Taking a stand

When I was studying at Pune University, one day we heard of a Mumbai television unit that was shooting on the campus. I trooped off to go see the action and I stood there watching Vinta Nanda directing. I remember seeing her as this exuberant, energetic director and wondering if I had to shed being soft spoken and shy to become a director myself. To me, she represented a strong person who knew where she was going.

A few days ago, when Vinta Nanda revealed her horrific experience I was aghast. I realised that she was far far stronger than I had realised then. But also far far more traumatised than anyone could have imagined. She belonged to the golden age of television where she helmed multiple shows that are still iconic and wielded considerable power. And yet this is what she was going through. Imagine the plight of newcomers and those who are at weaker positions in this ecosystem.

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Image Courtesy : The News Minute

As women we often are aware of the traumatic stories of harassment that are shared through hushed whispers. Now, with Vinta Nanda sharing her 19 year old experience publicly, the rest of the Mumbai film industry has woken up to reality. They have pledged support to Me Too survivors from the industry.

(Read here https://www.ndtv.com/entertainment/after-vinta-nanda-reveals-rape-trauma-producers-guild-pledges-support-for-metoo-survivors-1929248)

In swift action the Producers Guild have set up a special committee for the same (Read here – https://www.ndtv.com/entertainment/producers-guild-sets-up-a-special-committee-to-help-metoo-survivors-1930080) Networks like Hotstar are cancelling successful shows made by alleged perpetrators. Film Festivals like MAMI are dropping films by alleged perpetrators. Companies like Phantom Films are shutting down to avoid working with alleged perpetrators. Actors like Aamir Khan are walking out of films engaging alleged perpetrators. The actor organisation CINTAA is sending a show-cause notice threatening expulsion to their member – an alleged perpetrator and they have extended full support to the Survivor (who is not their member).

(Read here https://www.indiatoday.in/television/top-stories/story/cintaa-notice-alok-nath-sushant-singh-full-support-1359089-2018-10-09)

By such powerful action the Mumbai Film Industry are taking a stand – that such violations are NOT acceptable in this industry.

In 2017, a woman actor who was actively working in the Malayalam film industry for 15 years, was sexually assaulted. She spoke up about her experience (as soon as it happened) and filed a police complaint and is taking things ahead to ensure the culprits are brought to book legally.  Kerala is home-ground to powerful film bodies, many of whom have shown strong solidarity with one another. Not to forget powerful actors and powerful writers & makers whose work has won international acclaim from the world.

And yet…  where is the proactive action supporting the survivors?

This too is a stand. A highly disturbing one.

 

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The Great Leveller

Last month I was invited to be guest editor on the Onam edition of Times of India. It was my first time doing something like this and with great excitement, Dipal Gala, the Features editor & myself set about getting the writers together. Of late many incidents in Kerala illustrated how divisive things were becoming and the need of the hour seemed to be inclusivity & social consciousness. The team agreed wholeheartedly that the agenda of the edition should be around inclusivity in every sphere.

So much has happened since then. From a divisive space, today Kerala has catapulted itself into an example of a society that is inclusive and socially conscious conquering all biases of gender, caste, religion, age and much else. Water has been the great leveller and its wave has entered all our lives in one way or the other. Never before have we been overcome with such emotion & empathy for our state and our people. Never have we experienced such extent of devastation. Never before have we prayed with such intensity for Kerala. 

Through the rescue we held together and I hope we will hold together through the relief & the rebuilding. Grateful for the wonderful people & support we have with us to tide over this time. This Onam I am wishing that we hold on to this oneness even after the waters have flown away. Sharing here my note on the Onam edition that was written before the floods: 

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The Pookalam

My favourite thing about Onam is the tapestry of flowers, gathered by little fingers from diverse spaces, laid together on the soil – the many colours, textures and shapes that are brought together into a form. Creation of a synergy for beauty but is it beauty alone? Why do we make a pookalam? Why does it represent Onam?

Myth-lovers say it is in welcome of a benevolent ruler who visits once a year the land he once ruled. The legend carries with it touches of good governance, the conquest of ego by wisdom, the values of benevolence and compassion and honour. But rather than see the flower carpet as a mere tribute laid on the floor, I believe there is far more in that pattern that speaks to us about Onam (than it is given credit for) through the experience of making it.

While picking the flowers, patterns start to emerge in our minds about the possibilities. As these ideas grow our search widens, for a particular colour, a particular texture, a particular quantity. Like any creative process we sift through so many to find our precious ingredients. It is a treasure hunt of sorts that takes us beyond our boundaries and frees us from the usual rules of propriety. In seeking those flowers we find our way back to our soil, its texture, the dragonflies, butterflies and the bees. The sense of delicacy in gathering thumba, the sense of wonder that the blue of a shankhupushpam can evoke, or the sense of patience in sorting aripoo, the sense of fluid thinking as the pattern evolves are all the real gifts of Onam. The experiential gifts.

Isn’t it representative of our sense of self & society? This coming together celebrates the unique identity of every flower and yet discovers beauty in its cohesive role among many in the pattern. The flowers at the centre are as important to those at the defining periphery. Most importantly, the Thiruvona pookalam is always round. This radial symmetry represents many things and in the context of multiple components it represents the ultimate state of oneness. How the many are actually part of one.

Today’s flowers types are many – the traditional ones that were cherished earlier but are rare now, the migrant ones that arrived here on a truck from elsewhere, the ordinary local ones that have only recently been allowed into the pookalam. 🙂  As we sort the flowers and arrange them into a pattern, it is with a sense of democracy that every new floral contribution is accommodated into the pattern. The pattern grows beyond one person’s imagination when the contributors are many and is perhaps the first step many of us have taken towards collaborative art.

Our writers for this edition represent as a group and as individuals a growing social consciousness in Kerala that recognizes such patterns and textures within our societal fabric. Many are doers more than writers, enriching our world with their actions and this edition with their words. There are those who are gathering the traditional and conserving them through new world practices. Others who are bringing the marginalized into the circle and restoring their place in the pattern. Some who are pointing out our homegrown harmful weeds and the damage their can cause. One who interprets the deeper meanings of our circular game. And another who tells us how even a statistical majority breathes like a minority in this state. Gender, Age, Caste, Faith…. Bias in any shape or size needs to be recognized and weeded out for they stand in the way of us to being the beautiful, strong tapestry we can be.

This Onam we need eyes that seek- to find the flowers, to see the pattern. What it is & what it can be. We hope you enjoy this pookalam of ours! Wishing everyone a happy and insightful Onam.

*As published in the Onam edition of Times of India 2018

Koode

Thank you for all the love you have shown us for our previous films and for your lovely eagerness about KOODE. I usually write a note on the eve of the release so here goes:

So often we struggle among the past and the future, forgetting the value of the present. This movie is about living in the moment. In the HERE & NOW.

“Poyathu poyi,

veraanullathu verum –

pakshe sherikyum…

ithu randideyum idayil ullathil alle karyam?”

I have been waiting to share the story of the origin of this film with you.

When my stories Bangalore Days & Ustad Hotel were adapted by other filmmakers I was part of many discussions that made me curious about the process. I was keen to explore the process of adaptation which I think is a real challenge to do well.

During this time I was invited to watch a regional film and something in the film touched me. I found myself re-imagining the story in a different way and when I discussed it with its makers they graciously offered the adaptation rights to me. But he had some advice – to keep one peculiar element under the wraps as they had done. They explained that on release they had even requested their media and the audience to not reveal the story so that the movie is not spoilt for the rest of the audience. Their wonderful audience and local media were so supportive that none of them revealed that element in the reviews.

As per their advice we have remained totally quiet about its origin until today. But now time has come for us to offer this film to you so it is time to share. KOODE is an adaptation of the original story by Sachin Kundalkar. I am honoured that he trusted me with the story and it has been a rich learning experience for me. For those who have seen the original please be prepared to see a different interpretation. 😊

I humbly request our audience and media to not share that element in their reviews so that everyone may experience the movie first hand.

It is a peculiar journey of Joshua.

Do close your eyes, open your mind and join in on this ride.

Much Love.😍

STRAND

As a new bride in a new city, I was quite lost.

Mumbai of the single days that were spent on street shopping and gol gappas and movies and partying was quite a far throw from Mumbai I discovered when I moved here after my wedding. In those days just as one is acclimatizing to a new home, new family, new room-mate (!), new dog – the city too looked new to me.

In the midst of all this newness I ached for something familiar. One day while passing in the car towards our office in Fort I caught a fleeting glimpse of a sign – STRAND book stall. I remembered my father telling me about this shop when he started his career in Mumbai, back in the late 1950s and how he kept visiting it through the years.

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Quietly I trudged out to find the shop among the maze like roads in Fort. It happened to be just a corner away from the office. I entered it and it instantly reminded me of all the old fashioned bookshops I have been to where there shelves may not be swanky but the books are – where the people of the shop knew about the books and don’t have to refer to some computerized catalogue for authors they had never heard of. I felt at home. It was just so comfortable and familiar though I was in there for the first time! Very quickly it became a favourite haunt and my go-to space for comfort and discovery of so many interesting books and authors. So many of my treasures are from there.

Until we moved office to Bandra Kurla Complex – very cool and hep alright but no bookshop around the corner! L I consoled myself that we cant have everything at the same time. Yet whenever I could not find a book, I was still calling up Strand and they would find it! The last one I bought there was a while ago – a beautiful biography of David Lean, put together by his wife Sandra Lean.

Now having returned to the city after six months away shooting my film, I just heard that the Strand Book Stall is closing down. https://scroll.in/video/869831/video-mumbai-s-strand-book-stall-is-closing-we-take-a-trip-down-memory-lane The video beautifully explains the blurred categories of the bookshop and its distinct charm. Somewhere within, this news moves me so much – it signals the closing down of an era.

I remembered how as a student in Pune, one of the iconic bookshops was shutting down and I made it there on the last evening just before its closing time. I was on another upper floor when closing time came and went. I heard some noises but was too busy on my knees looking for books marked 70% off! Finally when I made my way down the stairs, it was just the unsmiling owner and me. Everyone else had left and the shop had officially closed. When I took him my books he gestured to leave them on the counter as he was handling something else. I did so and quietly drifted towards the shelves greedy to find some more. We’d exchange glances at each other as I wondered if I had any more time before he closed down. And perhaps he wondered how long I would stay and therefore delay the final closing time. In that silence I continued to search and he continued to write his accounts. Finally when I had another armful I went to his counter. He patiently looked through each one, made me a bill, took my payment and packed the books. I watched for any sign of emotion and the man held on as stoic as ever. He looked through his glasses as he handed the books over.

“You come here often, don’t you?” I nodded as I gathered the books and smiled. No sign of a smile. As I struggled with the many books he got off his chair and walked to the door. He held the door open for me and I stepped out thanking him. He said “thank you”.

I crossed the road and flagged down an autorickshaw. As we moved I saw him watch me leaning in through the glass door. I’ll never forget that sight because I saw a glimpse of the many emotions he possibly felt.

This time during the film shoot in Nilgiris, during shot one of our senior actors closed a glass door and looked through the door exactly the same way. In an instant I was catapulted back to that autorickshaw and the bookshop man. That is how it works – memory is simply emotion imprinted on moments.

Tomorrow when Strand Book Stall closes down I am sure there will be far more people there. I shall go to pick up some books as tribute to that space and those people who made it feel like home. I will miss it.

 

Time for change. Time to change.

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The Nirbhaya incident changed something inside many of us. I think it shook up our hopes and belief in an equal opportunity world. I remember feeling so angry yet so helpless as violations seemed to surface all around me.

Violation of one person by another. Of space, of body, of mind, of respect, of identity. On screen – off screen – everywhere.

Now as another woman braves her experience, I am a mute witness once again. For every such incident that is reported, thousands of violating moments remain unreported every day. How many girls have bitten back anger and tears even as they have been touched or commented upon in public spaces by strangers? Isn’t molestation, rape and sexual assault  an extension of such violating behavior? If one is condoned, the other is bound to follow.

After the heinous acts, further violation comes from individuals who shamelessly air on media their chauvinistic perspectives about the incidents. They puke all over on social media staining public thought with their yellowed insides. Equal rights, gender sensitivity and bias awareness seem beyond their grey cells but what about basic humaneness?

And finally when it comes to solutions – most advice is about how women should behave, dress, act, speak, react, or not react to such situations. Most families tell their girls not to react for fear of stigma – families who are supposed to nurture children and help them grow. So what are we really telling our future generations about courage & cowardice? Amongst all this am thankful for men & women who speak up against bias and call for corrective action.

But isn’t it time to look at WHO is committing the violations? Are these aliens who are violating our vulnerable ones? NO. They are persons who are born among us, live among us, look like us and are in many ways like us. We need to recognize the problem lies with us. We need to recognize that it is not about just targeting one gender as both genders have played roles in the creation of this monster. We may have inherited an unequal world but as long as we haven’t done anything to change it, we are part of the problem.

The latest report of such violation is yet another slap in our faces. She has faced it with real courage and done her part to report the perpetrators. But even with all this anger and desperation for change, what have we done?

Yet again,

Are we going to sit as spectators to the ensuing discussion circus?

Are we going to rant & rave on social media and then simply… sign out?

Or are we going to do something to make a difference?

Some of us are getting together to make a small start in Kerala. A start from the root of the problem. A start that involves bringing empowerment to girls and empathy to boys. School by school, family by family. If you would like to be part of the change, write to us on parasparamkerala@gmail.com.

If we don’t find the courage now, we will remain among those cowards.