Ameesha Joshi and Anna Sarkissian shine the spotlight on the members of the Indian Women’s National Boxing team in With This Ring.
Ameesha Joshi and Anna Sarkissian met while completing their Bachelors of Fine Arts at Concordia University. Fascinated by the lives of Indian women boxers, they joined forces to create a documentary film on them, With This Ring. Here they talk about their journey, challenges and the relationships that they have nurtured with India’s under-appreciated sportswomen.
Anne John (AJ): Tell us a little about how it all started. Despite being from Canada what made you two choose a subject which is often overlooked by Indians themselves?
Ameesha Joshi: In 2005 I saw a picture of a woman boxer from India at a photo exhibit in Montreal. This photo got me curious and prompted me to do some research, and that’s how I learned India had women boxers that were ranked some of the world’s best. I was inspired to learn about these women who were mostly from the more rural and traditionally conservative areas. Although I was raised in Canada, my parents immigrated from India and I am familiar with the culture. I could just imagine the struggles the boxers would be facing in pursuing an “unladylike” sport. I was inspired by their courage and felt the desire to share their remarkable stories.
Anna Sarkissian: I’ve always been really interested in stories that would otherwise be overlooked or forgotten. As for what intrigues me about these women: they are so unique, and yet unassuming. For a long time, they didn’t really understand why we were interested in filming them. Despite a few perks, they live tough lives, and train in difficult conditions to pursue a sport that many might consider laughable. I have profound respect for the amount of discipline, physical and mental strength that boxing requires and am in awe of their dedication.
How has the experience been? Were your expectations challenged and did you have any surprises?
Ameesha Joshi: The experience has been very enriching, but not without its challenges. We had every expectation of finishing the film back in 2006, when Anna and I traveled to India for the first time. Delhi was hosting the world championships, and the Indian team won 4 gold, 1 silver and 3 bronze medals, crowning them the number one team in the world, which was an historic moment to witness and capture on film. Yet one of the biggest challenges on that shoot was our restricted access to the boxers. They train 6 days a week, 3 times a day for 10 months of the year, leaving very little free time. I also don’t speak Hindi so we had to deal with a language barrier with the team. As a result it took investing a lot of time to create a relationship with our characters.
Anna Sarkissian: This incredible experience taught me so many things about myself, about working with others, about power and privilege, and so on. I definitely see both Canada and India in a different light after working in both countries – I appreciate certain things more and question other things. We were so warmly welcomed in India and traveled to so many little towns and villages that we would have never discovered on our own. We have had considerable help from a huge number of Indians – from friends and volunteers to sports journalists, boxing officials and human rights lawyers. They have guided, helped, and even fed us along the way.
What challenges did you face while filming?
Ameesha Joshi: Funding has been a challenge. We are very grateful to the Canadian arts councils that have given us grants, but our budget was tiny compared with other productions of this kind. We also faced some difficulties adjusting to the climate in India. In 2008, we spent the summer in India at the boxing camps, where there is frequent power-cuts and intermittent running water.
Could you share with us one unforgettable moment that you had while shooting With This Ring?
Ameesha Joshi: Watching Mary fall to her knees in tears after winning her fourth gold medal at the 2008 World Championships in Ningbo, China. It was her first medal after giving birth to twin boys. We saw Mary at the training camp in the summer of 2008 when she returned to train after a two-year hiatus with a baby in each arm. She was often up all night from them crying, but always got up at the crack of dawn with all the other boxers for their gruelling workouts. People doubted she could regain her title and judged her for returning to the sport after having children. Her determination to overcome these obstacles made her emotional win even more moving.
You’ve had to shuttle back and forth between Canada and India for filming, apart from juggling your jobs and studies. Being a beginner in filmmaking as well as an outsider in India, how did you cope with it all?
Anna Sarkissian: It hasn’t been easy to juggle everything. In addition to having “day jobs” to pay the bills, Ameesha and I have both started and finished our master’s degrees during this time. Having someone to help motivate you and keep you going when your funding applications get rejected makes a world of difference. We celebrated the good times and the bad together. Having a good sense of humour is key!
The language barrier that Ameesha mentioned made things complicated. We could quickly, and easily, establish relationships with those who could speak English. But it was tough to make headway in broken Hindi. Something that we underestimated, for sure.
How does the act of filming your subjects over time affect your relationship with them, and in turn, your film? Can the film-maker be “objective” and is it necessary to be objective?
Ameesha Joshi: A unique and creative perspective to telling a story is essential in capturing reality, not just fiction. For this reason I feel the beauty of a documentary is in its subjectivity. I don’t think it’s necessary to be objective, but it is necessary for the filmmaker to be responsible in how they portray the people and stories in their film.
Anna Sarkissian: Whether you are writing an article or recording a scene, you are manipulating reality and re-packaging according to your own world view. Like other art forms, filmmaking is highly subjective and we will be presenting our version of the events. As Ameesha mentions, we have a responsibility to our characters. They have entrusted us with their words and likenesses and we take that very seriously. Over time, we have only gotten closer to them, and hopefully that will be reflected in the film.
How has the response been to With This Ring? What do the boxers you’ve covered feel about it?
Ameesha Joshi: The boxers have been incredibly patient over the last six years. They are anxious to have the film finished, but honestly, they have more important concerns right now (i.e the Olympics). The general response to With This Ring has been very positive. People are always amazed to hear that India has a team. We can’t wait for the Olympics. Soon, the world will know!
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*Photo credit: With This Ring