Disability,especially in India, is seen as a death knell. And amputees in particular are seen as people who deserve sympathy, but dignity? Well that was hard to come by. Here we had amazing amputee individuals fighting against all mighty odds to achieve more than a abled person could do and the rest of India simply had no clue. This saw the birth of the Idea “Rising Above” Project Rising Above is a feeling of hope and has the smell of change. It is a calendar that features 13 men and women who are missing a limb or two. It is India’s first amputee calendar. Project Rising Above celebrates not just the courage and resilience of 13 men and women from across India, But celebrates the beauty in them. That is important, Because India is a country that cannot say “beauty” “glamorous” “sensuous” and “physically challenged” in the same sentence. This final initiative of Mission Smile, an initiative dedicated to marrying creativity and a cause, is a cut above.
The Project Head
Preeti Rai, a radio professional has executed many award winning campaign. She took a sabbatical in 2014 and founded Mission Smile with the unique idea of blending creativity with the cause of giving. Many social awareness activities were executed that has not only generated interest but has also won several awards. Owing to its uniqueness and massive appeal this Initiative has been listed in the Limca book of Records both in the year 2015 and 2016.
One day while browsing, she read interviews about specially abled people, they had strong stories but pictures didn’t do justice. She decided to change the perception of people.There were challenges as she had no contact with amputees and she was not sure how they would react. Her coincidental meeting with Shalini Saraswati, a quadruple amputee re-instilled the faith that even they were looking for a change. The concept was simple to have powerful photos of confident amputees posing proudly with their amputated body parts and prosthetic. She later got in touch with amputees from different parts of India who were proud to be featured in the calendar. The portraits was a staggering juxtaposition of these guys, showcasing their amputated body parts and prosthetic .
The next challenge was to bring a team who would believe in this project.She brought together a team of skilled volunteers to work pro-bono(free) on the project. Kumaran G came on board as the photographer, Kanick Raj Samuel as creative director, Jacob Anand as copy writer, Sathish Kumar as image editor, Sithara Kudige with her assistant Harshitha EC as stylists, Tejal Rao and Zarine Nissar of Tittoni for the makeup. The project took 7 months to complete as we had to accommodate and shoot based on everyone’s “free dates”. (everyone had their regular commitments) Shalini Saraswati was also an integral part of the execution as she became the face of our crowd funding campaign.
Though the team was working pro bono, we required money for the execution. Travel,Food,Clothes etc.. The project was rejected by corporate houses but not the one to lose hope, Preeti Rai went on from Zero Budgets to raising 2.5 lakhs through crowd-funding and also found an enthusiastic financial supporter in Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, founder of Biocon. Rising Above is a belief that the change is here to stay.
The impact was instant. The images were shared and reshared with support flowing in from every corner. Actors, politicians, celebrities organically picked up the link and retweeted it. We needed to break the perception and the pre-conceived notion of beauty. In a world obsessed with unrealistic beauty standards people sat up and took notice of the inherent beauty and appeal of each of these amputees. We needed created a change that we wanted to see!