A cinema treat for the blind in Mumbai

Children all set to watch the movie.
Children all set to watch the movie.

Thanks to persistent efforts by those working for the disabled, reading and audio treats have been made accessible to the visually challenged, but visual treats are at best limited for them. “Watching movies is basic entertainment for the masses in our country, including those who belong to the lower socio-economic strata. But this simple pleasure is normally denied to the blind. The very act of going to a theatre is also an integral part of our community, as this provides an opportunity to socialise with friends and family while having a fun group activity,” says Sanjay ­Panigrahi, president-elect of RC Navi Mumbai ­Sunrise, RID 3142.

Two years ago, past president of the club M Prakash Kakade, during his presidential year, thought of giving some visually-­challenged youngsters a cinema experience by organising a visit for them to a theatre in Mumbai, thus kicking off a project the club has titled ‘whispering cinema’. It is named so because two or three of the blind persons going for a cinema experience are seated between a whisperer, who, as the movie unfolds, whispers the details of the visuals on the screen to his companions.

But that experience, though limited to only about 60-odd persons, was thoroughly enjoyed by those chosen for this exercise. So a few months ago, under the guidance of Kakade and the present club president Manoj Nayak, the club decided to enlarge it and booked an entire movie hall in Navi mumbai — in the Balaji ­Multiplex — where the movie Uunchai, in which Amitabh Bachchan plays the lead role was being screened. A total number of 167 blind persons, along with their volunteers, from leading educational institutions for the visually-challenged, like the National Association for the Blind, Helen Keller and six other Foundations and NGOs were taken by the Rotarians for the “whispering cinema” experience.

Visually-challenged people with their ‘whisperers’ inside the theatre.
Visually-challenged people with their ‘whisperers’ inside the theatre.

Panigrahi adds that this particular theatre complex was chosen “because the owner is known to us and he was gracious enough to give it to us free of cost, as we were using it for a charitable event. We spent around ₹60,000 in giving the blind persons and their volunteers, provided by their institutions, and including some of their own teachers, a sumptuous breakfast, and snacks such as popcorn and cool drinks during the show.”

He says Rotarians, including RID 3142 DG Kailash Jethani, who briefed the audience about the various welfare projects of the club and the district, watched the movie along with the visually-challenged persons and were gratified to see for themselves how much the youngsters, in the age group 11–35 years, enjoyed the movie, particularly because it had Bollywood’s leading icon Amitabh Bachchan as the hero. Surely Bachchan’s baritone and booming voice would have compensated at least a little for absence of the visual delight of watching a movie.

Each person in the audience was given a packed lunch packet after the event. Continuing their project for the visually-challenged, two months after the “whispering cinema” event, the club, which has 80 members, raised some more money from its members, to gift 25 Alexa devices, each costing ₹3,500, to 25 blind persons.

After the movie, Santosh Prajapati, a ­visually-challenged third year BA student, who also teaches computer science to others, said he loved the entire experience. “Frankly, when they told me that I was being taken with other blind persons for a ‘whispering cinema’ treat, I didn’t know what exactly it was. So I researched it and was excited to go for the movie. Fortunately, the person who was explaining the visuals to me was a good friend of mine, and knew exactly what kind of commentary he needs to give me… like when something was written on the screen, or where the visual elements are dominant. Hence I got exactly what I needed to enjoy the movie thoroughly. I thank Prakash Sir, for giving us this experience.”

The ‘whispering cinema’ project was coordinated and arranged by the Sunrisers of Rotary, led by its past president Kakade and its president Nayak.

DG Jethani complimented RC Navi Mumbai Sunrise for its innovative initiative, which is bound to go a long way in creating inclusiveness in the community, and is an essential element of RI’s DEI mantra.

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