In a career spanning several decades, it seems one of the ‘toughest’ questions asked of the famous American intellectual Noam Chomsky was, not on mass media, war or politics, but on women. At a lecture given at Canada’s Carleton University two years ago, when a male member of the audience requested Chomsky for recommendations on how to talk to women better, the otherwise voluble critic was left comically stumped.
On a more serious note, at a time when Indian society seems to be introspecting on how women are treated, coming up is a new reality programme that aims to ‘demystify women’. The format — a first in Indian television — has been acquired from Israel where five women self-document their lives.
The Indian version, anchored by actor Abhay Deol, has six women using high-definition cameras to chronicle their lives and thoughts. Yet another reality show? “Unlike reality shows that look at people as specimens, we are not preaching about issues or bracketing women as vamps or icons.
These are just complex characters who are themselves,” explains Paromita Vohra, the show’s director.
Mumbai-based Vohra is a documentary filmmaker who has successfully meshed mainstream and indie spaces in her earlier works that deal with gender, popular culture and urban life — from Unlimited Girls (2002) that looked at feminism in urban India to Partners in Crime (2011) which was about complexities of copyright and culture in times of technology.
This is Vohra’s first foray into mainstream television. Though she says she’s been working on this show since August last year, events such as the December 16 gangrape did become a catalyst.
“In a changing Indian society, women too are grappling with flux. We don’t have a culture of open conversations. How can we expect to mature and live better lives? My biggest takeaway from working on this show was that even if a woman holds a powerful position in the public eye, she still feels she’s not understood or encouraged enough.”
So, what was it like getting women to tell their stories? “I met and listened to hundreds of women during the course of research — what they think about things and how they live their lives. We finally zeroed in on those who could be incredibly brave, and tell stories in a humourous, reflective and compelling manner. For instance, there’s a woman who is divorced and her husband wants to get back after 19 years. She’s at crossroads about what to do.”
Are we ready to watch Indian women’s candid narratives on primetime television? “Why not? Indian women are changing. The understanding of gender is maturing with more people entering the conversation spaces,” offers Vohra.
Connected Hum Tum will air on Zee TV starting June 3