin, a director and playwright, was arrested on a false charge. As the Chharas are constant victims of discrimination and police brutality in India, we started documenting his case to ensure his safety. The documentary evolved from that initiative.
The police are a constant threat in the lives of the Chharas. Roxy, a subject, lost his father to a savage police beating in retribution for making anti-police statements to the press. Dakxin and Roxy became our guides into why the Chhara are so reviled. They explained how the Chhara were labeled as “born criminals” by the British colonial government in 1871, and entire families were incarcerated in “soft” concentration camps.
Today, the British are long gone, but their legacy remains. Despite being well-educated, prejudice makes the Chhara unemployable, forcing them into a life of crime. And so the vicious cycle continues. Their identity as criminals has been internalized by many Chhara as well. Dakxin's own grandmother laments, “Not a single grandchild is a thief—they are all useless.” But although twenty percent of the Chhara continue to thieve, and sixty percent brew illicit liquor, many want to break the cycle.
Initially hesitant to discuss thieving with us, the members of Budhan Theatre changed their mind after seeing a rough cut of the film. They wanted more about their parent’s lives. The film documents the tense debate which preceded this decision. An interview with Jeetu, a young actor, and his father, a thief, reveals how thieving is itself a type of performance. Jeetu laughs at how his father used to travel around India with his gang, while now Jeetu travels with Budhan Theatre.
However, waiting in the wings is Budhan Theatre's greatest enemy: The neo-fascist Hindu fundamentalist party, the RSS. In 2002, the RSS was responsible for instigating a brutal pogrom against Indian Muslims; the worst of the rioting occurring on the doorstep of the Chhara. The RSS run programs modeled on the Hitler Youth movement and actively try to recruit Chhara youth. Budhan Theatre has reacted by opening a children's wing to keep them safe from the hate-filled ideology of the RSS.
The children’s theater is an important refuge for the Chhara children,but for the girls, their days are numbered. One the film’s saddest moments occurs when we discover that two of the brightest girls, who had told us of their dreams of college the year before, were married off at fourteen. Yet, here too, Budhan Theatre is making a difference. After a performance of “Breast Giver,” a feminist play, the female section of the audience burst into applause, the men followed. Many women came up after the play to express their gratitude to the actors. One play at a time, Budhan Theatre is changing attitudes both within the community and in public.
Directors' Statement (300 words)
The first time we saw Budhan Theatre perform was in the fall of 1999, at India's first conference on Denotified and Nomadic Tribes (DNTs) in Bhopal. The raw intensity of their performance betrayed the abuses these communities continue to suffer at the hands of today's police. So moved were we by this performance that when we heard that Budhan Theatre's director and playwright, Dakxin, had been arrested on false charges in 2003, we were determined to do what we could to help. Fortunately, Dakxin was released, but our time with the dedicated young actors of Budhan Theater had convinced us that there was a bigger story to be told.
A husband and wife team, the story is uniquely suited to our personal interests. Shashwati, an independent filmmaker, grew up in India, and had studied and performed the kind of street theater done by the Chhara when she was in college. Kerim, an anthropologist, has studied and taught ethnographic filmmaking, with an emphasis on exactly the kinds of ethical issues we faced in working with such a marginalized community, many of whom still engage in illicit activities. The project also follows naturally from our earlier film, on the writer-activist Mahasweta Devi who helped found India's first DNT rights organization. This has gone a long way in establishing trust and giving us access to the community. But this has become much more than simply another film for us. Our collaborative approach has found us working closely with the members of Budhan Theatre for over five years. Not only have they become our friends, but we have established a US-based nonprofit for Denotified Tribes, which helps run a library and informal school for Chhara children.
Producer/Director. P. Kerim Friedman & Shashwati Talukdar
Co-producer Henry Schwarz
Original Score Michael Berk
Executive Producer Kurt Engfehr
Bios (100 words)
Shashwati Talukdar, Director/Producer, began working in film and television as an assistant editor for a TV show by Michael Moore (1999). Since then she has worked on projects for HBO, BBC, Lifetime, Sundance and Cablevision. In 2001, she produced a documentary on Mahasweta Devi, an eminent writer and activist, who is revered by the Chhara community. Her films have screened at venues including the Margaret Mead Festival, Berlin and the Whitney Biennial. Her experimental films and video art is regularly shown in galleries around the world.
She has been supported by entities including the Asian Cine Fund in Busan, the Jerome Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, and received the James Yee Mentorship award from the Center for Asian American Media among others. Currently she is finishing a documentary about mural paintings in Garhwal, supported by the India Foundation of the Arts.
P. Kerim Friedman, Ph.D., Director/Producer/Camera has studied and taught ethnographic film and photography since 1993. He is an associate professor at National Dong Hwa University in Taiwan, where he teaches linguistic and visual anthropology. He is a founding member of the group anthropology blog Savage Minds and a documentary filmmaker. He has been supported by the Fulbright Association and the Chiang Ching Kuo Foundation among others. He divides his time between Taiwan and India. 'Please Don't Beat Me, Sir!' is his second documentary and first feature.
Bios (50 words)
Shashwati Talukdar, Director/Producer/Editor, began her career as an assistant editor on one of Michael Moore's TV shows. She has worked for HBO, BBC, Lifetime, Sundance etc. Her films have screened at the Margaret Mead Festival, Berlin and the Whitney Biennial, and numerous art galleries around the world.
P. Kerim Friedman, Director/Producer/Camera, is an associate professor at National Dong Hwa University in Taiwan, where he teaches linguistic and visual anthropology. He is a founding member of the group anthropology blog Savage Minds and a documentary filmmaker.
Jean Rouch Award for Collaborative Filmmaking, Society of Visual Anthropology Film Festival, Montreal, November 2011
Mahindra Creative Award for Social Change at Trigger Pitch, International Film Festival of Kerala, December 2011.
Honorable Mention, Zanzibar International Film Festival, July 2012
Busan International Film Festival, South Korea, October 2011 (World Premiere)
Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival, Taipei, October 2011
Society of Visual Anthropology Film Festival, Montreal, November 2011
Zanzibar International Film Festival, July 2012 (Africa Premiere)
OzAsia International Film Festival, Adelaide, Australia, September 2012 (Australia Premiere)
International Film Festival of India, Goa, November 2012 (India Premiere)
14th Madurai Documentary and Short Film Festival, India, December 2012
ViBGYOR International Festival for Short & Documentary Films,Thrissur, Kerala, India, February 2013
Fanatika International Theatre Documentary Festival, Ahmedabad & Vadodara, India, February 2013
ETNOFILm Festival, Rovinj, Croatia, April 2013
Ethnocineca, Ethnographic and Documentary Filmfest, Vienna, Austria, May 2013
New York Indian Film Festival, USA, May 2013
Tempo Documentary Festival, Stockholm, Sweden, Nov 2013
Our Lives...To Live Film Festival, India (traveling) Feb 2014
McDaniel College, Westmister, MD, USA. February 2012. Q and A with directors.
Fuzhong 15, Taipei, Taiwan. April 2012
Museum of Contemporary Art, Taichung, Taiwan. April 2012. Q and A with directors.
European Association of Social Anthropologists: Uncertainty and Disquiet, Nanterre, France. July 2012
FD Zone, Mumbai, India. December 2013
University of the Philippines, Baguio, January 2014
The Girl Narrative. 8 min. 2014
Wall Stories Hybrid Documentary. 40 min. 2014
The Sound of Bombs, Experimental. 3 min. 2013
Rangroot Narrative. 7:10 min. 2012
Antonymy Installation. 2011
Euthanized Narrative. 1 min. 2010
Lucky Strike Found footage experimental film. 1 min. 2010
Slow Afternoon Taipei Station I-phone animation. 1 min. 2010
I Have a Dream Music Video 3 min. DV 2007 (With Theresa Thanjan)
Acting Like a Thief Documentary 15min. DV. 2006 (With P. Kerim Friedman)
The Bench 1 min. DV. 2005. (With Olga Humphrey)
Bollywood Terror Experimental 2:30 min. DV. 2004
Eunuch Alley Narrative 21 min. 35 mm col. 2003
Tahini and Tears Narrative 10 min. DV. 2003
Mahasweta Devi: Witness, Advocate, Writer Documentary 27:30 min. DV. 2001
RetroAction Experimental 5:30 min. 16 mm col. 1998
Snake-Byte Experimental 9:30 min. Video. 1997. (With Dina Mendros)
Unable to (Re)member Roop Kanwar Performance 16 min. Video. 1997
Ravings of a Geometry Lover Experimental 1:30 min. Video. 1996
My Life as a Poster Experimental 7:30 min. Video. 1995
Ruminations and Advice from Dr. Abbey Experimental 3:12 min. Video. 1995
Any Number You Want Experimental 7:48 min. Video. 1994