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La Femme Fatale

The streets are rife with men,who heckle,touch or abuse women as if they were fulfilling an essential cultural rite.

Written by Dipanita Nath |
September 15, 2013 12:29:53 am

The streets are rife with men,who heckle,touch or abuse women as if they were fulfilling an essential cultural rite. One day,a filmmaker,armed with a video camera,confronts the abusers and reclaims her rights to public space. This isn’t a film about modern-day India — War Zone,by Maggie Hadleigh-West,is set in the US in the late ’90s. The film will be screened today as part of ‘Open Frame 2013’,a festival of documentary films by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT).

The festival,which has comprised a mix of subjects in the past years,is packed almost entirely with films on gender issues this time around. Though there are films such as The Quantum Indians,about Satyendra Nath Bose,C.V. Raman and Meghnad Saha,who revolutionised the world of physics and Indian science in the early part of the 20th century,the focus is on gender and sexuality. Rajiv Mehrotra,Managing Trustee of PSBT,explains,“We felt that we must respond to the outpouring of anguish around us. Over the past few years,we have received many proposals around women’s issues,gender rights and sexuality. For the festival,we also decided to screen global films on gender in order to showcase the dialogues outside India as well.”

The festival,which will continue till September 21,has more than half-a-dozen films being screened everyday till September 17,and the last days are left for discussions on filmmaking and other subjects. The curated films travel a wide arc in the study of gender treatement across the world. While American filmmaker Jennifer Baumgardner’s It Was Rape (September 15) has eight women telling their stories about sexual assault in an attempt to “puncture the silence and denial that allow sexual assault to thrive”,The Invisible War,to be screened on the same day,is about an American secret: “the epidemic of rape within the US military”.

Exploring injustice closer home are films such as Salma (September 16),about a young girl who is locked away from the world,especially men,when she reaches puberty. She refused to kill her spirit or voice and is today,an important female literary figure in south India.

Blood on my Hands (September 17) explores how a woman’s life is suddenly tied up in taboos when puberty sets in. Closely tied with most social norms in India is the “need” for a woman to be “pure” or a virgin. My Sacred Glass Bowl,which was screened on September 13 but is available for sale,entwines the story of two mothers who have daughters with the personal narrative of filmmaker Priya Thuvassery. Her mother would use the metaphor of a “sacred glass bowl” to symbolise the fragile nature of chastity. “It’s a myth that is passed down from generation to generation,” says Thuvassery,whose debut film also uses puppetry and animation.

From conflicts at home and streets,Open Frame’s repertoire moves into fraught spaces of the Other gender in films such as And You Thought You Knew Me by Pramada Menon and Lesbiana-a Parallel Revolution by Myriam Fougère of Canada (both on September 15). Accsex,by Shweta Ghosh,tackles the notions of the ideal body through four storytellers: women who happen to be specially abled.

Equally hard-hitting is Under the Red Umbrella,a film from Germany,which makes a “cliché-breaking declaration of sex work as a creative outlet and a chance for individual autonomy”.

Mehrotra adds that the festival seeks to encourage active viewing. To this end,the screenings are accompanied by discussions moderated by award-winning filmmakers such as Iram Ghufran and Vani Subramanian,apart from sessions with several filmmakers present.

‘Open Frame 2013’ is being held at India International

Centre untill September 21

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