The other side of banking

Shoma A. Chatterji in conversation with Andrew Hinton, whose 12-minute
documentary, Banking on Change, about a bank manager who motivated the
very poor to open bank accounts, has been getting critical acclaim

CHANGE is the only thing that remains constant. But Andrew Hinton’s 12-minute documentary Banking on Change proves that it is dynamic and keeps moving. Andrew is a Briton who came to India to make this wonderful film. It is about the single-minded determination of J.S. Parthibhan, a bank manager, who motivated the very poor to open bank accounts to save themselves from exploitation by the indigenous moneylender. Let us hear the story from Andrew.

How did you chance upon the subject of Banking on Change?

I read about Parthibhan and his work in an article in the Guardian Weekly website sometime ago. After the bad press about global recession, Parthibhan’s commitment offered a refreshingly different perspective on the role of money in people’s lives, and how cultivating relationships and opening up access to finance could have an enormously positive impact not just on individuals but on entire communities. This was the other side of banking, where a local banker visits their clients, assesses their needs honestly and openly and encourages a communal sense of support built around the self-help group-lending system. It marks a return to ethical financial relationships based on trust and integrity rather than the intangible ones today.

Parthibhan with one of the villagers
Parthibhan (left) with one of the villagers

So you came down to India?

My DOP Eric Trometer and I came down to Tamil Nadu for a week to film Parthibhan as he travelled around and met people, talked to them and struck up a bonding to build confidence. We visited remote villages that would have been difficult without his help. He told us that the simple strategy of having an account gives a big boost to one’s self-respect. We witnessed stories of lives transformed by the opportunities he had encouraged. The people we met — flower sellers, fruit and vegetable vendors, shoeshine boys, coconut vendors, even beggars and small tradesmen, small libraries — faced challenges, but they did so with a spirit of empowerment and optimism that was incredibly humbling. Like a mantra, every one of them highlighted the importance of educating their children and worked tirelessly towards improving their future.

Where did the funding come from?

The film came about through unusual circumstances. It was John Faber, an old family friend who instigated the process. Sadly he passed away before we had raised the funds to make it but at his funeral, a collection was organised by his wife and enough money donated by John’s friends and family to pay for our expenses to travel to India and complete the filming.`A0When I returned to the UK, I submitted a three-minute version of the film to a competition organised by the British Documentary Foundation and the Co-operative bank, and it was selected as one of the winners. The prize gave me enough funding to complete the post production on the film, and also gave it a terrestrial broadcast screening on Channel 4.

Is this movement still on?

Parthibhan met Initiatives of Change while he was a student. Parthibhan tells a wonderful story about how during one such time of reflection, he felt like returning some books he had borrowed without permission from the library. When he told the Principal about this, he was instructed to share his thought with his fellow students. Parthibhan did so. Nothing much happened. A week later, the Principal called him. He was amazed to find the librarian there, along with several hundred books, which had quietly been returned by other students inspired by his simple gesture. It was, then, that he realised how one person can make a difference and bring about change in others. I would love to make films that have a similar effect.`A0Initiatives of Change is active in more than 70 countries around the world.

What has been the feedback?

When we saw him again last summer, Parthibhan told us many stories of how the film has affected people, prompting them in some cases to track him down from Canada and the US and ring him in his office in Yercaud to offer financial assistance or support. One engineer and his wife were so enthusiastic they called three days in a row from Toronto. Someone else offered to pay for a girl’s medical treatment if she ever decided to have her hands operated on. Banking on Change has been viewed over 75,000 times on Vimeo, and screened at festivals and conferences around the world. I have recently managed to get the subtitles translated into Tamil, Marathi and Hindi and I will be making copies available in those dialects/languages, as well as in other languages it has already been translated into French and Italian.

Looking back on Banking on Change, what has the experience been like?

For me, both as a person and a filmmaker, it has opened up many possibilities. It has been an incredible start to my career as a filmmaker, and marks the beginning of what I hope will be a long relationship with India. When I was doing my Masters in Media Production in London 12 years ago, nobody told us that filmmaking is all about relationships and finding collaborators that take you with them as they move up the ladder. I spent three months here on my second visit in January this year, and was lucky enough to travel with the Tata Jagriti Yatra — an amazing 18-day, 9000 km train journey with 400 young Indian social entrepreneurs. I filmed this and am editing it now.