This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Nazeef Mollah. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Thrills Aside, ‘Phobia’ Gives Us A Female Lead That Is Unapologetic For Being Bold

More from Nazeef Mollah

By Nazeef Mollah:

SPOILER ALERT

Radhika Apte in 'Phobia'
A still from ‘Phobia’. Source: YouTube.

The film Phobia begins with – at least, that’s when I entered the hall – a quotation of Franz Kafka. I had forgotten it by the time I left, but I did manage to find it online. I do not wish to discuss the quote and, therefore, my ignorance of Kafka. The key word in it is all we need to know – cage.

Cages are invoked in the film through imagery and set design, but also, and more importantly, as a metaphor. The taxi Mehak (Radhika Apte) gets molested in is a cage. That was a cage she wanted to get out of. The cages that follow – the house that she moves into, for example – are those that she wishes to be locked inside. The real cage, however, is the phobia she develops (agoraphobia according to the psychiatrist in the film). Mehak is afraid of stepping outside her house.

The film, as I saw it, is about the trauma that a ‘victim’ of sexual violence experiences. Mehak Deo recovers from it at the end. For those of us who roll our eyes at political correctness and the use of the term ‘survivor’, then, the film is a powerful eye-opener. One knows at the back of one’s head that there is no ghost/evil spirit, or even a murderer the reveal of whose identity would be the climax. We know it’s only her fear. But that doesn’t stop us from feeling uncomfortable until the entrance to her apartment is safely shut and bolted. The film doesn’t merely show us a scary situation, it literally makes us feel the fear in the protagonist’s mind.

The character of Mehak is that of a witty, strong, talented, and independent young woman in her early thirties. She’s a successful artist. She’s not afraid of travelling alone late at night. Her boyfriend (or, “just a good friend”) not only loves her but respects and admires her. Basically, the kind of woman that a section of populations across the world detests. She’s the ’21st-century girl’, the new species of the genus homo that Indian mass media began to present to us at the turn of the millennium. Whether this new species wipes out the old remains to be seen.

But there’s more. The most important thing about this girl’s boldness or independence is that it is unapologetic. Filmmakers and screenwriters have rarely been so bold as to allow female characters, even in women-centric films, to not have any redeeming qualities. ‘Mother India’ for example, had a strong female protagonist who was redeemed by her values and sacrifice. Priyanka Chopra’s boldness in ‘Fashion’ was redeemed by her character’s sincerity to her career. Even the epitome of boldness – the woman who had the audacity to tell Emperor Akbar, “Parda nahin jab koi khuda se, bandon se parda karna kya” – Anarkali, played by Madhubala, was redeemed by her undying love for Salim. To be bold and independent, women in Indian cinema appear to need redemption either by their devotion to their children or lover, or by sacrificing their dreams, or by their commitment to justice, and, if nothing else fits, it’s rather convenient to have them die at the end.

‘Phobia’, on the other hand, dispenses with the need for such redemption. Mehak is witty and makes good use of her wit. She is talented and unpredictable. She’s smart enough to know she needs treatment, but too stubborn to let others treat her like a child. She has slept with her good friend/boyfriend “ek bar,” and doesn’t feel guilty or ashamed for not being in a committed relationship. But she’s not a bad person. She’s like any normal person one might come across – full of imperfections.

The film opens with a painting by Mehak. A colourful ‘acrylic on canvas’ showing a hand reaching out towards several arms which, in turn, are reaching out towards it. The final scene of the film is framed in a similar manner. Mehak’s injured hand – which represents the fact that she is flawed, I guess – is reaching out to a number of others belonging to members of the ‘sabhya samaj’ who rush to help her. Perhaps it heralds the beginning of a new time when female characters in films, if not their real-life counterparts, will be celebrated for their imperfections, just as James Bond is for his promiscuity and disregard for authority. Finally, these fictional women can break out of the cages they’ve been kept in for so long.

Also, read ‘5 Of Tagore’s Women Who Are Examples Of Fierce Feminism, Even A 100 Years Later‘.

You must be to comment.
  1. Matt

    Powerful sound effects and excellent cinematography makes the movie more interesting

More from Nazeef Mollah

Similar Posts

By Syedstauheed

By pratyush prashant

By Sawan

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below