How did this story, and woman, come to you?
While I was in college, I heard a statistic that had my jaw on the floor. They were talking about this rebel army in Nepal, forty percent of which were women. I'm Indian. My parents are from India. And I thought it was a staggering number of women to have fighting in an army. And so my immediate question was, what is the situation in that country where people feel the need to leave their homes and farms, and go out and literally fight for their rights? I was also interested in the idea of women as agents of change, as opposed to victims of circumstance; women doing something for themselves. And so that was what got me to Nepal.
After getting there it was a matter of making contact with the rebel army, which was definitely challenging, because they were still underground when we first arrived. It took several months. I befriended a journalist who had good contacts with the rebels, but it was all very mysterious. You'd get a call at ten o'clock at night saying, be at this bus stop at five in the morning. And so you get up and you go there, and then you take a bus or jeep, and then you hike the rest of the way. And finally you get to meet the rebels. It's amazing that you can even find people like that. And then it was almost like pitching the project, explaining to them what we wanted to do and why, and trying to gain access to a woman rebel, which we ultimately did.
What were the circumstances in Nepal like when (film subject) 'Silu' became a soldier in the People's Liberation Army?
Nepal is a very small country. It's between China and India and is home of Mount Everest. For centuries Nepal was a Hindu kingdom with a monarchy with a very strong and entrenched hierarchy and caste system. Within this strict system there were rules about men and women, and what people were expected to do. There was a tradition of child marriages, and polygamy was part of the tradition. That started to change in the 1960s, and then, eventually led to a peaceful rebellion around 1990, which was the first kind of movement for democracy in the country.
But from 1990 to around 1996, there was a lot of disillusionment. Many people felt like things were not changing fast enough, and so many of those people started a guerrilla revolution to fight for this notion of equality. They wanted men and women to be equal, so they recruited equally between them.
When I would talk to soldiers, especially the women, they would say, "I'm fighting for electricity in villages, and for clean, running water, and food for everyone, and access to land so that we can farm." It was these kinds of things that you would hear again and again. Very simple human rights seemed to be at the core of it.
Still any time you use violence to fight for what you want it is controversial, because, obviously there are killings, and all kinds of things happen in war, which are horrendous. But specifically, this idea of so many women - forty percent of their army - being made up of women who would join up and be willing to leave their families and really go after this ideal of equality in a guerrilla, revolutionary way - I found that remarkable.