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6 Path-Breaking Indie Films That Are Guaranteed To Make You Uncomfortable

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Editor’s Note: As part of our coverage of PSBT’s Open Frame Film Festival And Forum 2017 that is going on in Delhi (13th – 19th September), Youth Ki Awaaz will be featuring reviews of films and interviews with directors.

Independent cinema often gets a bad rap as ‘boring’. Why watch independent cinema? Well, for one, unlike the average masala blockbuster, independent cinema can explore spaces that fall outside mainstream comfort zones. They can explore characters living on the margins of society, shed light on injustices previously hidden in darkness and give us alternative perspectives. But most importantly, independent cinema, instead of providing easy and comfortable answers, makes us ask questions.

Questions open us up to new ways of looking at the world and deepen our understanding of it. Questions not only help us to learn, they help us unlearn. Always embedded within a question is the potential power to transform.

Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at six independent Indian films which raised important questions.

1 .The Sound Of Silence

Gender discrimination is a reality in several Indian colleges. In 2015, the Kerala State Higher Education Council had commissioned a report called “Samaagati” which focused on gender discrimination in college campuses on Kerala. The report revealed patriarchal notions regarding how girls should behave and dress prevalent within most colleges. Bina Paul’s film specifically focuses on campuses across Kerala. The film not only breaks the culture of silence that surrounds such instances of injustice by providing a voice to women students but also provides a glimpse into their daily lives and the routine discrimination they have to put up with.

2. In A Shadowless Town

Heritage walks are supposed to tell us about the history of a city but do they tell the whole story? Which details are remembered and which are the ones left out? Gouri Patwardhan’s film focuses on Pune and raises a very pertinent question: how exactly is a city made? The film contends that heritage walks in Pune, while claiming to represent the whole city, mostly look at the city through a narrow upper caste lens. Instead of relying on conventional historical narratives, the film instead looks at the historical details which have slipped through the cracks and what such erasure has meant for the Dalit Bahujan community.

3. Bulbule

Most films concerning drug abuse either descend into preachy holier-than-thou sermonising or they look at the issue entirely in a vacuum, divorced from any social context. Not so with Iram Ghufran’s “Bulbule”. Focusing on a state-run community clinic for de-addiction, the film  questions the traditional narrative of drug users as ‘morally corrupt’ and instead empathises with the struggles of drug users to regain their dignity in the face of social isolation and marginalisation. Unlike several other Indian films focusing on drug abuse, “Bulbule” is not a tale of reform. Instead, it looks into the social context which gives birth to the world of drug abuse and how that intertwines with the idea of moral luck.

4. Krishna’s Waiting Room

Vrindavan is considered to the land that gave birth to lord Krishna. And yet, who are the women who wait there for death? Patriarchal societal norms and the politics of inheritance often result in women getting the short end of the stick. Many such women migrate to Vrindavan, some finding solace in spirituality and sisterhood. But the vast majority of such women are forced to resort to begging on the streets. Kavita Bahl and Nandan Saxena’s film looks offers us a glimpse into the lives of these women and what Vrindavan means for them.

5. Kalikshetra

Anirban Datta’s “Kalikshetra” is an intricate look at the history of the city of Kolkata and the various developments it has undergone from the pre-colonial era to the colonial and now in the post-colonial era. Kolkata was born with the goddess Kali embedded in its name (Kalikata) and the title of the film alludes to that (roughly translating to place of Kali). In various creative ways, the film connects the past with the present, exploring both familiar and unfamiliar historical narratives and the shifts in polity over time. The film is an attempt to revive forgotten threads and map out a local history of the city that was once the capital of British India.

6. Ek Inquilab Aur Aaya: Lucknow 1920-1949

Uma Chakravarti’s film is set in Firangi Mahal, an institution for rationalist Islamic scholarship. Stories of personal struggles often tend to fall by the wayside during the time of dramatic political changes. The film, although set during a tumultuous period, is a personalised account of two women – Sughra Fatema and her niece Khadija Ansari. Both chose to express themselves but through different paths – one became a poet and the other a revolutionary student activist.

If you are fed up with commercial masala films and run-of-the-mill action blockbusters, these six films might pique your interest.

These six films, along with many others, are going to be screened at Public Service Broadcasting Trust’s (PSBT) Open Frame 2017 film festival. The festival aims to engage with these films “as creative pursuits, modes of expression and enquiry, intervention strategies for social change, powerful alternatives to dominant visions, voices of the marginalised and disenfranchised and manifestations of independent art practice.”

The film screenings start from September 17 and is spread over three days. If you like thought-provoking films which intersect across various topics like religion, class, caste and gender and encourage the viewer to ask questions, then this festival is something you cannot afford to miss out on.

You can find the full festival programme here.

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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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