By Aditya Savnal. Posted on June 02, 2015
What does it mean to be a woman in India today? What or who is a modern independent woman? What are their aspirations and desires? Do we really understand what they really want and how they manage to juggle the different roles they are expected to play in their everyday lives? Why do we expect so much from them when we don't expect the same from men?
If we lived in a fair world, we would've found these questions stupid and maybe even amusing. But as things stand, we live in a world that is excessively patriarchal and has privileged male choices & opinions over female point of view for centuries now. Why and how that happened is a discussion best left for sociologists & anthropologists and not something that we intend to dig into here.
However filmmakers have the power to frame issues and raise questions on things of importance to the society around them. Starting this month, we will bring to you interesting, thought-provoking indie films that deserve to be seen by a wider audience.
While Indian filmmakers have by and large avoided engaging with difficult questions facing the larger society, there has always been a breed of filmmakers who've used the medium to forment much needed discussions on our notions of what it means to be here & now.
In that long line of filmmakers stand Roohi Dixit and Ziba Bhagwagar. The filmmakers who hail from diverse backgrounds of copywriting and journalism respectively, have been making films together for a decade now. And Scattered Windows, Connected Doors is their attempt to understand the urban Indian woman.
This attempt is a beautiful free-flowing documentary that takes us through the world of eight successful women from different walks of life. The award winning film has traveled to film festivals internationally and won at a few of them including at the Mumbai Women's International Film Festival (2013) & Vancouver Women's International Film Festival (2013).
The film tracks the lives of Shabnam Virmani - Sufi singer; Anusha Yadav - founder of Indian Memory Project; Shilo Shiv Suleman - artist; Preeti Shenoy - blogger and author; Vidya Pai - LGBT activist; Rekha Menon -MD, Accenture; Swati Bhattacharya - Creative Director and Sapna Bhavnani - celebrity hair stylist. The mix of women and their careers is interesting and covers a wide gamut.
Be it a housewife, entrepreneur, mother or an artist, women play different roles in their everyday lives. But often, the society around undermines the hardwork & the sacrifices they make. The documentary attempts to highlight these tough choices & the prejudices that these women have had to fight in order to reach where they are today. Through their own set of unique challenges & experiences these women have created a place for themselves where many look up to them as inspiring role models.
Each of the 8 women has an inspiring story to tell. While Sapna Bhavnani talks about the difficulty of making radical life choices in a conservative society, Preeti Shenoy conveys the importance of taking control of one's own life.
The documentary underlines the value of financial independence, following their passion and the freedom of making choices for every woman. Made by an all-woman crew, the most striking aspect of the documentary is that the entire conversation flows in a very candid manner.
That Indian society is undergoing a phase-shift is undeniable. Society's attitude towards women and their role is fast changing. Of course the process isn’t smooth. Far from it. We move ahead a step and are thrown back a couple. The 'modern'ising impulse faces severe backlash from regressive elements in our society. The struggle of Indian women to acquire their rightful place is an ongoing one and SWCD does a good job of showing how difficult that struggle is.
We caught up with Roohi recently to get a sense of the genesis of their documentary and how the journey till now has been. Below are a few excerpts from our conversation with her.
SWCD is a film about conversations with urban Indian women, it came from conversations we were listening to and being a part of (being urban Indian women ourselves) it’s a film about choices, a film about choices that the urban Indian women make. We wanted to document these conversations and try and understand the mindsets via the 8 women we chose.
Also we wanted to make a positive film in an environment that is increasingly hostile towards urban women. After all, our struggles, feelings, everyday thoughts are a collective existential dilemma, but we need an environment of positivity. So no matter what our struggles are, or our choices have been, we need more positive voices around us. To inspire and be inspired, to align ourselves with role models that we need. To understand that we are fine. And that we must continue our journey.
It was extremely hard, but we did not set out to talk to the 100 most powerful women or some such pre-conceived idea of a modern independent woman. We wanted a right mix of energies that come together to communicate that every other urban Indian woman could be special too, that they mattered, no matter what their choices have been or are. Women we see in our neighborhood, in our offices, women who have the courage to have their own point of view. Our generation in urban cities have had the same kind of education, similar middle class upbringing by and large. The dynamics have changed rapidly from our mother’s generation, and along with that also came the question of freedom and choice and self-will.
During research everywhere we looked there were fabulous role models all around, eventually we ended up with sub categories. That you could be a Rekha despite many pitfalls and rise up. You could be Preeti and not choose to work in the traditional sense, and yet be an author. You could be Swati who had the courage to understand the value of her freedom. You could be Anusha and live in a metropolitan city as a single woman. You could be Shabnam and passionately dedicate yourself to your calling. You could be Sapna and carve out a name for yourself, live according to your terms. You could be Vidya and fight for what you believe in. You could be Shilo, travel around the country to seek your inner calling with a childlike innocence.
The film has resonated with all the global audience. We aren’t that much different as human beings. It was heartwarming to see how many urban women from different parts of the world were touched by the film and its content. Women back home have written in to us about the sheer positivity and inspiration they experienced after watching the film. So many times after the screenings we've had the most intense personal stories exchanged.
We have been repeatedly asked by men in the audience when we would make a film on 8 men. There was an interesting reaction from a man at NCPA Mumbai who was so thankful that we made a positive film, because as a man he could see so many of his own friends and family in the women on screen. He repeatedly told us about the environment of fear in the country regarding women and their safety, and how he felt responsible as a man. Here was a film that celebrated the feminine energy, the simple choices without indulging in male bashing.
There were also insights about the existential quest that is not gender based, but a human quest. So a lot of men who saw the film, questioned their own choices, and their own life journey.
It would be terribly presumptuous to think that given our rich history and the vastness of our country. Our quest to target the urban women simply came from the space that there were not enough stories on urban Indian women. Definitely not the kind of story we wanted to tell.
Women, as men, just want to live life. With equal rights, in a respectful environment with safety, and with the freedom to make our choices as we see fit according to our circumstances. Labels, all labels merely create more judgmental atmosphere. We are evolving, we are talking, and we are dragging notions out of the corners of our minds and looking objectively at them. We are nowhere near any definition yet. The struggle continues. These are interesting times to watch out for, not just in India but globally.
It is a fabulous time to listen to stories. The documentary space is evolving everyday with exciting work coming in from all parts of India. And there’s so much that one doesn’t get to see! We wish to see more documentaries in mainstream theaters and not just in festivals or screenings. We hope that we move beyond the commercial aspect of film making to a more thinking one.
While Indian television still continues to present a traditional view of the woman in society, Indian films are finally coming of age. Last few years have seen female characters come into their own in films like Queen, The Dirty Picture & Kahaani. This year, some of the most interesting films (and box-office hits) like NH-10, Piku & Tanu Weds Manu Returns have revolved around strong female characters. That a woman need not come from a certain urban setting to be strong, modern & independent is best represented by Kangana Ranaut's Datto in TWMR.
This is not to suggest that everything is hunky dory. A lot of work still remains to be done in balancing out the mi-representation of female characters in our films. Yet one hopes that a start has been made.
SWCD is a worthwhile addition to the growing body of important non-fiction work coming out of India.
Making an indie film is a herculean task in any part of the world. Lack of viable markets and distribution alternatives mean that the task is even more difficult in India. Barring an initiative like PVR Directors Rare, there have been very few initiatives that give indie filmmakers a platform to showcase their work.
With the rising number of indie filmmakers striving to tell stories that are unique, there have emerged alternative distribution models that make it possible for such films to be seen by discerning audiences.
You can always watch interesting content on YouTube & Vimeo. TVF recently launched TVFInbox where they shared Sulemani Keeda and plan to share more films in coming months. Another such alternative is Fliqvine, where you can watch some really cool indie films, both fiction & non-fiction. We hope these platforms proliferate and grow so independent cinema lovers across India can watch indie flicks at the click of a button.