women's narratives

A campaign reminds us of the missing person on the director’s chair

52 Films by Women asks its users to pledge to watch a film by a woman every week. How does India measure up?

Dharm is a Hindi film about a revered and austere Brahmin priest who is compelled to revaluate his idea of religion. Marathi film Kapus Kondyachi Goshta chronicles the struggles of a fierce young woman and her three sisters as they grapple against insurmountable odds to keep their farm thriving after their father’s suicide. Irudhi Suttru is a Tamil film featuring the relationship between a grumpy boxing coach and his spirited protégé. These markedly diverse and entertaining films share an interesting commonality: they have all been directed by women.

Women in Film, an organisation in Los Angeles that focuses on enhancing women’s participation in the entertainment media, has launched a campaign titles 52 Films by Women. The initiative asks users to pledge to watch one movie by a woman every week for a year and post about it under the hastag #52filmsbywomen. The campaign is part of a larger initiative called Trailbazing Women, which aims to “raise awareness about the underrepresentation of women in positions of power” within the entertainment industry.

Women have long been condescendingly credited for influencing historic social changes from behind the scene. In the cinematic world, however, that position has been usurped by men. Women direct, write and produce an appallingly small number of movies the world over. In the Indian film industry, the gender ratio is abysmally skewed at 6.2 males to every female, according to the report of a study funded by the Oak Foundation. The report also revealed that only one in ten Indian directors is a woman (9.1%).

Indian female directors are attempting to find a foothold in an industry that has always been dominated by men, but are finding that that is particularly tricky for them to balance between artistic sensibility and economic returns. Yash Raj Films, one of India’s major production houses, has produced only one film directed by a woman (Bewakoofiyan, by Nupur Asthana) since its inception in 1970. Barring a few directors such as Farah Khan, Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti and Leena Yadav, female filmmakers are forced to make small budget or art house films.

Viewers who pledge to include a movie made by a woman in their weekly filmic diet are likely to also discover some fascinating small budget films directed by Indian women. For instance, Shonali Bose’s National Film Award winning Margarita with a Straw is details how Laila, a teenager afflicted with cerebral palsy, discovers herself through her sexuality. Manjadikuru, Anjali Menon’s Malayalam film, chronicles the experiences of a 10 year-old Vicky as he returns to his mother’s ancestral house after his grandfather’s death.

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‘Manjadikuru’ by Anjali Menon.

Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair have repeatedly proven their cinematic acumen with films like Fire and Monsoon Wedding, which capture a plethora of female experiences with wrenching insight. Leena Yadav’s Parched has also attracted praise for its frank portrayal of female sexuality.

Since female directors are few, they are tasked with the heavy responsibility of authentically depicting female experiences, and featuring believable female leads. However, Indian women have also made movies that offer alternative perspectives on masculinity, prominently featuring male perspectives without compromising on strong female voices in their narratives. Reema Kagti’s psychological thriller Talaash captures the grief of a man who has lost his child, but doesn’t neglect his wife’s anguish. Konkona Sen Sharma’s A Death in the Gunj deconstructs contradictory notions of masculinity.

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‘Parched’ by Leena Yadav.

Just as they bear the burden of intelligent representation, most films directed by women are also required to adhere to an intellectual standard that is not demanded from other cinematic efforts. They are often expected to contain grave ruminations about social and cultural realities, dissecting human emotion with restrained flourishes.

Indian female directors occasionally attempt to defy this notion, producing films that are either incisively witty or absolutely ridiculous. Consider Sai Paranjpye’s cult classic Chashme Buddoor, which features a trio of feckless college boys trying to woo a woman. Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish retains comic moments even as it addresses the subtle but constant shaming that Indian housewives endure from their husbands and children. On the other hand, Farah Khan’s commercially successful films Main Hoon Na and Happy New Year completely abandon logic in their quest for humour.

As female directors start the tedious process of breaking the glass ceiling in Indian cinema, their work is gradually attracting attention. The Mumbai Film Festival’s 2016 edition has instituted a new award for the Best Indian Female Filmmaker. The need of an award that is marked with gender offers a painful reminder that movies made by women are still considered deviations from the norm.

But the few women who have made a place for themselves behind the camera are narrating diverse, vivid and compelling stories. And if cinema enthusiasts decide to engage with at least 52 of these narratives, they will get the audience they deserve.

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‘Dil Dhadakne Do’ by Zoya Akhtar.
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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.