“Salim used to tell me, “Shikha, there’s a place I go, where they teach art and stuff. Like puppets you make dance on a string.’” Remembering when she first heard of the school inside the brickfield, Shikha Patra slows down and glances up. “So I asked him,” she goes on, “‘Where is that?’” The little girl is remembering an early encounter with a student at Prayasam, a child-driven community organization located in the slums of Kolkata. Her surprise and curiosity soon give way to belief, when Shikha begins working with Amlan Ganguly, the community’s founder and primary counselor and teacher. As you come to see in Revolutionary Optimists, Maren R. Monsen and Nicole Newnham’s remarkable documentary premiering on PBS this month as part of Independent Lens, Ganguly brought to his project in 1996 passion and commitment, a determination to help the kids find their way out of poverty and into futures with hope, grounded in creativity and love and hard work. As impossible as this may seem at times, even when his students are forced into emotional difficulties, arranged marriages or hard labor to support their families, he persists. This is the extraordinary balance the film manages, celebrating the efforts at Prayasam and the successes, while never losing sight of the crises that define daily life for the kids growing up in the Kolkata slums.
See PopMatters’ review.