Yamini Nibhanupudi (Class of 2014) - Looking at activism through a filmmaking lens | Aga Khan Academies

Yamini Nibhanupudi (Class of 2014) - Looking at activism through a filmmaking lens

In an honest commentary on the creative process, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick said, “I do not always know what I want, but I do know what I don’t want.” The philosophy behind this method can be extrapolated to the lives of creatives, who wear many hats on their way to becoming who they are. Yamini Nibhanupudi graduated from the Academy in 2014 having focused on maths and sciences in the Diploma Programme. Since then she has roamed the highways of academia, always preferring the scenic route. She studied social sciences, stopped along the way to dabble in research and policy work, and ultimately discovered a passion for filmmaking. “For me,” she says, “deciding to stay in India and continue a life here is the best decision I made.”

Following her high school graduation, Yamini joined the Tata Institute of Social Science, Tuljapur, enrolling in their School of Rural Development. Here she studied political science, gender studies, history and sociology. During this time she worked with the Foundation for Democratic Reforms in Hyderabad, a think tank dealing with policy making. She also interned with Aga Khan Rural Support Program at Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh, working with farmers and marginalized communities. “I always wanted to work with people who spend every single day without any resources at their disposal, to work on the pressing issues that exist in India, issues that most of us never see through our rose tinted glasses.”

“I never lived under the illusion that I would be able to improve the lives of people in India,” she says, adding, “I would like to, but I honestly wouldn’t know where to start.” Writing her final paper as an undergrad, she realized how she could authentically contribute to society. Yamini wrote her dissertation on ‘Gender Roles in the Telugu Film Industry.’ As she delved deep into the paper, she recognized her long held passion for film. She was accepted by TISS Mumbai’s School of Media Studies the same year.

Her choice was validated almost immediately, getting to work at a production house in Mumbai at the end of her first year, and then winning a competition to get a one-minute silent film funded. “A Mute Point” was then screened at the 16mm Film Festival. “It’s been quite a ride since graduating in 2014,” she says looking back, “and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.” She is on track to graduate with a Master’s in Media & Cultural Studies in May 2019.

Yamini is a strong proponent of public and government universities. She believes that they are the gateway to a range of education opportunities available in India, and creates an avenue to meet people from across the nation. “I think most people who go to IB schools don’t see India as a viable option to study for their years in university,” she says. “Unfortunately, most of them never truly realise the kind of exposure that you can receive here.” She later adds, “A lot of people might argue that they would gain more exposure and a better understanding about the rest of the world by going abroad. But they have never stepped out of their city in India and a lot of them rarely have friends out of their social class or caste in the country. I've been lucky to learn from wonderful people about the work they've done or that they intend to do with their lives, and India in itself has such wonderful and diverse cultures that I would probably never have ever been exposed to had I studied elsewhere.”

90% of graduates from the Aga Khan Academy Hyderabad have gone on to study abroad, and several students join the IB programme explicitly to have the opportunity to study in the West. Yamini says that an IB education is more than that, and that an education at the Academy was more significant to her than just a stepping stone. “IB teaches you to think critically, and to question everything,” she says. “In a country where rote learning is so persistent, it existed as a breath of fresh air fo­r me.”

“The Academy prepared me for a lifelong affair with academia,” she confesses. “I learned to love research to the extent that I have considered going into teaching and pursuing a PhD.” Yamini is quick to add that her experiences at the Academy go beyond just education. “Being part of a community like this, which continues to check up on its alumni, and which still continues to be there for us years after we have graduated, is an immense source of pride.”

Students and professors at TISS take social activism to be an integral part of being an educated member of society and are involved in forcing change on their campuses, their cities and their fields. “I've learnt my place in this country from both a social and political standpoint,” says Yamini. “If I look back at 2018, I can see the fight that so many people have been a part of, whether it is about caste issues, the landmark judgement scrapping section 377, to the horrific [Transgender Persons] bill of 2018 that was passed, marginalising the very community it was meant to protect. I see my peers around me fighting every day and I can do nothing but support and document them.” Using her passion for filmmaking, Yamini hopes to make a responsible, self-aware contribution to these movements. “I would like to be able to tell their stories with them, with their permission, and with their direction. I know for a fact that I can’t, and in fact shouldn’t be their voice, but I can do everything in my power to back their voices.”

Yamini’s education has been broad and diverse, incorporating the complexity of sciences, the gentility of humanities and the adroitness of cinema. But unlike the Kubrik-ian creative littering the highway with discards, she uses detours to inform her work and her personality. “I never really had any clarity about what I wanted to do,” she says, "but now that I do, I’m pushing towards it with all the energy in me.”

Written by Ajay Sundaram