Hollywood actor Johnny Depp famously said once, “My body is my journal and my tattoos are my stories.” Depp’s words flash on the screen as a young woman talks about why she got her first tattoo and how her father stops talking to her each time she gets a new one. Recounted in Ink-in my Body, the incident is one of the important elements in 30-year-old documentary filmmaker Shatabdi Chakrabarti’s first full-length documentary, which has been awarded the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) award in March this year. The film deals with the relationship between body art and women in India and tries to find answers to the question — who does this body belong to?
For Delhi-based Chakrabarti, director of The Man and His Saree, a film about a man and his love for the sari that dealt with masculinity and gaze, the project has been quite personal. She got her first tattoo in college. It was a musical note she drew on her own as she wasn’t aware of tattoo studios. “When I started, it was not common for women to get tattooed. Once I got visible tattoos, I became aware of the perceptions of the people around me,” says Chakrabarti, who has taken five years to complete her research on the same. The film has hairstylist Sapna Bhavnani and women from the rural and urban spaces talk about how and why they got a tattoo, what it means to them and how it dictates the people’s perception of them.
As Chakrabarti travelled to Jabalpur, Pune, Rajasthan and Mumbai for her film she became aware of the dichotomy that exists in the Indian society. She observed that for the women in the rural areas getting a tattoo was a reaffirmation of patriarchal norms. She remembers a woman telling her that if she hadn’t tattooed her husband’s name, her mother-in-law wouldn’t have accepted even a cup of tea made by her. On the other hand, in an urban area, Chakrabarti observed that if one is a young and an independent woman flaunts a tattoo, she is judged and considered “not traditional”.
“I have only chosen women for the film because they have experienced or felt something and decided that it was their choice to get tattoos on their bodies,” says Chakrabarti, who is now planning to travel to Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh to shoot the film. She hopes to finish before she leaves for the IDFA Academy training program in November, which is a part of the IDFA award. In her next project, “Women of God”, she will try to draw a co-relation between the dying tradition of devadasis, widows who go to Kashi to die and female baul singers and their quest to connect with God.