Commonwealth Professional Fellowships are offered by the CSC for citizens of developing Commonwealth countries. These fellowships are funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), with the aim of contributing to the UK’s international development aims and wider overseas interests, supporting excellence in UK higher education, and sustaining the principles of the Commonwealth.
Commonwealth Professional Fellowships support mid-career professionals from developing countries to spend a period of time at a UK host organisation working in their field for a programme of professional development. To know more about it visit their website: http://cscuk.dfid.gov.uk/apply/professional-fellowships/. Here we are having a conversation with film maker Irfan Dhar who has attended this fellowship.
Can you give me a brief introduction about you ?
Hello, I am Mohammad Irfan Dhar. I hail from Kashmir. I co-founded and run a film production house called Redstone films which is based out of New Delhi and Bombay. We do movies with Developmental sector organisation, mostly profit and non-profit organisations. I also run an organisation called Postcards to us which mainly works for children in Kashmir
Can you talk about your Redstone films?
I co-founded the Redstone film with my film school batch mate, who is also a Young India Fellow and a friend of mine in 2012. The aim of Redstone film is to tell stories in an effective manner. The way we kept us slightly apart from other production houses is by we didn’t jump into doing too much mainstream content. In a sense that not the generic kind of content to which you don’t relate to or stuff you think that cannot bring about any change. Most of the work we have done for development organisation or NGOs has a cause behind it, and these are mostly the causes personally believe in. With all the work we also have a personal association, although it is client-commission work where we get paid. But at the same time the intention behind doing this is also very important. We have been working since 2012. We were able to work with organisation not just in India but also UK, USA etc. Every time I try to keep improve from my previous work.
What are the criteria for applying? How do we apply ?
The Commonwealth Professional Fellowship is different from the Commonwealth general academic scholarship. You need to be an early or mid-term Professional fellow. You need to have a professional organisation in UK which basically invites you to come. They apply on your behalf and you also have to apply separately. I was working with a film based organisation in UK as partner in their work and they flouted the idea that they would like to have me in their organisation as a Commonwealth Fellow. So the application has two parts :
What are the things you think they look for in a candidate for the scholarship?
Well, I wouldn’t know that entirely that because there is no straight evaluation pattern. But I think what they look for you is;
Can you tell me about the fellowship program? How long was it? What did you do there ?
How long you will stay will depends on your host organisation. It depends on how long they want you there. I spent more than one moth in UK. There were many training sessions.
I was taught about cinema How films help in peace building and conflict resolution? How cinema can be used as a narrative to bring people together? The training will be with a lot of film makers from BBC, Channel 4, and British industry, various documentary makers who covered wars in Iran, Iraq and who continuously work with legendary people from whom you learn a lot of technical and non-technical things. You also go to colleges like King’s College, University of Westminster, also in Queen’s University Belfast which is in Northern Ireland where you present your work and you will meet a lot of professors , experts. You talk to them about your work and your ideas.
A part of my fellowship was about understanding the role of cinema in peace building. This was mainly in Belfast which is Northern Ireland Understand different contexts of different conflicts. They are now in a post-conflict situation where a ceasefire has happened. I worked there based on my experience in working with Kashmir. There was lot to borrow from their methodology that is operation Northern Island, in terms of how the entire society works together to maintain the peace. I met lot activists, I met many political leaders, I met many incredible organisations like The Playhouse, The Nerve Centre uses cinema, theatre, arts as a medium to engage people and bring them together.
Can you recollect an amazing experience you had during the fellowship that* really struck a chord in you?
There is one instance I remember. There is an organisation called Play house in Belfast. What they do is something called theatre of the witness. The people who have witnessed conflict and their sufferings are brought into live stories. The conflict was between the Catholics and Protestants. And it has shed a lot of violence in the area. The most striking feature of this groups was there were people from both sides, both the militants who wanted independence and the soldiers, I mean the two enemies. But they have managed to reconcile both the sides together an bring them together for forming a play. That for me was an interesting turn-around for me; something impossible to conceive. It taught me this kind of situation is also possible.
What are the skills you acquired during this fellowship?
The Fellowship gave me a different perspective. It took me out my context and put me into an entirely different context. It’s up to you how you borrow from these different things. Apart from the technical aspects I was taught, it was the people who met and their work was inspirational. I have worked with people who have worked in conflict zone for more than 50 years. This changes you as person because it affects the way you think. You start to acknowledge multiple perspectives. I understood how people from different places think of the same issue in different ways. You learn to balance your way of thinking and others way of thinking and reconcile both.
What is according to you was the most unique feature of the Fellowship?
I think the most unique feature of this fellowship is that it is a fully funded program and it exposes you to the best. And all the things I have discussed above make it a lucrative program for professionals. Basically, it depends on your field and the organisation that hosts you. People from diverse field can apply for it, my field was film making and the organisation I worked for focused on cinema and conflict resolution.