Born and raised in Bangalore, Pavitra Chalam was a national-level roller skater and athlete for more than a decade before she embarked on her journey as a filmmaker. Pavitra represented India as a Peace Ambassador to Pakistan in 2003. As part of the Youth Initiative for Peace in Pakistan, she was chosen by her peers to direct a film that documented a statement of peace between both countries. The film, titled ‘Bus’, was a cinematic exposition on the shared ideals of the youth of both nations, India and Pakistan. In 2004, Pavitra travelled across as an Ambassador for a U.N project on social change and used film as a medium to ignite the minds of young people in France, Spain, Germany, UK and Ireland.
She followed up these experiences with a formal Masters degree in filmmaking at the New York Film Academy. Her thesis ‘Anamika – Her Glorious Past’ was selected for the sixth IAAC Film Festival in New York, received critical acclaim at the Indian Film Festival, Los Angeles and had a special screening at the World Bank. Subsequently, Pavitra has received numerous awards including the Woman of the Year award (2007), Young Achiever Award (2009), Young Communicator Award (2009), Ability Media International (AMI) Award in London (2010), to name a few.
“We are telling the stories of people’s lives, their reality and cannot afford to fall short when our camera is the window to the truth.” says Pavitra.
Yes, it is true that often there is a lot of raw emotion involved in the way our stories unfold, but it is up to us to ensure that while the audience feels the weight of that emotion, it is not glorified or exploited in any manner. It is simple, powerful and yet very real.”
Pavitra fell in love with the medium of film after her peace mission in Pakistan. She says, “We decided we would put forward every misconception and historical error we grew up with and shape it into a film. The entire film was shot on a bus and was called ‘Bus’, meaning ‘enough’ both in Hindi and Urdu.
“Our clients come to us for fresh independent thinking for their brand. We begin by understanding and identifying the unique stories that each brand has to share. We then formulate the creative strategy, conceptualize, screen-write and finally produce an evocative film that enlivens the brand’s work,” says Pavitra.
The power of the human narrative
In 2012, after half a decade of independent film-making, Pavitra founded CurleyStreet Media, a creative film production company focused on candid and emotional storytelling. CurleyStreet is known for making meaningful films about real/complex content ranging from human rights to art. Pavitra says, “Our clients come to us for fresh independent thinking for their brand. We begin by understanding and identifying unique stories that each brand has to share. We then formulate the creative strategy, conceptualize, screen-write and finally produce an evocative film that enlivens the brand’s work.” However, Pavitra says that CurleyStreet had to overcome the challenge of bringing their form of storytelling into mainstream advertising. Unlike conventional production houses, they stuck to their vision of collaborating with organizations looking to create authentic brand stories to deepen customer engagement. As it turned out, major brands began to observe that their customers were craving a more transparent approach to contemporary advertising. Both brands and creative agencies reach out to CurleyStreet because of their expertise in understanding the power of the human narrative. CurleyStreet has won several awards and accolades for their work. In 2014, Pavitra was awarded the Asia-Pacific Award for Outstanding Documentary Talent at the DocWeek film festival in Adelaide, for ‘Indelible’ – a feature documentary on Down syndrome. CurleyStreet has been voted as one of the Top 100 companies to work for in India by Campus Diaries. In 2017, CSM won a Gold Award for a short film on sex-trafficking and a Rose Gold Award [for a blood donation PSA] at the Muse Creative Awards.
“The beauty of storytelling is its ability to start conversations. We are fortunate that our partners trust us to authentically represent their cause, their context and their stories because they understand the value of an unbiased, experienced perspective,” says Pavitra.
“In the commercial space, there is growing consumer appetite for content that is relatable and resonates with true emotion. As the world searches for innovative ways of weaving real life into reel stories, CurleyStreet stands at a juncture with a clear vision of both,” says Pavitra.
Pavitra talks to us about the projects CurleyStreet has in the pipeline and the company’s plans for the future.
This year, on June 1st, CurleyStreet releases #UNFRAMED on Facebook and YouTube. The series is a 5-episode non-fiction web-series that unboxes the lives and stories of independent artists living in Bangalore taking on unconventional mediums of expression.
Pavitra says, “We will be launching our new YouTube channel in July this year. The channel is called Awokin. The short-form, web-friendly content on the channel addresses the Elephant in the Room – topics that people either ignore or find uncomfortable. Awokin is a combination of ‘awoke’ and ‘kin’. Awoke – waking up to an important reality. Kin – we are all connected by the poetry of survival.
Later this year, CurleyStreet will be completing their feature documentary Rooting for Roona, a film that fights for the health of the Indian child and captures the incredible story of Baby Roona Begum, a child born with a birth defect called Hydrocephalus.
Artistically shaping the future
“Films are commonly viewed as devices of escapism. CurleyStreet was founded to achieve the opposite. We observed there were too many compelling stories around us that had no way of being told. The challenge was to create a storytelling style that would captivate and persuade audiences to engage with the subject. This has always been our commitment and our aesthetic,” says Pavitra.
Over the years Pavitra has chosen to tell human stories about under-represented issues like complex needs, sex trafficking, drugs, the environment, education and healthcare. “With more video content being created than ever before, there is a need for entities like CurleyStreet to find creative ways to make people listen, care and act”, says Pavitra.
The gifted filmmaker has not only given us some remarkably sensitive films, but has also left an unmistakable impression in the social justice space. We admire this artist and change maker for her contribution towards cinema and society and are certain that the best is yet to come.
Follow us on: