Like every year, this year too, the Federation of Film Societies, India, held a two-day women’s film festival on March 8 and 9 at Nandan III, Kolkata. The focus of the festival was on films made by women directors and the subjects revolved around the question of gender in its varied manifestations. Seven films, a mixture of features and documentaries, short and long by filmmakers from different parts of the country featured at the festival. This is a travelling festival that happens across other Indian cities too.
The festival opened with noted Assamese filmmaker Manju Borah’s In The Land of Poison Women. The film is based on a story by Yeshe Dorje Thongchi. He is a prolific writer who won the Padma Shri in 2020. He is from the Sherdukpan community of Arunachal Pradesh and writes in Assamese. “The unknown community shown in the film is known as Pangchenpa and their place of living is in the remote corner of the country, with less than 5000 population. This was one of the main reasons I chose this novel. The location was a point of both attraction and challenge. Pangchen or Zemithang is situated along the Indo- China International border and is a very sensitive and high alert zone. Secondly, the story about Pangchenpa women was the biggest challenge. They are believed to be Poison Women who carry poison in their nails. The legend goes that whoever takes food cooked and served by them, dies either instantly or slowly but most certainly, dies. Can you even believe that such a belief exists in this country?” she asks. “The women themselves believe this and are unwilling to think and do otherwise,” adds Manju.
The Day I Became a Woman (Bengali) by Moupiya Mukherjee, a gender activist, is a personal journey of the director to find an answer behind the trauma that shook her one fine morning at the age of twelve, when she discovered the gush of blood coming out of her vagina. Away from home and from her mother on that day, she experienced the fear of death. She had no idea about what was going on in her body. Her journey within the film extends to the universal experience of women through interactions with her own little daughter and a few friends. She tries to uncover the issues related to menstruation as a strict taboo in India. Why are women not allowed to perform religious rituals during those days? Why are they barred from carrying out certain activities in their day-to-day life? Why does a mother hesitate to discuss this normal biological process with her daughter? Finally, after thirty years, she confronts her mother. It is a hard-hitting film focussing on the socially inflicted taboos on girls when they have their periods, changing their lives forever.
Holy Rights, a long documentary by Farah Khatun whose debut documentary, I Am Bonny won accolades and awards across festivals, takes on the illegality of the triple talaq presenting it as a human rights issue for all Muslim women in India. It is a very powerful film that zeroes in on Safia, a devout Muslim woman from Bhopal who joins a programme for training women as Qazis. It is through the lived experience of Safia Apa and several other women who joined the program that the film comments on the arbitrariness and illegality of the instant triple talaq practice which Muslim religious leaders insist on interpreting and practicing that is pitted entirely against girls and women. Aesthetically too, the film reveals the director’s restraint in not going overboard with this fragile issue that is still a sticky subject for all Indian Muslims across the country and beyond.
\Run Kalyani (Malayalam) is one-time print media film journalist J. Geetha’s directorial debut. The feature film reveals how a deceptively simple storyline can enrich the tapestry of life – on celluloid and in real life. According to the director, “Kalyani is a young cook who lives with her ailing aunt and a young man in a rundown agraharam in Trivandrum. Each day is the same as she carries on with her life of duty as a cook and care-giver. But each day is not the same. Run Kalyani builds into an intense crescendo of grief and grit, sorrow and strength.” This film is still running on the chain of awards and recognitions across the map.
Anahita’s Law (English) is a 22-minute short film directed by the relatively new filmmaker Oorvazi Irani. The film tells the stories of three Parsi women who lived through, suffered and overcame the prejudices of biased tradition. The stories are told as recollection and action in a minimalist cinema tradition, the drama of recollection being portrayed in the landscape of the actor’s features. The empathy with the victims of injustice aligns the audience of our film with their brave and inevitable struggle. Oorvazi has played the sole character of Anahita herself and is the only character in the entire film. The form is experimental and the content is abstract though it is taken from the ancient Persian Avestan Goddess of the Waters and Parsi Zoroastrian characters from the past. Farrukh Dhondy has written the script and story. The sound design and the music are beautifully in sync with the visuals and the story.
Atasi (Bengali) is about a young and pretty girl called Atasi, who was in a mental asylum. She is now cured and married to a man she fell in love with. However, her mother and brother refuse to allow her access into her father’s house. This is directed by Putul Mahmud, currently Associate Professor in Direction and Screenplay Writing Department at the Satyajit Ray Film and TV Institute, Kolkata.
Atasi is very aggressive, openly accuses her mother and brother of depriving her of her share of property and house which her late father left behind. She speaks fearlessly into the camera. The director refrains from cutting into her tirade. She gets into a train with her husband in Howrah, hugs her mother and brother with moist eyes, promising to visit again. The audience is left to draw its own conclusions.
Vidhu Vincent’s new feature film Stand Up (Malayalam) deals with the impact of rape on a young girl by the boy she has been dating because she refuses to get married and intends to move on to Delhi to do her post-graduation. Her best friend, a noted stand-up female comedian in the city, uses one of her shows to present the girl’s story though the rapist is her own brother. The film’s uniqueness lies in how the entire family of the victim except her grandmother, is complicit in the conspiracy the rapist’s family hatches to get the two married to each other without bothering about whether the victim is prepared to submit to this arrangement or not. This is a very mainstream film targeted at the mass audience filled with lots of songs, graphic scenes of the torture and the rape repeated several times but minus melodrama.
Image courtesy: Shoma A. Chatterji