Parvez Imam Part 2 Doctor and Film Maker from India

Part 1 - Part 3

In the Medical College Initially I didn't like all the subjects but rather preferred chunks of subjects that were taught by teachers whom I could understand. One of the most effective teachers I have had in my entire life, was Prof. Mehdi Hasan. He is a well known Anatomist and had taught at many places abroad. He was a fascinating teacher of perhaps the most drab subject. Not only that, he was willing to do anything for his students if they did not understand something. He would never pass on the onus of learning on to the students but rather take it as his own problem. So I loved his anatomy lectures. Another area that I liked was Physiology of the heart because the teacher would make it so fascinating that I could visualize it while he was teaching.

Later I fell for pediatrics and thought that this was my calling because I liked being with children. But that was before I did my psychiatry posting in my final year. Suddenly I knew what I must do. All other branches were too clinical or surgical. They seemed to intervene at a very physical level. But here was something absolutely fascinating and abstract and yet it seemed to work.

My college life was one of my best times. Lots of fun, from sitting in the college canteen & bunking classes to participating in the festivals, traveling to other cities etc. In fact, I was not much into attending classes but one thing that I tried not to miss was the wards…and that was something I did regularly when the wards began) and sometimes happily even more than required. I am glad I did that. I think the patients I had tended to, had taught Parvez directing a film on mental illnessme a lot.

Transition from a Health Professional to Film-maker The urge 'to communicate' was setting in when I began work at the Central Institute of Psychiatry, Ranchi (CIP) and started seeing a face of psychiatry that I had not even imagined. This was in 1992. The CIP, while it was a 'Premier Institute', was still a living testament to the asylum mentality with all its brutality. I began to realize that there is much more that needs to be done than merely prescribing medicines to people within the four walls of a clinic.

Mental illnesses need to be talked about, communicated to the world outside... and that in the long term will help the patients, families & caregivers better. But I wasn't sure of what or how I wanted to go about it. However I started writing down some of my patients’ histories as 'stories' of their lives. This was also a way of relieving my own stress. After finishing one such story, I sent it to the Illustrated Weekly of India (a current affairs magazine at the time) and received a response from their editor, saying that they would like to do a series if I could write more. I was happy and set down to the task immediately. But within a month or so... before I could send them the next story, the Illustrated weekly of India closed down. However I did finish a couple of the stories. (In the picture above, Parvez directing a fiction on mental illness)

At the same time I wanted to move out of CIP as I was also finding it an un-liveable place in terms of its social disconnect with the rest of the world. So I moved to Delhi. My younger sister Sehba was finishing her Masters in Mass Communication in Delhi at that time and I began moving in her circle of friends and someone mentioned the need for science related scripts for a science program (Turning Point) which was then running on the national channel Doordarshan (Indian national TV). I met the director who asked me if I could write a script. I agreed (though I had to ask others later how to write a script) and supplied him with a script on 'heredity and genetics' as requested by him.

He liked it, and someone made the film on it but I didn't like the film that much and insisted on a re-edit. Later the director then moved to  another production house and called me to write some more science-program scripts. It was here that I began to feel that I could get into film-making and actually remain in touch with psychiatry in addition to the many other things that I like, such as photography, music etc.

A year later I found myself writing another script for 'Turning Point' but I made it a point that I would also direct the film myself. After some initial hesitation they agreed when I told them about my experience with theatre, photography & music. That was my first film, a four-minute episode on 'phobias'. The new director, K P Madhu even allowed me to edit the film on my own.

He actually taught me 'on the job'. Later when we became friends, he shared with me that he too got into media from the science stream and struggled to learn. However some one who understood his enthusiasm taught him and his payback was in teaching me.

So I never went through any specific training but kept learning on the job... asking questions to the irritation of most technical people and committing to all technical work and then finding it out by one way or the other.

The decision to completely jump into film-making & leave medicine finally came about when an uncle of mine casually mentioned that I maybe happier if I will 'make my profession (psychiatry) my hobby & my hobbies (film making & music) my profession'. This remark triggered the decision. I finally walked out of the hospital on the 31st of Jan 1995.

Family & friends have always been supportive. Even the during the first five years on jumping into media, when I was not able to earn much and actually went through a very rough patch, my family was always supportive.

Initial works

  • - a short film on phobias (for Turning Point programme)
  • - a short documentary on the life of 'Guru Hanuman' the legendary wrestler in old Delhi whose students had participated in the Olympics
  • - some other short films for other science programs, e.g. about the 'working of an eye', 'electron microscope', the zoo etc.

Recognition came when I did an independent documentary titled Between The Lines. This was about the Bangladeshi Immigrants in India. The film won the 'Best Film’ award in the New Delhi Video Film Festival in Delhi. It was later sent to the MITIL awards in Switzerland where it reached the final nominations (top 6 films). This film was also screened at some other festivals including the prestigious 'Film South Asia’ in Nepal.

After that I got the confidence that I can make films that can communicate well and am now ready to move onto what I wanted to do. Many more films have gone to various festivals in India and abroad and are doing well. Finally I have managed to make films on psychiatry as well.

End of Part 2 - Read Part 3 - Part 1

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