I am crouched behind the door, my large frame cramped on the tiny steps leading down to the basement. Pattu and Laddu are downstairs in the room farthest from where I am and I can still hear the muted sounds from the iPad they are playing with. Ammu is seated on the stairs across from our front door, her snuggie mermaid tail acting as a cocoon as she parries answers for questions from Chithra.
I am straining hard from behind the door trying to absorb nuance in the answers. She is talking about an imaginary friend I never knew she had. Just as she is warming up, a question on love takes her by surprise. It is followed by one about school. Questions on identity, family and the hard places in adoption are snuck in deftly. Most questions do not have an answer. Some have surprising ones. I realize I have been holding my breath only after I let go when the interview is over.
The process repeats with Laddu and Pattu. Laddu is a comedy track while Pattu is all business. All of us head out to lunch in the bitter cold. The afternoon flashes past in a series of question and answers and reminiscing about our path to adoption over eight years ago. I realize I am hardly conscious in front of the camera. I look right into the lens baring my soul. My answers sound canned but they are not. They come from deep introspection and examining my life each day consciously.
We sip tea as we look at the raw footage on my tiny laptop screen. Chithra goes into detail on how she has parsed, notated, transcribed every bit of footage. She lays out a vision, an outline of sorts for the film this will become someday. As she talks, the writer in me recognizes the elements – The opening, the exposition, the framing, the composition of the shot, the film as a whole. She talks about the rough cut, the fine cut, sound mixing, post-production. She talks about legal forms, raising funds, getting input from the community. I am in awe as I understand what this means to her.
As the subject, I am vested in the outcome but to her this is a personal journey, a vision in her head translating to celluloid. I find that I am rooting for her, rooting for her vision to become a reality.
As a child, I have dreamed of being on screen, yet as I watched raw footage yesterday all I could see was a mother under tremendous pressure. I saw myself and my children as characters rather than actors. I saw the story as something bigger than our life. The slices of our life assembled to tell something larger.
Most documentaries I have watched have impacted me. They have made me think. They have influenced my life in subtle ways. It hits me that I do this for precisely that. Sharing my story is mostly about hope. It is about showing the way forward for the woman that was me a decade ago. When I felt lost in the wilderness that is immigration and adoption in a foreign land, I looked for a ray of light, a guiding hand and found none. This whole writing journey and now the film is just that, the translation of that angst.
Time will tell.