When people take little steps in little places, they can change the world and inspire many. From the forest of Sathyamanagalam, Vishu Mani, a young man chose his path to inspire many. He was born to a farmer in Gali Dhimbam – an Irula Settlement in the Sathyamangalam Taluka. Unaware of his innate talents, he started pursuing engineering at the Erode Senguthar Engineering College in the year 2013. After his first year, he was forced to discontinue due to personal circumstances. He spent his days contemplating and procrastinating for almost a year on what he would pursue next. Meanwhile, the conservation team at Keystone raised funds to conduct the Youth Environmental Leadership Programme (YELP) in association with Dusty Foot Productions, India in 2015. The idea behind this programme was to train young indigenous students on different elements of making films on the environment. A wide search for young people among the communities that Keystone works in took place. Vishu was one among 11 students that were chosen to participate in the month-long course. When asked if he had ever dreamt of making films on the environment, he says ‘I accepted to be a part of this training to keep me away from boredom and also the excitement to learn a new skill pushed me to pursue it, however halfway through the programme, I fell in love with the camera’.
During the programme, students were split into three groups and were assigned the task of making a short film in relation to the environment. The first film that Vishu made was titled ‘Water – the giver of life’. The film speaks about how water nurtures all forms of life and magnifies the importance of water. He says ‘This was the first time that I had ever been a part of a film, I realised that it was something that I wanted to pursue ever since’. He also mentioned how at times he would spend time fiddling with the camera, trying to understand what the machine is capable of capturing. He was content with the output he had produced along with his team and hoped for more, but the training programme came to a conclusion at the end of February 2015.
He returned to his village, with overwhelming joy of learning a new skill and more importantly the reduced burden of what he will be pursuing as a career. Abhishek, Additional Programme Coordinator (Conservation), one among many who appreciated the young boys’ talent was keen to help improve Vishus’ capacity. He was offered another opportunity to showcase his talent as a photographer. He was given the chance to photograph products of Last Forest Enterprise Pvt.ltd, the spin-off Keystone Foundation. Vishus’ ability was soon appreciated by many and his photographs have been on the cover of Last Forest Annual Reports for the past two years.
He currently works across programmes at Keystone, documenting and filming projects, events, and training that are being held at Keystone. Vishu is ‘the-go-to-man’ at Keystone for spectacular, rich and high-quality pictures. Furthermore, he has been working on several films in the past year. He has made a film on Barefoot Ecology, along with his YELP mates Devraj, Meena and Guruswamy. Together, they have been working on Independent films as well. One of the films is regarding the Sholiga Community residing in the Punanjanur region and their agricultural practices. He is currently finishing a film on the water programme at Keystone which is due to be released next month. He is also working with Abhishek on his film ‘Muchi, Kotu, Makal’ – a film that depicts the traditional music and instruments of the Irula community in Pillur. While shooting the breeze with Vishu, I asked him what kind of films he wants to make? With all possible haste, he says ‘Films, no I want to make documentaries, documentaries on challenges that the indigenous people face in the present world’.
We at Keystone realise that it is important to empower the youth to arise and act, as they have the strength and dynamism to generate a significant transformation in the society. Besides Vishu; three other students- Meena, Devaraj and Guruswamy from the YELP batch continue to work with Keystone.