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Dear Rajkumar Hirani, Was The ‘350 Women’ Dialogue Really Needed?

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As someone who grew up in the ’80s, Sanjay Dutt was the epitome of masculinity and cool for me. I actually had a mega poster of him, those searing eyes looking into the camera, wearing what we used to call a ‘Sandows baniyan’ then, what the fashion bloggers revel in calling the ‘ganji’ today – arms crossed at his chest.

Sidebar: We used to call it a Sandows baniyan because of Eugene Sandow, known to be the father of bodybuilding. So, you know, if you wear such a baniyan, you are showing off your physique like Sandow. I have no idea why fashion bloggers call it ‘ganji’, apart from wanting to be earthen and urban together.

That was the only piece of Bollywood paraphernalia I ever owned. But I digress, Sanjay Dutt was one of the few ’90s actors who really ruled the roost. We couldn’t get more of this guy who played roles in films like “Sarphira”, “Thaanedaar”, all those goofy films that are given ode to in those self-aware films of today. He broke the mould with films like “Naam”, “Sadak”, “Dushman”, and many others, until “Munnabhai MBBS” hit the theatres. Until today, I had only two memories of Sanjay Dutt. One was that mega poster and the other was a common anecdote I used to hear when I was on the field covering Bollywood.

“Baba eats lunch and dinner with the spot boys and the other staff.”

This statement is generally followed by: “You know everybody calls Sanjay Dutt, Baba, right?”

The only time I have ever heard him called Baba is by Suniel Shetty and Salman Khan in different interviews. I have never been able to corroborate the food thing, but I had no reason to disbelieve it too. I also confess that I found it difficult to digest when he was arrested on various charges. The courts established, beyond doubt, that he illegally possessed arms. The why of it, will always be unclear. Although, one scene in the trailer that just released hints that the film could put light on it. However, this article is not about that scene – this article is about that other scene. Picture this.

So, Dia Mirza, who plays Manyata Dutt, looks dotingly at Ranbir Kapoor, who plays Sanjay Dutt, as he speaks to Anushka Sharma, who plays his biographer and tells her that he has slept more than 350 women. Now, the way the scene is shot could be the tone of the entire film. Here is this man-boy who’s taking things that life’s giving him and meandering through it with his ‘I am sorry’ look. The director wants this scene to show off his protagonist’s charm, his deep-set innocence that makes him do things, his frank honesty that’s as comforting as an empty seat in an 8:05 local towards Borivli. What did the director achieve with this scene?

Here’s a man confessing to a woman, in the presence of his wife, that he has slept with more than 350 women. What message does that send to an entire generation of people who adored and still adore him? Did he not foresee drunk talk that goes, “You know, Sanjay Dutt slept with 350 women, you should allow me to sleep with at least 35.” Did he not foresee WhatsApp jokes that begin with that sentence and ending with the wife retorting that the respective husband should also have as much money as Dutt, or look so good, or whatnot and what all?

But the question here, Mr. Hirani, is this scene really required?

Bollywood rags are already taking this one dialogue and making it a headline of their articles.

There could be a justification that the film is a naked, tell-all story about Sanju, the boy, the man, the icon. But now that such a stark dialogue has been played out to the audience, how sure can an audience be that the director has been as blunt and open with every other aspect of Sanjay Dutt’s life?

Even if the dialogue is in the film, does Hirani, who’s been in this business for more years than YKA has existed, not know that this dialogue will be milked ad nausem all over? Or is that this is a trailer being peddled with the producer – the initial buzz is required, but the film will speak on its own merit. So then, is this kind of PR machinery justified – from a man who made films like YouKnowWhich and YouKnowWhat. If Mr. Hirani has sat in even one promotion meeting in his entire life – and I am sure he has – he knows that this is the dialogue that will be pasted all over by a section of media who don’t know any better. They won’t talk about how Jim Sarbh is around, they won’t talk about how Paresh Rawal’s dialogue delivery gives you goosebumps, they won’t talk about that final trailer scene that’s a bittersweet anecdote from the wild, whacky Bollywood of the 90s.

Mr. Hirani, I wouldn’t want this as a memory of Sanjay Dutt. Here’s what my third memory would be. When the audio CD for Mission Kashmir was released, the back cover had only the eyes of Hrithik and Sanjay Dutt looking into the camera. Hrithik, then a greenhorn, had his facial muscles in a purge to look menacing. And our Dutt saab, was just looking into the lens.

That’s what Sanjay Dutt is all about – effortless masculinity – not a dialogue that’s more about libido than masculinity.

 

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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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