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Must Watch: 6 Bold Short Films That Reveal Untold Stories Of Modern Love

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Nusrat Durrani. Image provided by author.

Nusrat Durrani, General Manager at MTV Networks, is a pioneering media executive, producer and award-winning creative with over 20 years of experience conceiving and executing transformative, multi-platform content and branded entertainment for both commercial and social impact.

His progressive and panoramic vision of the world is also clearly evoked in “Madly”, an omnibus film about love which he both conceived and executive produced, featuring works by top-notch talent including Mia Wasikowska (Australia), Gael Garcia Bernal (Argentina), Sion Sono (Japan), Natasha Khan (UK), Sebastian Silva (USA) and Anurag Kashyap (India). The film opened the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and won Best Actress in its category. “Madly” just premiered to packed audiences at the Mumbai Film Festival a few days ago and I met Nusrat to chat about the movie, creativity and what drives him.

Jhilmil Breckenridge (JB): You have always been a pathbreaker, from MTV World to your work with human rights, animal rights and more. I have been following your work from afar and am always blown away by the passion you put into each of your projects, your sometimes foolhardy bravado and how you always seem to pull off these seemingly impossible feats. Tell me a little about your journey, your foray into music and the areas that pull you, and then into the world of film.

Nusrat Durrani (ND): I’m an outsider, often an outcast who has developed deep empathy for the underrepresented of the world and stories that haven’t been told. My foolishness and ability to put myself on the line has made me willing to take risks, go places and do things sensible people won’t. This has resulted in some modest rewards, some dents I’ve made in the very strong armour of confirmatory and resistance to change. In India, I was a misfit and in the USA, I had to work ten times harder than everyone else to prove myself which has forced me to learn stuff and be more skilled. There’s nothing special about me other than that I have a thicker skin than most and I don’t go away easily.

JB: How did the idea of “Madly” come about? Tell me a little more about this decision to make six short films as opposed to a full length feature film? Will it ever be screened commercially or will it stay a festival film?

ND: I feel like as creators of content, we have done a disservice to love. In not covering it’s untold stories and always regurgitating the boy-meets-girl narrative, we have sadly ignored all the rest of us with more unusual love stories and we have pissed off the Gods of Love. “Madly” is an atonement for that, and a sort of “Global State of the Union” of love. It had to be many stories and not one. If I could, I would make it an unending series because there so many untold love stories. It will see commercial release because apparently people want to experience movies like this and are tired of cliches.

MADLY (2016) · trailer EN from Rei Cine on Vimeo.

JB: “Madly” is very much a women-centric film, celebrating women, sexuality and perhaps a liberation. Was this deliberate? How do you think the male members of the audience feel while watching “Clean Shaven” for example, the Anurag Kashyap Indian film part of “Madly”?

ND: It was deliberate. Who are we to keep women in chains? There aren’t enough stories about women, especially those that treat them as equals and show them in empowering roles. We need to celebrate female sexuality and let women run the world. Run this country. Things will automatically improve because women have deeper empathy, are smarter, more resilient and less corrupt. There aren’t enough women directors either. With few exceptions, we as a collective global society, have treated women very poorly and we should be ashamed.

I think the evolved and confident male will cheer “Clean Shaven” or at least learn from it. I think most men would act differently about women if the terrifying weight of “society” and “tradition” and “conformity” was lifted and there was no pressure to be a certain way just because that’s how it’s been. That takes courage and men should be strong and let women shine. The men in the audiences for “Madly” I was with, loved and supported it, especially “Clean Shaven”. Most men aren’t monsters. We were taught to worship our mothers and goddesses and protect our sisters. Where did we go wrong?

JB: Where have these strong women emerged from? Were they a part of your childhood or did you yearn for such figures?

ND: My childhood was full of angst and rebellion and isolation which was strange because I was loved and adored by my mother and sisters. I’ve had a very strong role model in my mother and I’ve found many others in history and culture from Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi to Joan of Arc to Joan Baez and Patti Smith. I love Rekha and Smita Patil — strong, often misunderstood women going against the grain. But equally, I marvel at the unknown woman carrying bricks on her head to build that tall building the rich will live in while her infant plays in the dirt. I see myself as a feminist and seek inspiration from women of all persuasions — from rock stars to vagabonds to acid attack survivors.

JB: You always give your readers a strong sense of place, be it through imagery, scents, music, food. Tell me how you achieve this and why you think it is important to storytelling and film.

ND: Any good story or piece of art, or even food, is evocative. If you can’t set fire to the readers imagination with your story, then you have done a disservice to the muse. It’s harder with film because you are presenting a specific vision of the story so you better make it magical and let it arouse the audiences’ senses so they can play it back later in their heads with their own sensual additions. I don’t know how I achieve this or even if I do. I try to be specific with detail. I draw from experience. I don’t have a large vocabulary and didn’t go to writing school. But I create everything with my blood, sweat and tears so perhaps if it does evoke something, I have done an OK job.

JB: Please tell me what you were hoping to achieve with “Madly” and how you think you have done? What is the next film brewing in your mind as you enjoy the success of this one?

ND: With “Madly”, my small and tender hope was to expand people’s view of what love is and to allow for a much greater diversity of stories about it. I don’t know if I achieved that but damn, I tried.

I want to do another film. An explosive, audacious commercial film with strong female roles and characters you haven’t seen before. A love story set in India and meant for mass consumption. It is unspooling in my head as we speak. In fact, it’s devouring me.

JB: What has your experience in working for human rights, refugees and PETA been like?

ND: Much of the content I have created has been subliminally a work of activism of some sort. I’m interested in correcting inequities that exist in this world but also super-serving audiences and furthering the interests of my employers. It is possible to balance the two. I have partnered with Amnesty International and the White House on projects related to Rebel Music. Privately, I have volunteered in Lebanon to help Syrian refugees — this was probably the most profound experience of my recent life. It has changed me for the better. All of us should devote time in service of others.

I love animals so I don’t eat them. Human beings have a pathetic record of how we treat animals and our environment. Meat eating is harmful and generates unspeakable cruelty. Years from now, hopefully we will look back on these times as the barbaric ages when people still ate dead flesh. I support many animal rights organizations but have not done anything with PETA.

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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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