Vital Voices Global Mentoring Walk

I was at the Vital Voices Global Mentoring Walk – Chennai Chapter, this Saturday. A mentorship programme was held as part of women’s day celebrations, when along with us, 89 other teams all over the world held such an event in their respective cities. I was asked to speak for a few minutes in my capacity as a mentor for filmmaking. The following is the speech in text and my greatest takeaway from this event is ‘hope’!

Artists live a troubled life. They have their ups and they have their wretched lows. These lows are actually very fascinating because as it turns out, some of us perform our best during our lows. There are two things that happen; one is, you give in, don’t feel motivated to do anything at all and just wait for it to pass by curling yourself up into a cocoon and refusing to step out. And the other possibility, which is also perhaps why I am standing here in front of you, is you take that low, and hit a homerun with it!

Now obviously, homeruns are hard to come by but eternal lows are as real as life itself – which is why it fascinates me – to observe myself and learn from it – to listen to it by being kind to myself.

July 2015, my life was looking bleak at best! I had quit my job just two years before that and around the time; my personal life hit a big blow that required me to move houses, cut myself off from bothersome and prying people! I was, in the truest sense of the word, alone! And then my life changed!

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One would imagine, in a platform such as this, I would come up with fiery stories of achievements and words reeking of motivation that the person listening to me would be amazed and charged up. I do not have fiery stories of achievements, nor are my words going to reek of perfunctory motivation. What it would do however is – beseech you to hold on. Hold on to the little promise you made to yourself as a child that you would grow up to be something. Hold on to the times when you felt like you could not become one, and it was not even your fault. Hold on to the times when, no matter how many times you tried, you only kept falling deeper into the abyss. Hold on to that last morsel of satiating hope, which makes you want to constantly question the whys and what ifs of overriding failure in an unsatisfactory profession. Hold on to yourself at times of these lows – your life would change. And our collective movement would gain one more reason to keep battling all those hurdles that get thrown at us, as girls, as women, as feminists.

I am a storyteller. As a narrative tool mostly I stick to words, in the form of prose and poetry or screenplays, which then get made into films. I have made some films, and will continue this pursuit until a better calling beckons me. What I have learnt in this short time is that, like all my other jobs, this isn’t a level playing field. And that made me furious and curious as to what it took the strong trail of the first women filmmakers who put their foot down and created a revolution, with Lois Weber and Dorothy Arzner in the US, Tazuko Sakane in Japan, Germaine Dulac in Europe and finally Fatma Begum in India, who started her own production company and directed her first film, in 1926.

Starting from the prominence of directors like Fatma Begum and Arundhati Debi to the contemporary stardom of Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta, India has produced some of the most influential film artists till date and it is quite natural that each one of them carries an invisible weight of oppression they underwent to emerge in their careers.*

Somehow, feminist movements give me such enormous boost at times of low that though I wish some miracle might happen where life just becomes easier for us, I realized something: I realized that though the impact is not, but the onset of feminist movements are rather anticlimactic. We only see the length and breadth of it once it takes shape by joining hands with likeminded people. July 2015, I wished someone built a community where women can help each other, work with each other rather than having to wait to be employed and most importantly, a community that is absolutely FREE! One could continue to be resentful about a privilege that is non-existent or, create an opportunity to build one. And just like that, in my own living room, incredibly anticlimactically I gave birth to my own feminist movement. WMF India, is a community that would go on to become a connecting link between all female filmmakers, actors, artists and anybody who is anybody in the world of cinema – a community that only welcomes women, or those who identify themselves as women.

Since its inception, I have managed to gain the trust of more than 70 members from all over the world. In September, I surprised myself when I hosted “the first festival” where I screened films from 7 countries, in 10 cities all over India between a time period of 15 days! I don’t remember much of that time because I barely had any sleep and had to manage a whole lot of things all by myself. But when it came to an end, I think I was able to recall the promise I made to myself as a child, to be somebody! My satisfaction lay in taking women’s voices as a collective to different parts of the world. Soon, I started expanding it to many other places, the recent one being the “International festival of women filmmakers” that was held in Assam. I do intend to take it worldwide – there is absolutely nothing that can stop me now!

The reason I don’t consider these as my own achievements is because, it is ours.. To each and every incident that made us question our own intellect as a person, as a woman, this is a victory for all of us. And perhaps, if we made the right choice, even with trial and error, in keeping that promise to our younger self, these victories will become a way of life. I am reminded of a good old quote I keep going back to time and again by Julie Delpy: “Never give up. If you want to become one, you have to be really, really strong, never give up, because you’re going to have so many ‘nos.’ When I wrote my first screenplay I was 17, but when I directed my first film I was 36. It gives you an idea how long it takes.”

It is now March 2016, and we still are subjected to patriarchy and sexism. Which is why feminism and filmmaking, when combined forms an intense duo because both of them sustain the propensity to bring change in the society and the names mentioned here are just the beginning of it. Appreciation, recognition and consideration have helped and will help but to get this artistic field liberated from the chains of patriarchy, the base needs to be shaken.*

* – Borrowed from the article written by Prateek, for Nirmukta.