Deb Medhekar’s Bioscopewala sheds light on burqa boxing which is still practised in slums of Kolkata by poor women, who want to escape poverty and seek empowerment through boxing. If the woman makes it to the district or state level, she gets a chance at government job.
Tisca Chopra, who is playing a burqa boxer in Bioscopewala, says it was shocking to learn that women were used in same way as roosters are used in cock fights.
Speaking about it, she says, “I actually heard about it several years ago from a friend in Kolkata who had mentioned it in passing. And when Deb brought it up in the context of the film, we spoke about it at length. Then I researched it extensively. It was shocking to me that women were used much in the same way as cocks are used in cock fights; men bet on them and the women often used it as a way to stave off poverty. In Bioscopewala, Wahida, the character I play is an Afghan refugee who takes to boxing so as to not become a prostitute and also maybe get legalised as a citizen if she did well as a boxer.”
She further says that practising burqa boxing is such a derogatory thing towards women. “Women who would get sucked into burqa betting were often immigrants or poor. It was such a cruel thing, watching these women often hurt their own friends while boxing just for the pleasure of the betting men who got a high out of watching women bloody themselves at the sport. Most often these women had no training in boxing and no gloves or medical care,” she adds.
She says that men who bet on the burqa boxers are immigrant labour who don’t have their families around. “For them, it is a way to bonding with other men while enjoying a sport. That the sport involves women is added incentive and the betting adds to excitement. That it is exploitative in the extreme is what makes this one of the sad truths of the world. It’s hard to know why this sport took root in the congested lanes of Kolkata. Maybe because the Sonagachi red light area was where many immigrant women finally found work,” she says.
Presented by Fox Star Studios in association with Star India, Bioscopewala is produced Handmade Films. It’s releasing on May 25.