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10 Amazing Films By Asian Female Directors For Those Suffering From Bollywood Fatigue

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At a time when women are still grossly under represented in mainstream movie industries, be it Hollywood or Bollywood, Indie cinema is, as ever, proving fertile ground for fresh perspectives and experimental endeavors from women creators. And the 13th IAWRT (International Association Of Women In Radio And Television) Women’s Film Festival, to be held from March 2-4, is all set to showcase the works of Asian women from all over the world on subjects as varied as burlesques and schizophrenia. It looks to be genuinely refreshing for those suffering from Bollywood fatigue. Just take a gander at these 10 films, grouped according to three broad categories:

Celebrating Women

1. Velvet Revolution (Cameroon/India/Philippines/UK/USA)

Spearheaded by Nupur Basu, this collaborative documentary featuring six female directors from the aforementioned countries, attempts to chart the lives and works of female journalists in a world that is constantly hostile to both women and journalists. What does it take then to be a woman willing to speak truth to power? What drives these women? The film features journalists who have operated in conflict zones and risked their lives, like Zaina Erhaim from Syria, Kimberlie Ngabit Quitasol from the Philippines, and Bonya Ahmed from Bangladesh (who is also the wife of slain Bangladeshi blogger, Avijit Roy). With a name that evokes the velvet revolution of Czechoslovakia that deposed the one-party Government in 1989, this is bound to be an important, even revolutionary documentary for (and of) our times.

2. League of Exotique Dancers (Canada)

Directed by Rama Rau, this documentary is a unique ‘backstage tour’ of the golden age of Burlesque, through the lives of the colorful women who provided its sparkle and dazzle. With some of the most iconic striptease performers being the tour ‘guides’, the film attempts to cut through all the myths and misconceptions to take a deep, nuanced, and emotional look at the rise and fall of the Burlesque – at the sexism, the racism, the stigma, and the trials and tribulations of the working class women who bonded together to make this quintessentially American institution what it was – and thus, investigate how it reflects the changing society of mid-20th century America.

3. Inja Sandaliha Khalist/ Here The Seats Are Vacant (Iran)

This film, directed by Shiva Sanjari, tells the story of Shehrzad, Iran’s first female director, who was sold by her father when she was 12 and forced to dance in a cabaret in Tehran. Through conversations and clips, the film charts the journey of Shehrzad from being an award winning actress to becoming an acclaimed director, and subsequently being sent to Evin prison (and institutionalized in a mental hospital upon release) by the new Government after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The camera follows the now 72-year old Shehrzad, living her life in a small Iranian village, as she speaks candidly about her experiences and the injustice of how she and her works have been almost completely erased from public memory by the Government.

4. Lissa Aisha (Jordan-Lebanon)

This bold documentary by Asma Bseiso is the story of 27-year old psychology graduate Aisha, who was abandoned by her parents and raised as an orphan in a society where family name and status are paramount. The film shows how she dealt with the lifelong stigma, and the consequent trials and tribulations as she struggled to be accepted by society. Following her journey from 2010 to 2014, this intimate film is an inspiring and captivating portrait of a charismatic, funny, and fiercely persistent woman, determined to find her place in life – in a country where her rights are anything but guaranteed.

Celebrating Difference

5. Crossing (Israel)

Centred on Elias, Aviram, and Oz – three Jerusalemite drag queens who dress up as their own mothers and perform together in underground queer parties called ‘Jerusalem is Burning’ – this ‘political-comic’ documentary directed by Inbar Horesh explores the tensions between drag performance and public life, expressed through the lives and conflicts of the three queens as they prepare for their last show together. Touching upon an aspect of culture from Jerusalem, which is not often explored, this film is poised to be an intriguing exploration of the divide between the stage and the ‘real world’.

6. Calalai In-Betweenness (Indonesia)

The Bugis culture of South Sulawesi, Indonesia, has always believed in the existence of five genders – one of them being ‘Calalai’ – an ‘in-between’ identity between man and woman. This documentary, directed by Kiki Febriyanti explores the question, “who is Calalai?” by talking to Calalai people, investigating their own ideas and psychology as well as the importance of gender diversity and the position of Calalai people in Bugis culture – and how Calalais see themselves in an increasingly westernized world with binary conceptions of gender. In a world grappling more and more with questions of gender and queer identity, this could be an essential film.

7. Schizophrenia (Japan)

This dialogue-less, 10 minute short by Yuri Muraoka is a ‘self-portrait’ of the director in her 7th year of treatment for schizophrenia. Told through absurd mise-en-scene, hallucinogenic still images, and a maudlin soundtrack, this film provides a unique first person viewing experience of reality falling apart – growing slowly in intensity and threatening to destroy the creator’s sense of self.

Immigration/ Identity/ Belonging

8. In Between (Spain)

Documenting the story of Bangladeshi immigrants in Madrid, this film directed by Paromita Dhar follows four characters – Bobby, a singer who tells his stories through his songs; Titly, a young mother who got married over phone and subsequently left behind her home and family in Bangladesh, only to discover the gulf between her dreams, and reality; Sattar, an airport worker who interacts with immigrants every day, even as he wishes to become a legal, documented Spanish citizen; and Somon, a beer seller who drives the crew of the film and tells his story through how he navigates this vibrant, ancient city.

9. Soz – A Ballad of Maladies (India)

Art has always been a vital form of resistance – fostering, documenting and channelling revolutions and revolutionary ideas. This documentary by Sarvnik Kaur and Tushar Madhav looks at how art is used as resistance in one of the worst militarized zones in the world – Kashmir. Moving from traditional Kashmiri art to modern folk, rock, and hip-hop, and featuring artists like MC Kash, Showkat Kathju, and Anees Zargar, the film depicts the transformation of the collective consciousness of an entire people, and how Kashmiri culture has come to manifest these voices of resistance to brutal, unceasing state repression – shattering stereotypical notions of Kashmir as a beautiful ‘paradise’ and forcing us to confront reality.

10. Flood of Memory (India)

The devastating 2006 Rajasthan floods are well-known, courtesy of the extensive media coverage. However, what is far less known is how the Barmer district villagers were left to truly come to terms with the enormity of the tragedy – with their grief and loss – once the cameras departed and the incident faded from public memory. Director Anitha Balachandran attempts to create a document of this time – of the collective memory of the villagers, of their struggles – in a truly unique manner: through a combination of live footage and charcoal and sand animation that evokes the desert. What emerges is a powerful and haunting depiction of loss, regrets, helplessness, and a collective struggle that the nation forgot.

If you’re in the city, be sure to catch these amazing films from March 2-4, 2017 at the India International Centre, and let us know what you think! For more information, head here.

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  1. Ben Miller

    Thanks, some pretty useful stuff here on an often overlooked area, after all we want our content editors lifes to be as easy as possible!


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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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