Friday, 30 September 2016

Parched: Film that boldly celebrates women's sexuality

“So, how was the movie? Did you like it?” asked the boy
“Ajeeb lagi” says the girl. I stopped for a while as I heard this conversation while coming out of the theatre after watching “Parched”. But there was silence the girl didn’t say anything after this.
I just smiled! But was the movie weird? I asked myself. 

The film ‘Parched’ directed and written by Leena Yadav surprised me, intrigued me and made me happy at the same time. Set on the rural context, the film is about three women; Rani (played by Tanishtha Chatterjee), a 32 years old widow who is desperately trying to get his son Gulab married to a beautiful girl Janki from neighborhood village; Lajjo (Radhika Apte) a childless woman who desperately wants a child. Though she appears happy and free spirited, her husband tortures her and beat her everyday blue and black; Bijli(Surveen Chawla), a local dancer who is an eye candy and feast for local villagers. Rani and Lajjo are friends who are skilled and work for local entrepreneur Kishan (Sumeet Vyas). Both of them share their lives, happiness, miseries and pain, for them the only source of pleasure is the erotic stories shared by Bijli. “Mazza to ussi mein aata hai jo Bijli bolti hai se….xx mein”

It’s heartwarming, powerful and liberating to witness that amidst of all the chaos and almost every form of violence be it eve teasing, physical assault, child marriage, sexual abuse, forced sex after marriage and obsession around married women to have child, these three women expresses their sexuality. The film has very simple, strategic and pointed dialogues with no flowery language. The rawness with which story is woven and dialogues are delivered stumps me. The film speaks leaps and bounds of sexuality and about women’s desires. The scene where brutally beaten Lajjo comes to Rani’s home is one such scene where longing and pain of not having experienced intimacy is beautifully presented. Also when Rani asks “kya mein abhi bhi aurat jaisi lagti hoo?” and then Lajjo with her jovial and sensuous way answering that question is superb!

Bijli expressing her desire to finally settling with a man who not only impressed her sexually but also won her with his words.

Lajjo gets physically intimated with another man to fulfill her desire of giving birth to a child. Bijli questions the various abuses and slangs that are used and she hits the chord straight by saying that maybe all these were made by man that’s why they involve f***ing women!

The film has some really powerful and intriguing conversations. In one such scene, Rani shouts at her son, “Mard banna band kar, phele insaan ban” when she sees her son beating his wife in the same way that she experienced in her married life too. It was empoweringto see 15 years old Janki cut her long and beautiful hairs so that she could stop her marriage. 

Another conversation between Bijli and Lajjo where Bijli shares how she met Rani, became friends with her and this friendship is something that she cherish the most in her life.

‘Parched’ clearly showcases the deep rooted patriarchal system where women has no say in almost every aspect of life, among all the man who believed the women’s role was just to handle household chores and provide sex to their husbands whenever demanded, there was Kisan who was continuously helping women to become financially sound by engaging them into craft and artifacts. Clearly he was a threat to the other men in the village who used to ignore his presence or bully him because for them he was misleading their women! Also I feel we can chose how we want to see things happening in our lives just as Rani does when she frees her daughter in law and sends her with the guy she loved. 
The movie ends with the beautiful analogy- its time for dusshera which is marked by the victory of good over evil and at the same time, these three women taking hold of their life and setting themselves free from unwanted shackles and barriers imposed on them.  

“Do rahe par khadi hoo, soch rahi hoo ki left loo ya right, jo bhi hoo iss baar toh mein dil ki sunugi!”

Overall the film “Parched” makes you uncomfortable, poses questions, is intriguing but at the end leaves you with a hope :-) No wonder many people might be left feeling weird!

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Pink: "Why is it so hard to hear that NO?"

“These boys must realize that NO ka matlab NO hota hai, usse bolne wali ladki koi paricheet ho, friend ho, girlfriend ho, koi sex worker ho ye aapki apni biwi hi kyu na ho. NO MEANS NO AND WHEN SOMEONE SAYS NO, YOU MUST STOP”

As I write here, my hands tremble, my throat feels an unsettled lump, my eyes fails to stop the tears from flowing, I can’t believe I just heard this, this one sentence is all what we are fighting for! The whole struggle is about this‘NO’; forget about being understood it’s never even heard. The very reason to feel strange on hearing this dialogue in a film is because I have been hearing “ek ladhki ki naa mein hi uski haan chupi hoti hai” not just in real life but also in mainstream cinema reinforcing this unreal concept.
“Pink” directed by Anniruddha Roy Chowdhury is a film that revolves around the lives of three independent working women Meenal, Falak and Andrea and how an incident one night at a resort near Surajkund involving some boys proves to be life changing for them. What follows next is a powerful and mirroring courtroom drama where a lawyer Deepak Sehgal played by Amitabh Bachchan not only represents them but fights for every women who is judged, stereotyped and humiliated on roads, home, public and private spaces because they practice their choice. The film talks about consent and choices loud and clear.

“Kisi bhi ladhki ko kisi bhi ladhke ke sath, kabhi bhi akele nahi jana chahiye, kyunki aisa karne pa waha ke log ye assume kar lete hai ki wo ladhki willingly wahan pe aayi hai aur unhe usse touch karne ka license issue kar diya gaya hai”

The film starts with the black screen with credits written in the white color without any music or background score which prepares the audience about the intensity they would be witnessing in the film,after a while there is conversation between men and women, some shrieks but no video! Then appears 3 men in a car out of which one is injured and bleeding profusely and in the next scene 3 women who appear to be scared, lost and in hurry, the audience simply has no clue as to what had happened! This conversation unfolds at the end of the movie where what actually happened is revealed that hits really hard.

The film portrays brilliantly how lives of girls’ are always under the scrutiny of society, they are judged on the basis of the clothes they wear, the time at which they are coming back to their home, who is coming to drop them or with whom they are going! And all the hell break loose after the Surajkund incident, a friend of Rajveer who was not even present at that incident (the guy was injured) tries to take revenge by threatening their landlord, verbally abusing them on phone, kidnapping and assaulting Meenal (played by Taapasee Pannu)sexually. 

The film also shows dark realities that women faces when they want to report the crime- instead of writing the FIR, the police inspector questions the victim and tries to convince her to rethink on the decision, neighbors questions their character when police arrests the protagonist etc. ‘Pink’ also throws light on the how girls from north east are subjected to more sexual violence as compared to other girls and character assassination.  

At the same time the film also shows the important aspects of the legal system and how it can support women in distress- like Zero FIR, Section 354- Any person who assaults or acts in a manner with the intent to outrage her modesty can be charged under this section, Section 503, women and minors can get bail on weekends and Section 164- a woman can record the statement with only one police officer and a woman constable in a convenient place.

“Pink” has a gripping, convincing and realistic plot with hard hitting and potent dialogues. The director succeeds in extracting natural performances from all the actors and makes a meaningful film which strikes the right chord with the audience.Taapasee Pannu convincingly plays the role of Minal Arora, the brave, present day bindaas Delhi girl. She brings out vulnerability of her character with ease when she is jailed and when she faces courtroom trial. Her anxiety, frustration, strong will and angst against system’s hypocrisy is so real that it scares a hell out of me. 

Kirti Kulhari as Falak is equally superb as performer. The scene where she tries to apologize and close the fight and then end up warning the rich spoilt brat Rajveer gives me goose bumps. One of the courtroom scene, where she breaks down when the opposition lawyer keeps arguing they have no character and have taken money to do all this is laudable! 

Amitabh Bachachan as aged defence lawyer Deepak Sehghal shines like no one else. His entry in the mask, to the way he looks at Minal in the park to the power packed performance in the courtroom leaves me awe-stuck. His well-modulated tone, satirical sarcasm, conversations inside the courtroom adds more power to the well-written dialogues. 

“Hamare yaha ghadi ki sui, character decide karti hai.”   
“Sharab ko yaha ek galat character ki nishani maana jaata hai, sirf ladkiyon ke liye. Ladkon ke liye to ye sirf ek health hazard hai!”

He digs at society and its pseudo one sided norms and prejudices towards women in the form of “The Rule Book of the Girls’ safety manuals” as enumerated by Deepak Sehgal from time to time. And then he says “We are mistaken, we must save our boys. Only when we save our boys then only girls will be saved”

And yes no other actor would have essayed this role better than Mr. Amitabh Bachchan! Also if anyone has a problem “Why a man has to take stand for women in the movie?” then please stop right there, think and reflect on the question.  It is because our patriarchal society, rudimentary mindset refuses to hear ‘NO’ from a woman and very conveniently stigmatizes her character and probably that’s why a 75 years old man has to stand up and say it so that people can hear it. 

“Na’ sirf ek shabd nahi… apne aap mein pura vakya hai. Ise kisi tark, spashtikaran,explanation ya vyakhya ki jaroorat nahi hoti”

Ritesh Shah, writer of the film has worked magic with the words! Kudoos to everyone associated with the film :-)

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

‘Sahas’ speaks on the youth platform

“It is better to take
many small steps in the right direction
than to make a giant leap forward
only to stumble backward”

'Sahas' on youth platform
It’s been just 3 months of starting and working for Sahas, but the experience that we have gained struggling and immersing in the work with adolescents around gender, sexuality and reproductive health has been far beyond this word ‘just’. As we prepare for our next intervention with new bunch of adolescents from Shabaad diary near Samaypur Badli in Delhi, we got an opportunity to share about our work in an event organized by Mash Project under the heading “Broadening our perspective on Gender and Sexuality”.
Initially I was hesitant about being part of the event as I thought we have just started and currently it’s more important to keep working rather than attending an event! However Mona liked the idea as she believed that it’s important to engage with the young people on the cause that we are intensively working on. Also I, then realized that though we have started Sahas 3 months back, but it has taken a lot and there is a story behind the same that needs to be shared with young people so that more and more people come ahead and work for the cause. And finally the list of inspiring speakers that included Pramada Menon, Co-founder, CREA sealed the deal!!

We reached before time at the venue where the preparations for the event was on full swing, so we sat down to relax, a little later Pramada Menon arrived and the smile on her face looking at us was priceless. “I looked at the list of the speakers for the event, I was happy to see Sahas also participating and that is one of the reasons why I was also excited to come here”, says Pramada ji. We knew that she is following our work on social media but meeting her in person and discussing the work was definitely motivating and inspiring.
Inspiring conversation with Pramada Menon
“I like what you guys are doing. For long I have not seen people who work for the cause and with the right intent and not for the money”, says Pramada ji. The words coming from the person who has been and is part of the Feminist movement for more than 20 years filled our hearts with love, joy and electrifying energy. What an amazing beginning for the event!

It was an overwhelming experience hearing Mona share her passion and journey of Sahas, which was beyond these 3 months when it began in 2012 when Nirbhaya rape case had happened, an incident that shook so many of us! I could feel the emotions Mona was going through while sharing her passion, the incident and pain is so alive in us. The silence was so deafening and it made the whole space quite intense.
Mona, Co-founder, Sahas shares her journey
The event had interesting line of speakers- all of them were young women working on gender through various ways- art, walks, door to door campaigns etc. “50 young women are coming together next month to hold the space where we as women talk about our needs, how can we claim on our reproductive rights”, shares Shukhmani, Program manager, Haiya.

I was amazed and happy at the same time that the women are coming out leaving their comfort zone, not accepting the normative structures and are reclaiming their rights.

It’s rightly said that ‘the best is kept for the last’. So after all the speakers had their word the widely renowned Queer Feminist Activist Pramada Menon set the stage on fire. She threw light on the overused flamboyant term ‘safe sharing spaces’ – she asked whether the so called safe space include hizra, transgender or sex worker? Another thing to ponder was most of the speakers talked about gender and feminism with respect to women- nobody included men or any other gender! None talked about challenges and pressures experienced by men because of their gender.
Key note by Pramada Menon
She explained how ‘Gender and Sexuality movement’ has been regressive through years, activists before her advocated for the same, she with her immense experience also advocated about it and now even the younger people working on gender talk about the same aspect- she introspects where all this is leading to? Another important point I grabbed from her note was that we all need to know the history of the Feminist movement as now we can openly talk about gender and sexuality as it happened in this event but there was a time when these issues were tabooed (at many places they are still not talked about) and it is after lot of efforts and struggle of people we have got this space to take forward the movement. Along with this, she suggested that all the young people who are working on the same cause should come together and take the state with the movement! She was concerned that young people are repeating the same mistake of making their ‘own kingdoms’ instead of coming together to fight against the demons- the mistake which they also made!

Last but not the least she in her own magnificent style stated that we should not be in the illusion that we are changing the world; we are changing our own world because we are threatened that this can happen to us also!! “And in this process of making our world better place, if few people can benefit then we should be happy” I just loved the honesty and rawness with which she shared her experience.

A lot of our work is derived from CREA, so sharing the space and the stage with Pramada ji was empowering, encouraging and motivating! There was bubbling collaborative energy where in people were coming in and asking about possibilities of working together. The openness with which Haiya and Gender pages (an initiative by Fellows of YP foundation) showed interest in collaboration added more joy to us. 

It’s interesting to see that the small steps we are taking towards social change actually are quite big when seen in the larger ecosystem. I felt that the event was a great amalgamation of young and experienced people coming on a common platform and giving new energy to the change we aspire to see :-)

Couldn’t agree more

“You know you’re on the right track when you’re not interested in looking back”   

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

“Competition makes us faster, collaboration makes us better”

As I look back to our 3 month long journey at Sahas, many beautiful memories comes to my mind; from conceptualization of ‘Sahas’ to bringing clarity on the objective, intensive brainstorming for co-creating various workshops on the facets of the intervention, and finally implementing them on ground with the adolescents. However the most crucial and beautiful aspect of our intervention was collaborating with Kamya Dargan, Founder at My Perch.

‘Collaboration’ for us is a process through which we add value to each other’s vision and it was definitely not a momentary decision to begin journey with her. 
Until now, with all my work experience in corporate and volunteering, the understanding of collaboration was very technical something that I never really understood and didn’t relate to!  We at ‘Sahas’ dismissed the philosophy behind collaboration that ‘if we work for them then they will have to work for us or pay us in return’. Kamya began her journey a year back with the intention of “Happy childhood” with the children of Barola community by providing them safe space in form of a library where they could read, write, do craft and many more activities, while we began our journey with the aim of knowledge building of adolescents around gender and sexuality thereby preventing child sexual abuse and building their capacity to challenge any form of gender based violence. 

The journey of collaboration began with sharing of each other’s vision and understanding needs deeply and finding commonalities so that we can effectively work together for the holistic development of children. That’s how Sahas got its first circle of adolescents. We were received with so much love and warmth on the first day of our workshop- Kamya had done all the preparations as we could see the names of adolescents on the white board who would be participating in the workshop, they were previously informed about the session too and other logistics help. It was only in the first session, I saw her struggling to invite participants on time, however from the second workshop we saw participants coming on time which made our work quite smooth. 

Kamya actively took part in various workshop activities, be it small group discussions or supporting participants to share their feelings and thoughts in larger circle. We also had post workshop reflection sessions where all 3 of us discussed positives and areas of improvement, making sure that everyone of us felt heard and implementing any new ideas that come up during the discussion.
As the journey progressed, we saw kids growing beautifully to the extent that now they were more open to learning new things, supporting others who might have missed a session or couldn’t understand a point.

The high point of this intervention was when Kamya said, “Before we talk about reflections, let’s talk about future. I want to do a closure event that could showcase the beautiful work that you people are doing. I am very happy with the workshop processes and the way the entire intervention has come along. The kids are engaging, they are able to understand the concepts and reflect on them. I can see and feel the power of the space as I thought one or another participant would drop out, contrary to this assumption the kids who were not participating got attracted and started engaging which left me surprised. So let’s do this”,

There was no hurry, no competition, we just went with the flow and collaborated on the values of trust, openness, authenticity and with an intention of adding values to the lives of adolescents in terms of building knowledge around the issues which are very much real and alive. This beautifully translated into the reality as we see the same adolescents now being more informed and empathetic. Like they say, “Alone we are smart, together we are brilliant.”   

Initially we met as people from two different organizations, with different vision but with a common intention of holistic development of adolescents and with time the professional relationship equated into building stronger personal relationship. After an interesting and hectic closure day, we spent the evening pausing, reflecting and unburdening the experience of month long intervention and personal stories.

Dinner, late night movie, long drive and the stories just made the whole experience completeJ. This is what we see as personal connect with the work, people and community! Couldn’t agree more to the below lines which very well explain our idea of positive and effective collaboration-

“Despair shows us the limit of our imagination. Imaginations shared create collaboration and collaboration creates community and community inspires Social Change”