Mumbai, 08 Feb 2018 18:10 IST
Updated: 13 Feb 2018 17:13 IST
The film follows the journey of disability activist Jeeja Ghosh who has helped changed several perceptions and legislations for India’s differently abled citizens.
Filmmaker Swati Chakraborty beautifully captures the enriching life of Jeeja Ghosh, who was born with cerebral palsy, in the 28-minute documentary, I Am Jeeja. The National Award-winning film focuses on the extraordinary woman, who not only holds a double master’s degree from the University of Delhi and the University of Leeds (UK), but also has defied every stereotype and expectation to become a social worker.
From a young age, Ghosh’s family supported her thirst for knowledge and learning, and never made her feel different from her sisters.
Growing up in Kolkata in the 1970s, there weren’t many facilities available for young children with disabilities. She finished her schooling from La Martiniere for Girls in Kolkata and later graduated from Presidency College as a regular student. The Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy (IICP), established in 1974, helped Ghosh and her family during her growing up years.
She became interested in social work and pursued further studies in Delhi and the UK, living independently for the first time in her life. Seeing the facilities provided for the differently abled citizens overseas, Ghosh was tempted to stay back, but returned thinking of those in India who live without those basic amenities.
Through her interactions with family, friends and colleagues in the film, Ghosh looks like a mischievious and large-hearted girl. She jokes around her past, about her boyfriends and her temper, but when it comes to social work, her focus is clear.
The film also includes a distressing incident that even made national news. In 2012, she was asked to get off a SpiceJet aircraft while travelling to Goa from Kolkata. The officials onboard believed her condition could pose a threat to other passengers. Four years later, in 2016, the airline had to pay Rs10 lakh to her after the Supreme Court ruled that the incident was an unreasonable discrimination against her.
By choosing to pursue the matter for four years, she was speaking up against the conscious and subconscious discrimination and hurdles that the differently abled face every single day.
Furthermore, she is outspoken when she needs to be — especially for citizens who are speech impaired, like those with cerebral palsy, because their voices may not be heard when it comes to charting laws for them.
She also fiercely advocates for the differently abled to be seen as whole, not genderless or asexual. Ghosh points out that they are, in fact, more vulnerable to being abused sexually. Through her social work, she highlights these issues and brings them to the forefront.
In 2013, Ghosh married Bappaditya Nag, a co-worker. Their love story is funny and heart-warming. They are like any other couple who work and live together; their interactions on the screen will bring a smile on your face.
The goal of Chakraborty’s documentary was to show Ghosh’s life in its simplicity (she is just like any other young woman) and complexity (even though she is more than capable, sometimes she needs help in a few chores).
I Am Jeeja serves to dispel many myths one has about the differently abled. Jeeja Ghosh reminds us that though the journey may be difficult, the different lives we all lead are beautiful. The ever-present smile on Ghosh's face tells us to never give up.
I Am Jeeja was screened in the National Competition category at the Mumbai International Film Festival on 30 January 2018.