"I Remember..." Aims To Generate Much-Needed Awareness About Alzheimer's: Geeta L. Sahai, International-Award-Winning Director

Published on 27 Sep 2018 . 1 min read

i remember creating alzheimers awareness i remember creating alzheimers awareness

Based on a real-life story, the 48-minute short film "I REMEMBER..." traces the journey of a woman and her family as they come to terms with the early onset of Alzheimer's Disease. Produced-and-directed by senior journalist Geeta Lal Sahai, the 48 minute film moves through the intense experiences of both - the affected individual played by Gayatri Sharma (who has poured her soul into the film) and the caregivers evoking questions about the fragility of memory, the aesthetics of care, institutional support for mental health and the difficult choices between loving and letting go.

I caught up with Geeta Lal Sahai who is also the writer and is currently basking in the glory of her film having won six international awards already, since July 2018 when it was first screened. Geeta has been making documentaries for more than two decades now on issues that concern us, like Girl adoption, Rape and the Law, Bhuj Earthquake, Disability, etc. And here is up-close-and-personal interaction with Geeta Lal Sahai about her latest award-winning short film “I REMEMBER…”

Hi Geeta, how did you decide to zero on this subject for the film?

Through my films, I hope to initiate a dialogue on several issues that concern us, our lives and impact our very being in profound ways. Often, these issues are swept under the carpet, more so if they are concerned with mental health. The stigma that can only be removed if we, as a society, are free to accept that talking about mental health is alright. And Alzheimer is one such issue where people are dumped on streets, neglected, labeled and forgotten.

The campaign call by Alzheimer's Disease International - every 3 seconds someone in the world develops Dementia/Alzheimer’s made me realize that the time has come now where each second counts.

Meeting caregivers made me understand the pivotal role they play in supporting Alzheimer’s patients live a dignified life. Through my film – I Remember... I have tried to capture this aspect, along with Alzheimer's patient's internal struggle, the financial pressure for families, the social stigma attached to mental health issues, and the untimely death of dreams and aspirations of caregivers.  

Why this subject and not any other?

As I said earlier – I believe that visual storytelling is a powerful tool to begin a conversation and a campaign. Through the film, I would like to initiate a dialogue about Alzheimer's and create awareness. I believe people living with Alzheimer’s and caregivers have an equal right to respect and inclusion. Through the film, I also want to begin a conversation to seek solutions for social and institutional support.

The film moves through the intense experiences of both- the affected individual and the caregiver, evoking questions about the fragility of memory, the aesthetics of care, institutional support for mental health and the difficult choices between loving and letting go – and this is a very, very difficult, painful choice...So...

How long did it take the film to make?

From conception to research, scripting, reworking on the script, getting feedback from several people...etc, etc...to final shooting and editing... it took nearly two years. It took me so much time since I worked as a researcher to the scriptwriter...to the Director to the Producer. Moreover, as already indicated that it is a self-produced film, thus it took perhaps some extra time.

What all the hardships did you face while filming this subject?

To write the script. It was very easy to make the characters black or white. But we are not like that. We all have grey shades. So, being a caregiver does not mean just giving, giving and giving. No...we are not like that. This was the biggest challenge – to make the characters appear human and NOT superhuman, without any grey shades. I wanted to make the film as realistic as possible because the incidents have been inspired by true cases of Alzheimer’s.

I have heard that the film was self-funded since no one agreed to invest!

Yes, I will not deny this hard-hitting fact. I approached many organizations but finally decided to use my own savings...so strong was my urge to do something on this topic. I firmly believe that that visual storytelling is a powerful tool to start a conversation, a campaign. My goal is to bring visual understanding and dialogue to a disease that has been in the shadows for far too long.

And the fruits of your sincere intention and hard labor seem to be paying back in terms of awards?

(Geeta laughs with relief and a sense of pride). Oh, yes, We have won six awards – Los Angeles Film Award, Accolade Global Film Award, Awareness Film Award, Cult Critic Award, New Delhi Film Festival Award, Virgin Spring Cinefest Award. The film has been officially selected in Calcutta International Film Festival, Bioscope Film Festival, Depth Of Field Film Festival and Kalmthout International Film Festival.  I have sent it to various festivals all over the world. So let’s see...

Coming on to the star-cast, Gayatri the lead protagonist has poured her heart and soul into the film. We heard there is a touching story behind it.

We auditioned. I was looking for actors who could align with my vision and could empathize with the cause. And the moment I met Gayatri – who is playing the protagonist – Adhira- in the film, I knew it that she is my Adhira, since she had in the past seen the impact of Alzheimer’s from very close quarters in her own family. And that helped her come out as one of the best in the film. Same happened with the male lead – Gaurav (Adhira's husband), played by Sarbasis.

In fact, all my cast aligned with the concept in some way or the other. Where there is a will, there's a way. And I must say that due to my will to not let go of this subject, the UNIVERSE helped me to find the best actors who have done such a wonderful job. They did not just play their roles, they have lived it through the film - each one of them.   

What more do you think needs to be done to create awareness and empathy about Alzheimer's patients and their families?

Government has to step in and create a campaign around mental health. It doesn’t make sense just talking about it on particular days. There has to be a sustained effort. More seminars, panel discussions, short film, radio programs, write-ups on various mental health issues need to be highlighted by media, rather than just talking about politics and politicians.

What is your message to the government?

Let me first give you some statistics and the disturbing scenario then I will say what I expect from my government. Many of us only associate 'forgetfulness' with Alzheimer's disease; while some do understand the encompassing tragedy of this ailment, few know that in the present scenario Alzheimer’s is one of the most critical public health crises across the world.

The facts are shocking - approximately 50 million in the world have Alzheimer's, 4 million Alzheimer's patients are from India and most striking - 2 out of 3 people with Alzheimer's are women. With this scenario, many countries have woken up. In the USA – PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) began a campaign in 2017. It is now time for India and Indian government to begin a meaningful campaign on the national media.

So what do you think India lacks, not just in terms of government apathy, but otherwise too?

We, not just Indians, but even the world, lack empathy, sympathy, understanding, and have no knowledge about Alzheimer’s or any other mental health issue. In short, I just want to reiterate that Alzheimer’s does NOT happen to only old people; it can happen in the 40s, 50s too. So, let’s create awareness about it. We have to sensitize people and the government. Old people may not be the vote bank but they are human beings and have every right to lead a dignified life. A campaign is a must to initiate a dialogue, create awareness.

If given a chance as a Prime Minister of the country, what steps would you implement to make better the lives of Alzheimer's patients and families?

List all steps you think are a must, including health insurance.

More care-centers with modern infrastructure and of course medical insurance... though made mandatory by the government recently has to have a larger perspective. Even out-patients are to be covered. Not every mental health patient is admitted to the hospital.

The ailment is a long drawn battle and the medicines are costly. I think some sort of financial budget should be earmarked for Alzheimer’s patients and effective disorder individuals. Because you see, it becomes a huge financial burden on caregivers and families. People, who are earning well, can only support an effective disorder patient. Hence, if in a family there is a patient, some sort of state help ought to be offered.

Last but not the least, your message to the society which considers every mental disorder in one single category - madness.

That is what I am saying – we have to create awareness. People do not understand mental health issues. It is for us to create awareness, through different media tools.

MY SINCERE PLEASE TO SHEROES' READERS: Let’s Talk about Alzheimer’s and other Affective Disorders...There are many effective disorders/mental health issues and we must create awareness about them. Let’s not be ashamed. Let’s join hands to remove the stigma from any mental health ailment.

According to Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) - the umbrella organization of 94 Alzheimer associations around the globe, every 3 seconds someone in the world develops dementia. September--World Alzheimer’s Month is the international campaign by ADI to raise awareness and challenge the stigma and myth that surrounds dementia/Alzheimer’s. Let’s do our bit, share the interview, watch the film when it comes up for public viewing and sensitize people around us. Our one step will go a long way in helping someone in need…

Mahima Sharma
An award-winning Independent Journalist & Content Curator based in New Delhi. She is Ex-News Editor, CNN-News18 and ANI (a collaboration with Reuters) who comes with an experience of 14 years in Print, TV and Digital Journalism. She is the only Indian who finds a mention in the Writers' Club of Country Squire Magazine, United Kingdom. Sufi at heart, she also has some 30 poems to her credit at various reputed international podiums.

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