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Tag Archives: women

#StandingUp: Why are women in India #HappyToBleed?

Scores of Indian women have taken to social media declaring themselves “Happy to Bleed,” after the head of a famous Hindu temple said he would consider allowing women in if there was a machine to check that they were not menstruating. Nikita Azad said she launched the #HappyToBleed campaign to …

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#Suffragette: New film by ‘Brick Lane’ helmer Sarah Gavron is a must-watch for all women.

2015 has been declared ‘The Year of the Strong Woman’ at the London Film Festival. 

With 46 films by women directors and some of the best creative talent on show, it’s only appropriate that the opening film is about the movement for women’s voting rights in England.

A chapter of little-known British history brought to the screen by a British woman, Sara Gavron’s ‘Suffragette’ is a compelling and deeply stirring piece of cinema. 

Tracing the early feminist movement when women fought for the right to vote, the film follows Maud (Carey Mulligan) a young laundress who is gradually initiated into the movement.

She is the archetypal everywoman, a working girl from East End with a loving husband (Ben Whishaw) and child. 

However, her world is upended when she defends the rights of her co-worker or protects a young girl from the factory owner’s sexual abuse.

Maud joins new friends in the Sufragette meetings and one evening in a secret location, the iconic Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) appears to make an inspiring speech for the girls.

Further empowered, Maud joins the ranks and is first hounded by government security and then jailed.  Her idyllic world crumbles as her husband throws her out and her child is put up for adoption.

The British suffragettes had to employ violent and non-violent means as part of their civil disobedience movement.

After years of lobbying for the women’s vote and facing government betrayal at every turn, the Suffragettes strike the warpath.

They stone window dressings, bomb post boxes and cut electric cables.  They even bomb a minister’s country home.   The movement is splintered at this time by the debate over the use of violent and non-violent means of civil protest.

Maud joins her friend to reach the King at the Derby races.

The event ends tragically when Emily Davison (Natalie Press) throws herself in front of George V’s horse.

Historically this incident at the 1913 Epsom Derby generated images and headlines that shocked the nation, a staged suicide that no one was really prepared for.

The film ends with documentary footage of Davison’s funeral.  That women’s rights is a continued struggle is borne out by a list of dates from countries around the world.

At the turn of the twentieth century, British laws did not offer much dignity or protection for women. 

Women had no right over their children or property after marriage, working women were exploited and paid much less than men, there was no protection against exploitation, sickening abuse, pregnancy and illness. 

Girls went to the laundry factory as early as twelve, they could even get married at that age.

At the heart of the film is an ordinary working girl who grows aware of the injustice around her and then joins a movement to fight it.

Carey Mulligan lives the role in its many shades, playing out the many nuances of a deprived mother, rejected wife and homeless woman who becomes a foot soldier for the Suffragettes and gets enmeshed in the larger politics of the time.

With focused energy she is at once frail, convinced, empowered. 

Mulligan is flanked by powerful portrayals by Helena Bonham Carter as Edith Ellyn and a single, iconised appearance by Meryl Streep.

In a press meet at the Lanesborough, Meryl Streep endorsed the narrative of the ordinary woman with whom today’s audience can connect rather than look at the story as a thing from the past.

“These women were written out of history and the important thing about film is that you can take a closer look at a lesser known story in great detail”, the Oscar-winner said.

Director Sara Gavron, actor Carey Mulligan and writer Aby Morgan all confessed they had never been taught this chapter of history in schools.

Indeed the prison records relating to the time were released only in 2003 which made the construction of the story a bit of a detective game and a wonderful amalgamation of fact and fiction.

Mulligan, making an appearance three weeks after her first child was born, connected the empowerment and bonding in the film to the need for education and empowerment in todays’ world.

“It feels like a film about today.  I always felt its resonance is about where we are now, and its achievement is to mark what these women did.  We still live in a sexist society, but the film allows us to see the journey and where we are today.”

For director Sara Gavron, ‘Suffragette’ has been a ten-year journey. 

I had previously worked with her on ‘Brick Lane’ and know her as a determined and conscientious filmmaker. 

Gavron worked with writer Abi Morgan (who also co-wrote ‘Brick Lane’) for six years on the story which was enabled by many other women, including Fay Ward and Alison Owen from Rubu Films and an early green light from Tess Ross at Channel 4.

A photo shoot of the crew wearing t-shirts with the line “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” sparked off controversy as African-American women took offence suggesting the contribution of black or coloured women was being ignored.

While it is true that the women’s movement in America had huge contributions from women in colour, it would be out of context to place that argument in this section of British suffragette history.

Hence the choice to not make a film on Mrs. Pankhurst but on Everywoman, a frail laundress who finds power, makes the narrative more credible.

‘Suffragette’ is a well-researched piece of history and a grippingly executed film by an ensemble of women.

Claire Stewart, Director of the London Film Festival, remarked about how appropriate it was to offer the opening platform to this film, as a gesture to amend the gender inequality in the film industry itself.

Crossing cultures and histories, the silent grit of the revolutionaries evoke the stoic stance of a Gandhi or Mandela. 

It is a journey not far from the ones we witness today, certainly close to Malala Yousufzai, the subject of another film during the Festival.

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#COMMENT: Why White Women Marry Indian Men. A White Woman’s Response.

  Heather and her Indian man…about to go dancing around a tree… Devon-born, Mumbai-based author and journalist Heather Saville Gupta responds to an outrageous article in the Indian lifestyle website www.boldsky.com by Denise Baptiste, outlining ‘Why White Women Marry Indian Men’. Baptiste’s reasons include such gems as “Indians are obsessed with …

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#Belief: ‘The status of women? I have faith in evolution and change’ – Nisha Pahuja

‘The most important film of the year’ – that’s how one critic described Nisha Pahuja’s 2012 documentary, ‘The World Before Her’.

The Emmy-nominated film explored the world of women in India through two startlingly different viewpoints – the travails of a girl taking part in the Miss India contest and the other, a member of the women’s wing of the hardline Hindu group Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

‘The World Before Her’ film moves between these seemingly incongruous worlds creating a fascinating picture of a soaring India and its divisions.

The film went on to win a slew of awards at film festivals around the world, including Best Documentary Feature at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

Those successes led it being championed by the likes of Amitabh Bachchan as well as the man widely considered the godfather of India's burgeoning independent film industry, Anurag Kashyap.

Pahuja was invited to participate in a special debate about women in the media at the recently-concluded London Asian Film Festival where I caught up with her for a chat.

Sana Nooruddin: What inspired ‘The World Before Her?’

Nisha Pahuja: First of all, I just wanted to make a film on the Miss India pageant, but then I thought it will be more interesting to show in my documentary the cultural changes that are taking place in India and how things are changing for women.  That was the initial idea, and then it got more developed as I got into researching in-depth on this subject.

SN: What was it about the fashion industry that fascinates you?

NP: It wasn’t really about the fascination of the fashion industry, it was really about “women” and their “thoughts”, and how their imaginations reflect the society.

SN: What insights did you gain from speaking to the models?

NP: You know there were models like Ankita (Shorey), who did win one of the crowns, so Ankita felt that winning the title will give her an identity outside the normal roles that women are supposed to do like a job.  For her it was all about fighting for the freedom of her right, and also a few other models filmed in the documentary believed that as well.

SN: What was the experience like filming at a Durga Vahani camp?  Was it every intimidating or fearful?

NP: No it never made me feel fearful or intimidated, rather I often felt sad to see young girls being brain washed by lovely women for such horrific things.  And it was interesting to meet the girls, interact, and spent a good 10 days with them.  We actually lived in the Durga Vahani camp with them. And I also shared my thoughts with them.

SN: One of the models in the documentary gets asked during the general questions round that “How would you react if you found out, your son was gay” and she looks shocked for a moment.  Do you think it was unfair to ask that question on a Miss India platform?

NP: I thought it was a really interesting question.  Because it’s about how media is portrayed in India, you just see a very rigid side that is kind of stuck in the past and women are very traditional.  But there’s actually a side of India that really is as engaging as here (in London). 

SN: Do you sometimes feel that this society is a male dominated society or as they call it a “man’s world” in terms of addressing the gender inequality such as men getting high pay then women even today?

NP: You know, I have to say that these things make me feel very angry and one has to fight for them.  However I believe it is evolving.  A black woman – Michele Obama – is on the world stage.  So I look at these things in a much bigger context, I just have a lot of faith in the evolution and change.

SN: What is your take on Leslee Udwin’s documentary ‘India’s daughter’?

NP: I loved how Jyoti (Singh) brings a light to that film.  You really feel for her and her family, that she’s a full human being.  It was a good film however I had some issues with it.

SN: Did the documentary make you re-think your beliefs?

NP: No, it didn’t.

SN: How do you react to reports such as “Blame Bollywood and item songs for rapes”.  Do you think cinema really influences people?

NP: Yeah, I do. But if you look up at the videos in the United States they are far more exposing.  The media influences people in how we respond to them, and what we think.  This is a really important question, because if you speak to a feminist in India they will definitely say it is because of the women who are projected in the media, but I don’t think rape is because of this reason.  Rape is such a complicated subject, that I always get a little bit uncomfortable about its questions as I don’t think anything can be “blamed” on it.  Rape is about power and violence, and a lot of men who watch Bollywood films or music videos go out and rape women.  I think it’s about their upbringing and I really find it frustrating how it is portrayed in the media.

SN: If it was your way, how would you choose to project it?

NP: I don’t know yet, but it really frustrates me when these young women who are deep rooted sees images that are highly photo-shopped in the media, and thinks it’s all real and then they try to adapt to that. All of a sudden everything starts to seem so shallow and darker then.

SN: What’s next for you?

NP: I think that at moment the topic that is really interesting me is “masculinity” , and redefining masculinity.  Or actually just redefining gender, let’s just get rid of this whole gender issue.  I feel it’s actually just patriotism. We need to look beyond gender and ourselves.

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#Dukhtar: ‘Violence against women in Pakistan exists on multiple levels’ – Afia Nathaniel

A harrowing and poignant film about the horrors of child marriage and the status of women in Pakistan opens the 17th annual London Asian Film Festival tonight.

'Dukhtar' is the thrilling story of a mother and her ten-year-old daughter who flee their home in rural Pakistan after the youngster is promised in marriage to a local tribal leader.

Mom Allah Rakhi (Samiya Mumtaz) herself was betrothed to a much-older tribesman at the age of fifteen and she is determined that her daughter escapes the same fate, despite the appalling dangers she is bound to face as an unaccompanied woman with a young child in a lawless land.

As her outraged husband and men from her tribe embark on a pursuit that will almost certainly result in her death, the courageous and determined Rakhi flees and eventually hails down a truck driver, Sohail (Mohib Mirza) and lies to him about wanting a lift.

When Sohail learns of the real reason for Rakhi's flight, he is forced to decide whether he will endanger his own life to deliver mother and daughter to safety in Lahore.

The film is the debut feature of Quetta-born writer and director Afia Nathaniel.

Nathaniel spent nearly a decade cobbling together the financing for the film and endured everything from violence to sexism to bring the story to the big screen.

She spoke to the UKAsian during last year’s London Film Festival about her journey with ‘Dukhtar’.

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