A Conversation with Namrata Singh Gujral

Oct 10 2010

by the Melissa Etheridge Eco-Friendly Street Team

Melissa, Namrata, Olivia Newton-John

Namrata was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in 2008. She produced and directed UniGlobe Entertainment’s docu-drama 1 a Minute. Released in almost 600 theaters, it’s the largest release to date for a cancer related film. We spoke with Namrata about her impression of Melissa Etheridge, Namrata’s reasons for creating the movie, and what she hopes viewers will come away with after seeing 1 a Minute.
Read the interview here…

When you first met Melissa Etheridge, what was your impression of her?
Namrata: As survivors of breast cancer or any cancer, when you meet someone it’s kind of like Moms when they get together. They talk about their kids and they have that thing in common. I think all survivors share that to varying degrees but there is definitely that sisterhood. When Melissa and I met for the first time, I remember at one point I looked at my clock and we had been chatting an hour and a half about one particular thing. We were so on the same page with everything. We are very, very alike in how we think, and also how we are as people. We are very similar in a lot of ways, just as human beings and I think we share a lot of values. I gravitated to her so much, and certainly to everybody in my cast, but Melissa I would say definitely in particular because of how much we share as human beings and our core values.

You Tweeted a picture of you, Melissa Etheridge and Olivia Newton-John and described it as “a cute picture with two of my favorite gals in the world.” What makes Melissa Etheridge one of your favorite gals in the world?
Namrata: You know what I love about Melissa? Her Twitter page - it actually says “Speak True.” I know a lot of people in the industry, a lot of performers, a lot of actors, a lot of singers. Melissa is one of those people where what you see is what you get. She’s going to speak her mind and she’s going to speak the truth. Somebody else could put up a Twitter page called “Speak True” and you’re thinking, “How much of that do you really mean?” With Melissa, she means every word of what she says. She really believes in it. What I love about her is she’s not going to sell out. She’s going to stick to what she believes in, and that’s how it’s going to be, and I absolutely love that about her and greatly respect it.

Do you have a favorite Melissa Etheridge song?
Namrata: Of course I do! “Come To My Window!” I also love “Fearless Love.” It’s such a powerful song. I think she’s a brilliant artist. I am a big fan of her work. Starting from “Come To My Window” all the way down to “Fearless Love,” just one hit after another.

If you were to choose one word to describe Melissa Etheridge, what one word would you choose, and why did you choose that word?
Namrata: If I were to choose one word to describe Melissa, that word would have to be “Truth.” The reason I would say that is Melissa truly believes in what she believes in. She has good reasons for believing in it, and she is one of those people we are fortunate we have in the world. I wish we had more people like that because she is not going to sell out. Melissa is going to speak the truth and you had better believe it. I don’t think there are many people in the world that can hold on to their true values so well, and it’s so commendable. Imagine if we were all like that. I think we’d be living in a much better world.

What was it that made you want to do the 1 a Minute documentary?
Namrata: I lost two of my mother’s sisters to breast cancer. They were very young when they were diagnosed, just like Melissa and I were; both of us were diagnosed fairly young as well. With both of my aunts, obviously it was very traumatic. I remember thinking when my second aunt died of breast cancer, “I have to really watch out.” I thought I was doing everything I could. Which now looking back, it was bullshit.

A lot of what we’re told in today’s society is that supposedly what is healthy is really not. That’s why Melissa and I agree – the other day we were just talking about it in terms of what are we eating – what we’re ‘sold’ is not what we should be buying. So anyway, I was taking all the precautions and got diagnosed. My daughter was nine, and honestly I thought I was going to die. I was so angry when I got diagnosed. I think when you’re angry, there’s a way to channel that anger or that heightened emotion to doing something positive out of it. So I thought to myself this is a negative experience, but I’m going to try to turn it into a positive outcome. And so that’s when I decided to make 1 a Minute.

When you first get diagnosed and everyone does this, you start going to the computer, start looking at things, and nobody had talked about the fact that there’s a woman that dies every 69 seconds of breast cancer. That’s a woman every minute! Initially I was going to make a movie and call it “1 in 8” because that is the chance that you have as a woman of getting diagnosed with breast cancer in the USA. Then when I looked at the global statistics, it was even worse than the U.S. statistic. My family is from India. I’m a very all-inclusive person. I always believe actually that here in the United States in some ways we lead the charge of living in this global world, understanding that there’s a big world out there. So I decided to make a documentary that addresses cancer on an international level and not just on a national level, and that’s how 1 a Minute was born.

How did you choose who would be in the documentary?
Namrata: I reached out to various survivors. I couldn’t put everyone in the movie because it’s only a 90 minute film and there are time constraints. I didn’t want this to be the Oscars, like a bunch of celebrity faces because there needed to be emotion and we needed to follow these women’s journeys. I hand-picked people I related to better, whose message I thought resonated with what I wanted to say in the documentary. Melissa, case in point. If you watch the movie and watch what Melissa says, “We need to change the way we are living our lives.” I tried to make a very fair, unbiased documentary. As a filmmaker you can’t discredit the fact you feel a certain way especially about something like this.

I was trying to pick women from different parts of the world because let’s face it we live in a world where everybody looks different, and we also have different religions. I included Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, and Jewish faith and also Buddhism: because cancer touches everybody! Part of the reason for the variety in the film was no matter where you live you are going to find one woman in there who looks like you, sounds like you, and has your background, so that you can relate a little bit better to the film and what you’re going through.

In 1 a Minute you include characters portraying your husband and daughter, showing part of what the care-givers and supporters go through. A lot of times breast cancer awareness is obviously focused on the people who are fighting it and the survivors, yet it’s even a life changer for the care-givers as well.
Namrata: No doubt about it. I remember so many times I was having the anxiety attacks. I would wake up in the night and my husband would be sleeping and I would be thinking, “Oh my God he just doesn’t give a shit.” You know that’s what you’re thinking in your mind. Then one night, the night before my surgery, I woke up and I couldn’t see him and my first thoughts were, “He left me. He’s taken off. He can’t deal with this.” I walked out, and he was in the kitchen, and he was crying. He had never once let on that he was scared and that night I was so shocked at how scared he was. He wanted to show how strong he was for me and to me how that translated was that he didn’t care, but I think he was just trying to be strong for me, and then I happened to find him at 4 o’clock in the morning crying in the kitchen.

What is it you hope viewers come away with from watching the 1 a Minute documentary?
Namrata: A couple of things. The most important thing I think from 1 a Minute is kind of what Melissa said at the panel. This is an alarming statistic – a woman dying of breast cancer every minute. It doesn’t have to be so. We need to understand that there are things we can do to either prevent the cancer from occurring in the first place, or a recurrence. We can’t control everything in the world, we simply can’t, but we can control a fair bit. We hope people can leave the film and understand that there are things that they can do which would be healthier for them. Modify their lifestyle. Not give up their lifestyle, but modify it. At one point in the movie Melissa says, “Now I look at my plate. My fruits and vegetables. My whole grains. And then after that, if I want that piece of chocolate cake, I’m going to have that piece of chocolate cake.”

The point is, we all want to enjoy our lives, we all want to eat chocolate cake once in awhile, so it’s not changing your lifestyle, it’s modifying and truly understanding what is right for us. Our body is a gift and how do we take care of it as best as we can while nurturing it physically, spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically. I think that is one of the biggest things I want people to take away from the film.

One of the biggest compliments I got was from a woman in the edit bay who is a survivor nine years out. She came in, watched the movie, and said to me, “I wish I had this when I was diagnosed. It’s like having a support group in my living room.” I want people to understand there’s help, there’s support out there. When people are going through something traumatic it’s very natural to think that you’ve been picked on, that somehow you’ve gotten the raw deal in life. That’s just natural. I did too. The movie starts by saying nobody has a charmed life. We all have our axes to grind. We all get our fair share in this world. Whether you are a star or a celebrity or not, it doesn’t matter. We all have our share of bad luck and good luck.

Do you plan to make more 1 a Minute documentaries?
Namrata: What we’d like to do is make it an annual, recurring event of some sort. I went ahead and funded this whole thing, put it all together including the live telecasting. Thankfully I was able to do that. I just did what I could as a human being. I think it’s important for some of us to come together who don’t have the agenda of commercializing cancer. It seems like it’s turned into a business, the whole thing with cancer. I think we need someone who has the means, such as myself or whoever that is, who will not commercialize cancer, and really look at what’s happening and be able to speak the truth about it.

What I would love to do is bring something to people every year around October where we’re looking at what the stats are now, today, as opposed to last year and truly what’s been done about it. I was thinking about it this morning. One of the graphics we showed in the movie was President Obama’s cancer panel and their findings just a couple of months ago with regards to the toxins in the environment. What I’d like to really address next year is what happened. It’s great that we got the findings. Now what? What is being done about it? We can do all the studies we want, but what is actually being done to take care of the problem?

I’d like to see 1 a Minute turn into 1 a Never. Obviously that’s not going to happen overnight. But can we please move ahead and make it 1 Every 10 Minutes, then 1 an Hourr? Can we at least start doing that? We really need to think outside the box. All the research right now is Western medicine. And that’s OK. Do that. That’s fine. But why aren’t we looking at Eastern cures, South American cures, cures from around the world. Let’s look at everything. Let’s be all inclusive. Let’s tackle this global problem as one world, pool our knowledge and resources like Daniel Baldwin says in the movie, and I think we’re going to make more headway that way. We just need to stop being so insular with how we tackle things.

I want people to know at the end of the day, this movie is about Hope, Courage and Survival. If you are going through any cancer, not just breast cancer, know that hope springs eternal. At times in your life, it’s tough to be hopeful. It is. I’ve been there. I know it. This movie is listening to all these wonderful women talk about how they tackled that time in their life when it was tough to hope, it was tough to have the courage.

There’s so much stuff that we’re going to be doing in India, and then navigating the globe with this, going to Africa, and to South America, going everywhere to raise awareness and really turn this into one big global thing where we’re all coming together and dealing with cancer.

Thank you so much for sharing your message with us, Namrata!

Visit 1a Minute.com to find out how to order the DVD and for more info on future showings around the world.