Films for ages have built stories around the aftermath of rape. The protagonists seek justice in the court of law or take law into their own hands for vengeance. The stories about how dreams and families get destroyed by the senseless act of some have been the major focus of mainstream films. The filmmakers tend to overlook small but vital things that lead to the crimes against woman and children.
Actor-turned-director Tariq Vasudeva’s short film Circus sheds light on some of the key reasons – such as the social status of individuals, perception of masculinity, the gender discrimination at the workplace and objectifying women in popular culture – that contribute to the issue of women safety.
The first-time filmmaker follows the life of two individuals who live different lives in Delhi but unhappiness is the common thing they share with each other. A woman from a well-off family but who is denied a promotion because of her gender. A young man who is lonely and does menial jobs for a living. The results are devastating when the frustration and rage in them reach a crescendo. However, the woman’s reaction to her circumstances is harmless and naive, compared to the young man’s savage way to vent his anger in the film.
“One has to look at the reality and the facts around us,” says Tariq. “Many people from small towns and villages come to the city for employment and they do end up working in the houses. They are looking at things that they can’t have.”
Tariq adds, “As you come to the city, you see so much wealth around you and everybody is trying to get ahead of you, how does it affect the psychology of any man or woman? In this case, particularly a man who goes towards violence and has the frustration that is building up…I think those are the very important things that we need to be aware of and understand.”
Circus’ female lead faces biased treatment at the workplace, which is mostly dominated by male staff and a male boss, who doesn’t like working with women. “If you are a woman working in an office, there will be 70-80 percent more men will be there in that office. That’s how it is across all the major multinational offices in India. The multinationals think it is a global agenda to push for more women to join the workforce. The women are getting a high-quality education. That’s step one. But, they should also be given an opportunity to work. (Otherwise) there is no point in having a degree, right?” adds the director.
Tariq’s anger and feeling of helplessness following the gangrape incident of Nirbhaya inspired him to make a film trying to understand what drives men to commit such brutality. He says, “I also felt like that we are constantly angry. It is a very difficult thing to do, but we need to try to understand the root causes. There is no one cause. Probably there are many, many. And we have to look at them one by one. One short film can look at one or two possible causes. But many more movies and plays have to be made.”
Tariq had to save up money for nearly two years to foot the production cost of making Circus. “I managed to save money only to get a basic camera and pay the production crew. The actors did not get paid. And I asked friends and families to give the locations for free,” he reveals.
Eventually, all the hard work paid off when Tariq’s short film made the cut at the Moscow International Film Festival earlier this year. Out of 2500 entries from across the world, Circus was the only Indian film among the 12 short films that were screened in the competition section at the film festival. And it was even nominated for Best Short Film award. “It was unexpected,” Tariq says about getting the international recognition for his work.
Tariq recalls that his 26-minute long film had two screenings in Moscow to a full house audience. “There was a gloom of silence in the theatre after the film ended (in both the screenings),” he notes. “The audience also felt that it was a universal issue. If somebody wants to make this film in America, they could very much make it in their cultural and social context keeping the same theme. That’s the feedback I got.”
Buoyed by the response in Moscow, Tariq is trying to screen his short film in other prestigious international film festivals. After completing the festival circuit, the film will be released on the internet for the general audience.