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The Million Dollar Babies: How ‘The Interview’ And ‘PK’ Are Actually Brothers In Arms

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By Devang Pathak:

This is not an easy country for creative freedom. I don’t need to state facts to make my case. We are indoctrinated in the art of what not to do from an early age rather than the freedom to explore the world on our own impulses. There are many cultural and religious restrictions imbibed in our culture which never openly advocate or support the arts, even if we are thorough patrons of it.

In stark contrast, America has evolved into an art-friendly society with minimal censorship. While there are fringe groups and interests which insist on protests and censorship, the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression. Which is why the Sony Pictures decision to not release The Interview was a headline grabber.

the interview

Sony Pictures Entertainment suffered a massive online hacking by a group called Guardians of Peace on November 24th. The hack of around 100 terabytes of data left personal confidential information in the hands of hackers who released it online along with yet unreleased movies. This was one of the worst cyber-attacks on a corporate entity in history and the reason was yet not disclosed.

The hacker group eventually starts posting on various sites with clues to their intention.The reason suspected for the hacking is the movie The Interview,which involves a plot to assassinate the Premier of North Korea -Kim Jong-un. A mail is sent to reporters by the hackers who say that the theaters screening the movie could face a “9/11 Style” terror attack. Many theater chains withdraw the release of the movie on Christmas Day which is followed by Sony’s decision to not release the movie. Subsequently, the movie is released online and in certain theaters which were ready to screen the movie. North Korean government is suspected of the hacking by the FBI.

There was a scathing criticism of Sony Pictures’ decision to withdraw the movie with the impression that they gave into terrorist threats.  For an American with- ‘We do not negotiate with terrorists’ beliefs, the criticism is understandable. As an Indian with- ‘We will get beaten up for this’ beliefs, I find the decision by Sony Pictures completely reasonable. I am used to being told what not to watch or read by people with hockey sticks, stones and rods in their hands for decades.

Where do you want me to start? The book by Salman Rushdie which had him scouring halfway across the world to save his life? The paintings by M.F.Husain which led him, arguably India’s best known modern era painter, to spend his last years away from the city he loved so much? The scores of academic books which are banned after being burned by political groups in protest? The countless movies which cleared the Censor Board but were threatened with litigation and violence?

Let us just look at the latest protest on the movie – PK. It is claimed that the movie is insulting to the Hindu religion and there has been a demand for a ban on the movie or removal of certain scenes. The protests even turned violent in Ahmedabad. The result? PK just became the highest grossing Indian movie ever. Earlier in the year, Haider also faced immense protests for the portrayal of the Indian Army in the movie. Outcome? It is Vishal Bharadwaj’s highest grossing movie till date.

From the days of Fire and Girlfriend, we are definitely seeing better days where movies are not being banned and removed and in fact, the controversy is helping them do better business. But now imagine a scenario, much similar to what happened in the US. Imagine that instead of stones, a group of protesters use the illegal means of hacking or online threats to derail the release of something they do not agree with.

Indians are some of the most sensitive people in the world in terms of open-mindedness to the arts, a fact which can be proven by the number of frivolous litigations against movies and actors. Add to that the proven tactic of successfully derailing and destroying the means of delivering content to the world such as online hacking, threats, piracy. This makes for an unsavory and dangerous mix for fundamental rights of expression.

Freedom of speech and expression is the most basic and essential democratic right any human being deserves in the 21st century. It covers both – the right to create meaningful art and the right to peaceful protest. What we forget in our enthusiasm of protest and agitation is the business aspect of things. All mainstream art is eventually dependent on money and patronage- which more than often sides with the liberal and aesthetic sense of the human identity.

For example, The Interview as a stand-alone movie is a very bad comedy. It is one of the writer-director’s worst attempts and though it would have been a huge box-office draw initially, it would have failed to keep the momentum. The hype from the hacking scandal has ushered a wave of earnings and support which the content of the movie doesn’t deserve.Similarly, PK is one of Mr. Hirani’s weakest movies. While better than The Interview, it is questionable on whether it deserves to be the highest grossing Bollywood movie ever.

The greedy and business minded industry of mainstream movies understands the language of money. If both the mentioned movies were protested but not hyped, their success would have been far lower and a lesson in itself for the makers who would listen to their rational audience to deliver better content. Instead, they now serve as controversial political points between two hostile countries and as a political game of “tax-free” in another, all the while raking in millions.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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