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Home / Brunch / Guest column by Tanuja Chandra: Why women’s lives matter a lot!

Guest column by Tanuja Chandra: Why women’s lives matter a lot!

The Black Lives Matter protests need to be extended to tell stories of all the oppressed all over the world. First up: Women in Indian cinema.

brunch Updated: Jul 26, 2020 12:29 IST
Tanuja Chandra
Tanuja Chandra
Hindustan Times
Filmmaker Tanuja Chandra questions why should female filmmakers be the ones responsible for changing the image of women in stories
Filmmaker Tanuja Chandra questions why should female filmmakers be the ones responsible for changing the image of women in stories(Photo Imaging: Parth Garg)

It has been a kind of wonderment to me, that rather like some bright, green, squawky parrot, the onus of achieving equal rights has always been perched squarely upon the shoulders of the oppressed.

Why, wherefore? Did we fail to notice that absolutely no one in all the patchy history of homo sapiens ‘desired’ exploitation? Or, has misery, unbeknownst to us, actually been fun? Did we have a centuries-long hallucination about men in positions of authority instituting all kinds of grisly injustice while respected, educated citizens uttered not a peep? The protests for African Americans’ equality these past couple of months have managed to create an impression, as well as change, because of the huge presence of white people in the marching crowds. So, shouldn’t that flashy parrot park itself upon privileged shoulders? 

Behind the screen

Let’s shift focus closer home, to something related to me – women on the Hindi screen. From the time I started out, I’ve waited to see my tribe grow just so we’d get to see more female-led narratives. But why, I ask, should female filmmakers be the ones responsible for changing the image of women in our stories? Why shouldn’t male filmmakers do the bulk of that, since it’s largely they who’ve been weaving tales for over a hundred years?

Let’s dump that hoary, divisive, simplistic argument that ‘women are their own worst enemy,’ because being holier-than-thou is so tediously old-fashioned

Which is not to say female directors and producers wouldn’t do their part when their hearts drove them; I’m just calling the men who write, direct, produce, act, the so-called thought leaders and policymakers, to mosey on down to the ladies’ gazebo and participate in our storytelling. Why the reluctance? Why is it our job to replace plots relegating women to the wings with those that place them front and centre? Do male filmmakers live on a neighbouring planet, because curiously, I don’t think I’ve known of a woman who wasn’t of substance, who wasn’t courageous, who didn’t demonstrate fighting spirit at some point in her life, even if she went out with a whimper? When women have been desperate to reach out to someone, in their incapacitating fears, in their seemingly broken resolve, there has been grit and formidable resilience; why aren’t their yarns being spun, their romances told or their legends sung?

Unveil the hearts

Our films and shows don’t bear witness to seas of unplumbed longings. For argument’s sake, if we’re saying women have to do the heavy lifting, then, well, let’s be hell bent upon doing it. Let’s commit ourselves to an outpouring of stories about women, let female characters pop from all corners; loud ones, demure ones, shrewd ones, artless ones, ones with dark skin, those with lighter skin, of shape and size that’s big and small, from seen and unseen parts of the country, heck, those from beyond the border, those we fall in love with, those we don’t quite warm up to, those in whom we see bits of us that we hide, and those who have nothing of us in them – women that make us feel represented, and women who transport us to landscapes of the female soul we may not have traversed, but which we sensed all along.

Tanuja has been waiting for women tribe in Hindi cinema to grow so that audiences can see more female-led narratives
Tanuja has been waiting for women tribe in Hindi cinema to grow so that audiences can see more female-led narratives ( Tejinder Singh )

Let’s bring up all that we aren’t encouraged to discuss, but let’s not rush to judge the tone in which a filmmaker expresses herself, for varying and contradictory and messy is who we are, isn’t it? It’s inconceivable, the extent to which one can lie about the state of one’s heart, so let’s dump that hoary, divisive, simplistic argument that ‘women are their own worst enemy,’ because frankly, being holier-than-thou is so tediously old-fashioned. Every creature on this earth does what they must to survive and in the bones of the feeblest, most selfish, most wretched woman is embedded the history of a thousand years, and no matter how meekly, she does swim against a colossal tide.

I’m calling the men who write, direct, produce, act, the so-called thought leaders and policymakers, to mosey on down to the ladies’ gazebo and participate in our storytelling

Reach for the stars

Should these female stories, by female makers, with female actors and female technicians, thrive, what might an end-credits scroll look like? Name after name after name of women. Imagine that. Too much a fantasy, you say? Then, let’s borrow a line from Robert Browning, slightly altered by me:

“Ah, but a (wo)man’s reach should exceed (her) grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”

 Tanuja is an author as well as a filmmaker. She is known for movies such as Dushman, Sur, Sangharsh and the Irrfan Khan-starrer Qarib Qarib Singlle.

From HT Brunch, July 26, 2020

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