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A Fan Shares Why The Bizarre World Of Indian Cinema Is Way More Than Entertainment

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By Parthiv Kidangoor:

An aspiring actor, poses in front of a mural of Amitabh Bachchan in Mumbai

Though I remember Mohanlal starrer Ravanaprabhu as the first movie I watched in the theatre; I got to know the actual essence of the great Indian cinema audience, which I am also part of, only much later. A few years back, my friend and I walked into a theatre playing Tamil demigod Ilayathalapathy Vijay’s Vettaikaaran. I didn’t hear any of the movie dialogues nor did I hear any of the songs. The only thing that I saw and heard was an implosion of claps, whistles and howls. I was stunned to see women of my mom’s age jump on their seats and dance to the tunes of the film. Conclusion garnered: “It is true, India breathes cinema.”

The demigod status for movie stars and the craze which goes to the extent of enshrining temples in their names (idol in name of Rajinikanth and Amitabh Bachchan chalisa actually exist) is evident in the recent death of a youngster by falling off a 40-meter-long flex board of an actor while conducting Palabhishekam (a popular ritual involving pouring milk onto a divine idol).

Participating Audience

We howl, we cry, we dance, we swear, we laugh. A visit to the theatres results in salubrious fun that’s generated more from the crowd than from the film on display. Juxtapose this with the British audience which featured in the popular ‘troll’ culture after news broke of a person registering a complaint against another for clapping during the movie’s climax and disturbing the film’s mood.

The prime reason for the FDFS trend (First Day First Show) is not because of the intense desire of a class of genuine filmgoers to watch a flick before preconceived notions build up regarding the film due to critic reviews. Instead, it is only to experience the surreal theatre effect, to tear your ticket into the tiniest of pieces and throw at the screen the moment your favourite actor appears! The fact that an upcoming Mohanlal film has its first-day seats booked six months in advance creates awe and clearly reflects the cinema culture that rules South and a lot of other regions in India. The omnipresent and gargantuan Indian political spirits using #PoMoneModi (Po Mone Dinesha being a popular catchphrase from a Mohanlal starrer Malayalam cinema that literally translates to ‘go away dear Dinesha’) to ridicule the PM for comparing Kerala to Somalia displays the deeply ingrained cinema culture in us. I am pretty sure that nowhere on earth will there be another place where pompous parades with posters of films precede the actual movie release.

Second Half Syndrome

Like it or not, we need our interval in between a film. We need a ten-minute break to look at each other, ask “First half kaisa tha?” (what did you think of the first half?), discuss and analyse the first half while buy popcorn, go to the toilet and more. This is also touted to be one of the reasons why the first half and second half of Indian cinema often turn out at times to be completely different and at times make almost two different films. Production houses structure the film in such a way that it has a proper midway break preceded by a stunning sequence or unexpected plot twist. Such intervals and its consequences might be one of the prime reasons for India’s still unquenched Oscar thirst. Not to forget the ludicrous lip sync songs at the most insipid moments which the international cinema audience most probably can’t digest. I still cannot fathom how actors brew 4-minute-long melancholy infused tunes after hearing about their girlfriend’s death nor how all the guests to a wedding start dancing on the same steps the moment Kareena Kapoor breaks into a song!

The Great Indian Hypocrisy

I know I am a hypocrite by discussing the hypocrisy of an entity that I belong to but sorry I cannot resist. A very quick example is the critical reception to Shahrukh Khan’s full on superhero flick, Ra. One. Almost on the lines of Batman and Superman regarding technology, VFX, etc., the movie was criticised for having an unreal plot. No offence, but do these people actually believe that a particular Bruce Wayne is fighting against Joker in Gotham for real? While the whole country stood up to applaud Mad Max, for its insane action sequences, crazy no-brainer story line, and the brain behind the scenes in which jeeps filled with live orchestra played in the midst of a high-octane action sequences; back home a peculiar non-linear Malayalam flick ‘Double Barrel’ set in an insane retro atmosphere, with idiosyncratic characters and colourful gun fires was trounced by the audience for being a no brainer. Same vision but different outcomes.

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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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