Her voice, her choice

Ambika Shaligram
Thursday, 16 January 2020

Many independent filmmakers, who sent their films to be screened during the Pune International Film Festival, share their thoughts on their work and the hurdles they faced while making the film

The 18th edition of Pune International Film Festival (PIFF) had an interesting lineup of films, Indian and international, that were screened in the city. Taking their cue from newspaper reports, personal histories, political events, social landscape, the films portrayed a world, which is at once familiar and unfamiliar. The themes, women, feminism, patriarchy have been discussed before at various other fora. But the films screened at PIFF stand out because of the filmmakers’ vision. Here’s more from the filmmakers interaction with Samar Nakhate, the Creative Director of the festival  

When women are left behind...
A film which was made to highlight the state of women in conflict situation is Widow of Silence. Pravin Morchhale came across a report of ‘half widows in Kashmir’ and the gravity of their situation struck him. Within a week of reading that report, the filmmaker was in Kashmir and tried meeting women through his contacts. 

“I realised that this title or status was bequeathed to them because their men had gone missing. But there was no proof that the men were dead. I met one such woman and she said to me, ‘Many people don’t even consider us alive. Why are you interested in making a movie on our lives?’ After that interaction, I stuck to doing secondary research,” says Morchhale.

The filmmaker was interested in presenting a personal story of suffering and not so much of the political situation in the region. So he also chose to work with non-actors from the region. “In my previous films too, I have worked with non-actors. But for the role of Aasia, I wanted a woman who could express through her eyes. I have minimal dialogues in Widow of Silence. So for Aasia’s role, I chose Shilpi Marwah, a theatre actor from Delhi. Rest are all non-actors,” he adds.

The highlight of the film are three scenes — in one, Aasia and her male friend are meeting in a tea shop; the man is keen to marry her, but she is unable to because she doesn’t have a death certificate of her husband. In the second scene, Aasia is waiting for him at the same teashop, but he doesn’t turn up. And, in the third scene, there is a long dialogue between the mother and the daughter.

Another one for the girl child 
Dr Ajit Wadikar’s movie Y shows the socio-medico angle. The subject of female foeticide is depicted through four inter-connected short stories. The film stars Nandu Madhav, Mukta Barve, Omkar Govardhan, Prajakta Mali and Rohit Kokate. 

Dr Wadikar decided to make a movie on this subject after reading a news report on 2010 census which highlighted the skewed gender ratio. 

“I wrote the first draft of the film in 2011 and it was in 2016 that the producer came on board and we started shooting the film. We have tried to cover all possible angles — the medical angle (from doctors’ perspective), from the PCPNDT cell, the NGO perspective and so on. The common link between all the four stories is The Purushottam Hospital,” he adds. Nandu Madhav, who plays a doctor in the film, met many doctors and tried to understand their views, how the society pressure works and so on. 

Not in your mum’s name
It’s quite common to cuss, especially of the maa-behen variety. Ever wondered why it’s easier to cause offence when you abuse in the name of your mother? This bit of feminism is explored in Tujhya Aaila/Up your mother, a film directed by Sujay Dahake. The film addresses verbal abuse and verbal violence which has not been explored so widely in Indian cinema.

“The story of Tujhya Aaila has some biographical elements. I was sent to a boarding school in Panhala and we used to play this game, which was more graphic and violent than shown in my film. We are not made aware of the gravity of verbal violence in India. On the set of my first film, Shala, I was very abusive because I quickly learnt that I could be in control if I got work done. And, the work got done if I abused the person. This soon became a norm. It so happened that I met one of the crew members of the film a few years later and the memory that he had of me was of someone who abused. That shamed me and I stopped abusing,” says Dahake. 

The film explores this matriarchal vs patriarchal ideas besides the contrasting ideas of upbringing, class, caste and corporal punishment.
“After his father’s transfer to a rural area, a city boy joins a rural school and for the kids there, it’s quite common to abuse and insult. The antagonist, a village schoolboy, is the flagbearer for the game, Tujhya Aaila, and the protagonist, the city boy, tries to fit in. I have chosen non-actors, 30 kids from rural area to be a part of the film,” he adds.

 All on their own
Rajni Basumatary has led a privileged life, but not without her share of difficulties and challenges. Her nephews and cousins were killed in the Bodoland insurgency that peaked in Assam in the ‘90s.

“My brother went missing in December 2003 and we haven’t seen him since,” says Basumatary, who has made a film on the subject titled Jwlwi or The Seed. The film made in Bodo language chose to highlight the plight of women who were affected by the insurgency. “Hundreds of families were affected, the men were picked up for questioning in the middle of the night and the women who were left behind were not very educated or didn’t have a source of livelihood. In the film, Jwlwi, I focus on a woman, who struggles to look after her son and her husband’s family. The husband is killed in a cross-firing amongst the insurgents,” says Basumatary, who has also produced the film and also done a small role in it. 

Her film didn’t find many backers so with the support of her husband and other relatives, she produced the film. Talking about the cinema culture in Bodo, Basumatary says, “The first film in Bodo language was made in 1986. We don’t have cinema halls in our region, so we take film projector to different villages and approach their ‘screening committees’. So far we have shown the movie to four lakh people, besides screening it at the film festivals.”

Jwlwi has struck a chord with the older generation of the population who have faced similar situation as depicted in the movie. “However, the younger generation is not aware of the insurgency or what led to it. I keep telling them, ‘It’s our history...and very recent at that. It took place barely 25-30 years ago,” she adds.

The lost child 
The Chinese language entry to PIFF is Mosaic Portrait, which talks about teen pregnancy. The film’s producer, Wang Zijian, who was in the city to attend the festival says, “We decided to make this film after a news of a 14-year-old girl being pregnant in a village in China was reported in a local newspaper. However, many times, the truth behind a particular story is not revealed.”

“The girl in the aforementioned case doesn’t receive any help from the authorities, however in the movie, we have shown one journalist reaching out to the family,” he adds. 

Mosaic Portait is the story of a 14-year-old teenage girl, Xu Ying. Her father is a migrant labourer and is on most days away from home. A girl with a gentle disposition, Ying grows up into a teenager, who according to her parents ‘comes across as a person who they know less and less.’

On learning of her pregnancy, her parents coax and scold her in turns to know the ‘name of the man who did this’. Ying reveals the name of Mr Zhang, her school teacher. But the school administration, police want to hush up the case because the parents are unable to furnish any evidence that Mr Zhang is the father. They decide to allow Ying to carry her pregnancy to full term so that they would have the evidence via dna tests. The answer adds to the suspense. 

The portrayal of Ying is opaque keeping in with the title of the film. She is introduced in the movie blindfolded, going in for a test at the optician. Her first meeting with the journalist is from behind the glass pane, her face silhouetted against it. As the movie progresses, we see Ying who can be carefree, defiant, reclusive as the teenagers the world over are. She is secretive, unable to talk with parents, has this ‘intense persona’ as she describes herself to the journalist. Towards the end, she joins a centre for disturbed and troubled kids and is a part of the chorus ‘Bring the lost child home’. 

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