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‘Ever After, A Cinderella Story’ Is A Feminist Retelling Of Our Favourite Fairy Tale

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All of us know the Cinderella story. A lot of us love it too, in spite of all the criticism that came in later. I don’t disagree with the criticism. Let us all argue that women are not creatures to be rescued and that Cinderella should have stood up to her stepmother on her own, or sneaked out at the night of the party without waiting for her Godmother and the pumpkin carriage.

But there is still something alluring to read about the magic that transported her from the prison house to the palace. We all have yearned for it, aloud or in secret as much as we have for our Prince Charming (or Mr Darcy) bending his knee – with the glass slipper or without.  

What we are thus seeking for is a story that reiterates the magic of Cinderella with a dose of realism, where it is courage and kindness which wins over the Prince rather than beauty and frailty and where stepmothers who abuse are punished by law and not by karma alone.

Ever After- A Cindrella Story
Representational image.

The movie ‘Ever After – a Cinderella story’ (1998) balances that. What is more, is that it roots the story in space and time, as it unfolded gently with the ‘awakening’ in Europe.

Once upon a time (16th century France, on the brink of the renaissance) lived Danielle, called Cinderella, a spunky little kid who lost her father and grew up as a servant in her own house, at the mercy of her stepmother and her stepsisters. This Cinderella is our heroine not because she does not hate her stepmother in spite of the hatred she receives, but because she remains kind and optimistic even in the given circumstances, ever finding ways to beat it.

Enter the Prince charming with a personality, thank God for that! Danielle and the Prince continue to meet each other over a series of remarkable coincidences, beginning from the incident where the Prince,  attempting to flee from his kingly duties and an arranged marriage lands up in her backyard to steal her father’s horse. In the second, he finds Danielle arguing with his guards to rescue her friend who was being shipped off to slavery. Love gradually finds its way in their confrontations over Thomas Moore’s Utopia, the state of the poor in the Kingdom and conversations over books and wanderings. Through her, a passion is rekindled in his heart and a liberal bend of mind finds its direction.

While the original Cinderella builds stereotypes of how men and women should be in an ideal society, here both the Prince and Danielle are rebellious and non conforming to their given roles, and this becomes one of the flash points of their budding relationship.

Because they meet before the ball, the role of the ‘fairy Godmother’ comes much before Cinderella’s famous showdown with her stepmother. Here, however, the fairy Godmother is not a celestial being that appears only at the ultimate climax in the story, but a legend who himself set the climax in the history.

Any guesses by those who have not watched the film?

It is Leonardo Da Vinci who is the fairy Godmother, who rescues more than once both Cinderella and the Prince from falling in the oblivion of the fault lines of their social status and the obligations which come with them. He encourages Danielle to pursue her love as much as he admonishes the Prince for letting her go because men need saving as much as women do! He is dependable and kind and modest in the movie, stuff that angels in real life are made of.

ever after a cindrella story
Representational image.

Because they took the historical character of such stature, delightful references of the great man’s works are filled as anecdotes here and there. In the first instance where he meets the Prince, he asks him to retrieve his stolen painting from a band of bandits, which turns out to be Mona Lisa. “She laughs at me Sir as if she knows something I do not,” says the Prince when he beholds the portrait he took back from the bandits.

“The Lady had many secrets, I merely painted one of them”, Da Vinci promptly replies. In another instance, Danielle makes a model of a ‘flying machine’ on the sketches he did (it was one of his failed experiments, so in the movie, she succeeds in making it rather than him). Another dialogue, when a bannerman reads out that he is invited by the royal family as the artist in residence, he goes like “Michelangelo was trapped under a ceiling in Rome…I am just a second choice”.

Other historical references, like the discovery of chocolates, allusion to the explorer Charles Cartier, French Colonies, France’s love-hate relationship with Spain are also brought in. Put together, the movie is one of its kind in its twisting the fairy tale on its head and yet making it come alive in the pages of history.

Let us go to the beginning of the movie – the Grande Dame of France invites the brothers Grimm, the originators of all the fairy stories and shows them the glass slipper and tells them the story of Danielle, who is her great great grandmother. The Dame urges them to retell the story as it was, and not as it was made of – a popular version which merely celebrates royalty, as much as social hierarchy and the gender roles. In my opinion, this is rather a remark on how history is rewritten and stories are imagined to suit the existing structure of society, obviating many important and true details which would do much good if it came to us as it was!

Disney made another movie on Cinderella in 2015 and changed the narration quite a bit to suit the new, woke generation, but still, the Ever After A Cinderella story is my preferred version. After all, it is full of magic as much as it is full of possibilities, of miracles as much as courage, a feminist retelling of our favourite fairy tale!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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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