Saturday, March 07, 2020

Samman nahin, samaanta

Women's day, so I'm linking to the first documentary I made in 2015. It's online and free to watch now. I'll also say a bit about struggling against censorship of an indirect kind, because I feel like that is linked to the overall deterioration in our polity and our self-definition as Indians.

This film was the result of a PSBT grant but this particular grant came from the Public Diplomacy division of the Ministry of External Affairs, which means that they wanted to fund a film that would 'showcase' India. It also meant that, in addition to a filmmakers' committee that gave feedback, I would also have to show the film to another committee put together by the government. The response to an early cut was iffy. I was told the film was depressing. I edited to make the film more positive overall. However, there was still a lot of pressure to get rid of a few aspects.

First, a reference to (child) widows and their treatment in eighteenth/nineteenth century India, and how that led to a movement for reform. Secondly, they wanted me to remove the word 'Harrafa'. It was initially argued that there was no such word. I sent dictionary references. Then, it was argued that the word shouldn't be used anyway. To deny that word was to deny a big chunk of women's history - their relationship with the written word and disapproval of those who could and did attain learning and literature. There were some discomfort also about some background visuals or the artwork (any sign of an actual body).

I argued back but (with all respect to PSBT, for they did try to argue on my behalf too) PD prevailed. I finally did a shorter version of the film and handed it over to them. However, I also insisted on doing a cut for myself, and to screen whenever I was invited to do so. Both versions (and trailer) have censor certificates. 

I am hoping we - women, men and all other genders - will find a way to keep pushing towards equity. The fight for women's rights is tied into the fight for human rights. One cannot have one without the other. May we succeed. I also hope we have the courage to remember our history, the way it actually was, or else we are doomed to repeat it. 

My gratitude to all who helped me along the way, to PSBT, my colleagues and the crew, people who agreed to be interviewed (including those interviews where the footage did not make it into the final cut), singers, musicians, friends who agreed to be filmed peripherally, friends who sat through the early versions and gave feedback, others who have hosted screenings and discussions. 


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