The Photo



The Photo is the story of Tarun, 11, and Sheena, 9, who live in a small Indian village. Sheena's hobby is to collect wedding pictures from popular magazines. One day, Tarun suggests that the two of them go to a local studio to take a "wedding" picture. Shy and scared, Sheena resists, but is finally persuaded by Tarun's arguments. Ignorant of the cost of taking a photo, the children arrive at a studio with just a few coins. The events take an unexpected turn, which changes their lives forever.

In Malayalam (with English Subtitles)

Technical Specs:

21 Minutes    |    DigiBeta [1.66:1]
Color    |    Live-Action Drama


Writer/Director: Hari Das
Producer: Hari Das (Das Management & Educational Services, Canada)
Story: Based Upon "Photo" by M. Mukundan
Production Manager: V.S. Jose
Associate Director: Judy Narakkal
Cinematographer: Ravi Prakash
Associate Camera Man: T.M. Suresh Panicker
Editor: E.M. Madhavan
Editorial Assistants: Ramu, Prabhakar
Sound Effects: Manohar
Music: Geo Jos
Make-up: Jayesh
Costumer: Kukku Jeevan, Mallika Das
Art Director: Sasi
Camera Unit: Jubilee Cine Unit, Kottayam
Lighting & Equipment: SS Media
Transportation: Vas Travels


Sheena: Athira Rajan
Tarun: Bibin Baby
The Photographer: A.P. Ummar
Sheena's Mother: Deepika
The Customer: Hari Das

Bibin Baby and Athira Rajan in The Photo

Bibin Baby and Athira Rajan in The Photo
© 2004 Das Management and Educational Services

Publicity photo of Athira Rajan, star of The Photo
© 2004 Das Management and Educational Services

About the Filmmaker:

Hari Das trained at NYU. He has been directing and producing videos and short films for the last fifteen years, and he is a member of the Atlantic Film Makers' Cooperative in Halifax, Canada.

His latest films are The Photo (Malayalam, 21 Min.) and An Angel in the Office, a 24-minute comedy. Both films were shot on location in India in 2004. His 1994 feature, Moonnilonnu (Malayalam, 2 Hrs.), was also shot in India.

Review of The Photo by the BMPA Founders (Warning--Contains Spoilers):

In a small Indian village, Sheena and Tarun (played with great skill by Athira Rajan and Bibin Baby) are childhood friends who walk to and from school together every day. Sheena’s hobby is collecting wedding photos from magazines. One day, Tarun suggests that he and Sheena get a wedding-style photo taken of themselves. Living in such a small village, though, cameras are a rarity, so they set off to have their picture taken at a camera studio in a nearby town. Before they realize what’s happened, Tarun and Sheena have been tricked, threatened, forced into being photographed nude, and eventually separated as Sheena is kidnapped, and presumably forced into a life of prostitution or some other sexual abuse.

The Photo, a dramatic short by Hari Das, explores the issue of child abuse—in particular, the issue of children being forced into the sex industry. Unlike so many filmmakers trying to accomplish the task of exploring an important social problem, Hari Das does not preach to us. Presenting child pornography and sexual abuse as shocking is an easy task, which is why he seems to have avoided it. Instead, he shocks us by luring us into the same trap that has been laid for these two children.

Focused simply on having their photo taken together, Tarun and Sheena think as children and act as children, and we happily see the world through their eyes. Expecting a sweet, childhood drama to ensue, we are as horrified as they are when trouble suddenly finds them. Moreover, we wind up feeling for them with the same sympathy and rage that we would for a member of our own family. Perhaps the brilliance of The Photo is that it is the portrait of an average day. After all, tragedy rarely announces itself before arrival. It usually comes swiftly and seemingly out of nowhere. In short, The Photo is a film that flawlessly captures how easy it is for a child to fall unwittingly into the traps of life that adults try constantly to shelter them from.

Director's Statement (Warning--Contains Spoilers):

Nearly a million girls and women are believed to be forced into the sex industry in India at any given time. Thousands of child prostitutes are kept in Mumbai brothels against their will. Social service agencies estimate that as many as 50,000 women and children are trafficked into India annually from Nepal and Pakistan for the sex trade.

Statistics such as this always shocked me. However, living in Canada, any tangible action remained a pipe dream. Until I read “The Photo” in early 2004.

I was immediately captivated by the story, which portrayed the exploitation of a little girl by an evil photographer. It was a simple story of a small eight-year-old getting into the clutches of an evil photographer. To me, this was the perfect opportunity to sensitize the public against the evil of child pornography. I wrote to Mukundan, the story writer, to get his permission to make a film, which he readily granted.

If getting permission to make a film was easy, the shoot itself was going to be a lot harder. It was impossible to make the story into a full-length feature without the usual Bollywood songs and dances, something I found abhorrent given the seriousness of the theme. In India, there is no market for short films, my production assistant warned me. I pretended not to hear him.

But the challenge remained. Short films are qualitatively different from their longer counterparts, especially the Indian variety. You have 22 minutes or less to establish characters, their motives, and tell a complete story. How to transform a simple act of going to take a photo to a memory of terror? The ugly fate that awaits the little girl is left to the imagination of the viewer. I don't tell them about her likely future, although it is almost guaranteed that her fate can range anywhere from a permanent psychological scar to possible suicide or a career in prostitution or pornography. It is ugly, sad and shocking. The horror lurks there. I wanted the viewers to leave the show with a totally unsettled feeling.

There were other challenges, as well. Given my job demands, I could only spend a maximum of three months in India. Unfortunately, those three months coincided with India’s monsoon season, essentially reducing available time to twenty days. There was only one digital camera available in Ernakulam where I was planning to shoot, and that, too, only for a weekend. The shooting locations were already booked for the next two months except during one particular weekend. Some of the actors were available only for two days; one fell sick for several hours during the shoot.

But I persisted. The film The Photo was finally produced against almost impossible odds. Now, it was time for the first preview. Would the film have any impact? Were all those efforts worth the outcome? I was like a pregnant mother waiting for the big day.

Did The Photo maintain audience interest? I always look for audience behaviours while they watch my films (eye and finger movements, whispers). If I see that people are fidgety or appear distracted, I wonder. If I could see it holding their attention, I congratulate myself. I also try to maintain high standards for other technical aspects like editing, music and camera. As a director, that is all that one can do—the rest depends on how the audience sees your film. In what light and what frame of mind.

The viewer reaction during the preview in India made it all worthwhile. I could see that a number of persons were upset by the little girl’s fate. “My wife was disturbed when she saw The Photo...“ a viewer wrote. There were many compliments about dialogue, editing and acting. All viewers were touched by the story. The music score I had identified and developed by Geo turned out to be a big hit. “The Photo is an award-winner for sure,” several of them told me.

That will be superb, I concur, but always telling myself that the final success is measured by the film’s ability to bring the evil of child pornography into the evoked mindsets of people.

As for the future? There are several other stories already on the drawing board. But for those to see the light of day, The Photo must succeed.

As always, I am optimistic that it will. After all, without such optimism, this film would never have been made!

Photography by Maureen