Monday, October 3, 2016

Pink: A Commentary on India's Rape Problem

"No Means NO, whether it be a family, friend, girlfriend, sex worker, or even a wife - no means no" - Deepak Sehgal 

Source: Facebook
Directed by Aniruddho Roy Chowdhury, Rashmi Sharma's Pink (2016) is an eye-opener and a social commentary on the gender politics that are apparent in India. We had recently watched Sully (2016) and were anticipating a gripping thriller with Pink. Though the theatre we had seen the film at had only about fifteen audiences, the film itself managed to gain the attention of everyone who participated in the life journeys of three independent, young women: Delhiite Minal Arora, Indian Muslim Falak Ali, and North-eastern Indian Andrea Tariang. The film starts on a serious note. Three men are rushing to the hospital as Rajveer (Angad Bedi) is gravely injured. He has glass shards on top of his eyes. His friends and cousins are angered and swear to take revenge on the girls, responsible for the injury. They launch an attack on them over the next few weeks targeting their landlord, stalking their every move, and threatening to teach Minal, the young woman responsible for Rajveer's injury "a lesson."

Rajveer, Dumpy, Vishwa, and Ankit during the trial 
As the story unfolds, the audiences meet a quirky, intelligent, and slightly aged former lawyer, Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachchan). His wife, Sara (Mamta Shankar) is hospitalised with an ailing disease. As he takes care of his sick wife, he is painted as a complicated man who is dealing with manic-depression and perhaps, bipolar disorder. Despite all the troubling issues in his life, he observes the three women who live together in his neighbourhood. Three women living together in Delhi is not a new concept. Many single and profession women do live together although the idea of their independence is viewed with scepticism and doubt. Their neighbours view them with suspicion and at times, doubt their "decent" behaviour. The conflict at the heart of the film centres on the questions that have been plaguing India since women started to gain opportunities to become independent, professional women in metro cities like Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore.

"NO means NO. Whether it be a family member, friend, girlfriend, sex worker, or even wife, " Sehgal  repeats, "NO means NO." This powerful message invokes the sentiments that have been present in India ever since the horrifying 2012 Delhi Rape Case, which shook the world. Here, he extends that women including sex workers are worthy of respect. If they say no, it means that is NO. This message is at the heart of the film. Interestingly enough, the rape case and the actual events associated with the violent act are not revealed until the very end of the movie but perhaps, what makes the film unique in its nature that it is not the attackers or rapists on trial, but rather the women who are raped and beaten. Rajveer Singh is a man of power; his uncle is an imminent politician.

For the women, the word Pink reflects courage to stand up against the violence that they face on a daily basis. Growing up in India, many women are faced with eves teasing and molestation. Interestingly enough, the film does not use the word "rape" at all throughout the movie rather uses the word "molestation," which in many ways reduces the intensity of Rajveer's crime. As the women are standing trial, the prosecuting attorney, Prashant Mehra (Piyush Mishra) argues that Minal and the other girls were soliciting and prostituting themselves to the men. They had drunk alcohol with the boys whom they had met a rock concert. Trouble began as the people started to get frisky and flirtatious with them. Finally, the women escape. As audiences you are left puzzled and confused, the women do not immediately launch a rape FIR. When they eventually do get to launching the report, the policemen don't take their cases seriously and discourage them. They are also harassed by Ranveer's goons. At one point, Minal is kidnapped, raped, and then dumped out of the car. These are all allusions to the 2012 Delhi Rape Case.

In India, sexual purity and honor are intertwined. When women challenge these norms, they are viewed as "indecent" and impure. According to the interesting character, Rajveer, whose values are steeped in conservative and traditional Indian values, decent girls do not drink or party with men. They remain at home after dark and do not engage in "un-Indian" values. This is the philosophical conflict that is at the heart of the film - how do you find a balance between one's "traditional" values and modern expectations? Leslee Udwin's India's Daughter (2009) and Nisha Pahuja's The World Before Her (2012), both powerful and influential documentaries, contribute to the discourse, addressing the tensions that exist in India. Young girls are often forced to choose between the ability to remain traditional or to become "modernised." Because women and girls continue to project the honour of their community and nation, their behaviour, especially if a woman has chosen to become independent, professional, working class women is constantly questioned by the society especially if the women are single. Furthermore, the women engage in drinking, going out with young men, and partying - behaviours that are considered "foreign" and risky. As a result, the prosecutor and the men accuse the women of prostitution. The girls are shamed throughout the trial especially in the beginning when corruption becomes apparent when a female police officer gives false testimony to admonish their claims further. 
The turning point of the film and perhaps the most unforgettable moment is when Deepak questions if  Minal is a virgin. Struck by his question, Minal hesitates afraid that her responses will further shame her in front of the court. She finally admits that she is not a virgin and lost her virginity at the age of nineteen. Deepak continues the questions - he asks if she had asked him to pay her boyfriend for sex or if she was forced into it. Minal defends her decision and says it was a consensual decision. Her response gives Deepak enough information to support her decision. With a loud thunder-like voice, he notes that this was a case of sexual assault and rape because Minal felt uncomfortable and was not interested in having sex with Rajveer. 
The film ends on another high note - Deepak Sehgal addresses the court stating that a woman's response NO should be taken seriously. This is also the first time the issue of marital rape is also brought forward in the cinema. While there are examples of commercial films such as Agni Sakshi (1996) and Daraar (1996), which do mention marital rape, these films have been forgotten in the national memory. Deepak's closing speech draws attention to an important reality - women's consent is determined by the impression they gave to the men - by their clothes they wear, their choices to drink or not, or even to a great extent - their career choices or even decision to work and become an independent woman. 

To sum up, the film is a powerful reproduction that is an ongoing conflict in the Indian society - the fear that one's traditional values will be lost if anyone - men or women - adopt "modern" values. Secondly, it addresses a vital point - when a woman is raped or molested, it is not her rapist or molester that is put on trial in the eyes of the society - it is the rape victim herself. Therefore, even though the women are innocent, their decision to long to become indepedent, professional, working women is seen as a threat. As a result, they are two key things that the film addresses in its message. 

The first thing is that we need stronger laws to punish the rapists. According to Bangkok Post, the leader of the gang rape in Indonesia has been sentenced to death. The case of a fatal death of a fourteen-year-old has to lead the government to increase the punishment for rapists and child sex offenders. While the decision of capital punishment is perhaps a harsh solution, but it does instill fear in the minds of the offenders, which may lead to a reduction of such crimes. But that being said the film notes that law and order are indeed corrupt in India to a great extent. Police officers readily discourage the rape victims from coming forward and lodging an FIR report. While I do not want to make a generalization, I do think that is a salient issue that needs to be addressed if we want to control the numbers of rapes and molestation cases in India. 

The second and last point that I want to discuss the ways in which the society targets the rape victim. In the name of honour and shame, women and men are scared to come forward and lodge victim reports. They fear that they will be mocked, humiliated, harassed, or even lose face in the eyes of the society. 

Overall, an excellent film that is influential, thought-provoking, and well worth a watch. The drama and thrill of the movie are not bad either. 

Stars: 5/5 

Images: Facebook page of Pink 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Meet The New Kid On The Blog:Emerging Documentary Filmmaker Pritha Chakraborty

 A couple of months back, Zana Haque with whom I had worked with for promoting and writing about the Kickstarter project for The World Before Her (2012) introduced me to Pritha Chakraborty, an emerging documentary filmmaker in her own right. Since the last few months, I have gotten a chance to learn more about the mechanics and art of film-making especially as a young woman in India.

Her most recent venture, Silent Voices (2015), was produced by Film Division of India and documents the lives of the women in her family who have unrequited dreams and whose lives revolve around familial responsibilities and burdens of motherhood. Chakraborty explores the complexities and nuances of middle class India. Marriage, of course, certainly plays a salient role in devising the roles for the women in the family. Though a short film, the film is riveting and showcases that even though economically, India has entered the 21st century, there is much work that needs to be done to underline women's issues that continue to remain unresolved. The documentary was recently shown at 2015 Hot Docs Festival in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Here is the trailer for the film:

I got a chance to interview her and learn more about her upcoming projects.

Nidhi Shrivastava: What was your inspiration to become a filmmaker? 

Pritha Chakraborty: It's actually been a very strange journey. I was born and brought up in a very small town where film-making was never considered to be a career option especially when you are a girl. But I have supportive parents who always thought I should be the master of my destiny. But honestly it was never a conscious choice I made, it's more of an organic metamorphosis I had over the years through exploring the power of this medium. I could join anything like Mass Communication in St. Xaviers college Kolkata just to run away from Mathematics, but as days went by I started loving this path. I enjoyed the editing part most. I believe it's my internal urge to tell a story which inspired me to join the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute in Film Editing specialization. The more I liked the process of editing, more fiction/non-fiction I edited, more confidence I got to be able to tell a story. Then I decided that I should also tell a story of mine and hence the birth of "Silent Voices".

N.S.: How did you write Silent Voices

P.C:  Silent Voices also developed on it's own. I always believed that film is such a transparent medium, if you aren't honest you can't get away with it. So when I thought of making one I asked myself what is that one thing which makes me question, angry, tells me I need to talk about this and I realized that it was the concept of "Silent Voices". I have written many drafts in different formats as I was skeptical telling this through my near and dear ones. I started shooting with lot of prohibition. I started observing my very closed ones through lens and it started taking shape of it's own. It was in the edit table the final draft is written which was independent of any draft I wrote so far.

N.S. What are the challenges that you have faced as an emerging filmmaker?

P.C: To be very honest, I'm quite lucky to get commissioned by a prestigious body like Films Division India in the very first attempt. But the challenge was not external as much as internal. As this film was a personal one, when I started shooting I thought it would be easier as I have enormous access to my subjects. But gradually it became tougher as I was in inner-conflict being a daughter/sister and being a filmmaker. So the challenge was bringing out the truth with dignity and honesty.

N.S: What are the projects that are in development? 

P.C: Currently I'm working on two projects, one will be a shorter one where a brilliant women photographer find herself with a disease called alopecia, where she has lost all her hairs. So it's her tale how being in a society where women's being is measured by lot of external factors. How a brave girl like her is dealing with the same being inside the system.  Also working on a feature which deals with the concept of "Arranged Marriage in India". Again what are the parameters to be met before groom's family selects the prospective bride. I have a very interesting character who is still looking for a bride at the age of fifty. The film will be unfold with his journey to find out a suitable bride.

N.S: When you chose a creative field, did your family support your career aspirations? 

P.CI said in I'm very fortunate that my immediate family has always been supportive of my decisions. My father always said that even if I stumble at some point, I will always know where did I go wrong and rise again. It's also true that at times they were comprehensive but they believed in my vision.

N.S: What are your favorite films? 

P.C: It's very difficult to answer, I'm telling the first five names coming in my mind. In fiction,  Mirror by Tarkovsky, Turtle can fly by Bahman Ghobadi, , Climate by Ceylan, Where is my friend's home by Kiarostami, About Elly by Asghar Farhadi, in documentary Gleaners and I by Agnes Verda, Position among the stars Trilogy by Leonard Retel Helmrich, Waltz with Bashir by Ari Folman, Herzog's films.

N.S: Tell me more about your experience as film editor? 

P.C: Editing is the process which has always excited me. I found documentary editing is much more challenging than fiction though I have edited more of fictions including two feature films. Because in fictions I edited the choices/options were limited to experiment and most of it pre-structured. But in case of documentary you shape what you want to say by putting together piece by piece which can be anywhere in the footage. Once you are successful in doing that nothing can be more satisfactory than that. I had a challenging time while editing Silent Voices because bringing the objectivity of an editor in the project which you have directed is toughest. 

N.S: What re the issues that inspire you to make the film? 

P.CI made Silent Voices because I have seen how the lives of women around me has always been measured with some predetermined perception of how they should be. Mostly we are born and brought-up with some arbitrary measurement imposed by society and these notions are so popularly accepted that it's the only reality. I would say this film is not a women-right film but a human-right one, because when you deny some one's basic right for education it can't be something to do with women only it's the defeat of that society

Pritha (right) and Zana (left) at 2015 Hot Docs Film Festival
N.S: As a filmmaker, what do you think about women's issues in India? 

P.C:  In a way I belong to an interesting time. Me being a part of the same society, coming out and telling my story, this itself is proof of that. But saying so I'm also alarmed as you see in the scene where my sister's 3 years old boy says cooking is women's job not for boys. I pray that when this child grows up to be a 'Man' he can look at it from a objective point of view, only then he can question. Because if you can't come out of the system this cycle will never end. Till then Women Empowerment will remain just as an issue in this country.

N.S: Will you want to make a commercial feature film in the future? 

P.C:  Yes, I would like to make a fiction film someday too. If there is any story which demands the format of fiction, I would definitely make one. 

Feature Image and all Images courtsey of Pritha Chakraborty

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Domestic Abuse and LGBTI Rights: India's Current Struggles in Saurav Dutt's The Butterfly Room (2015)

Since the release of India's Daughters (2015) and its imminent ban in India, Bengali author Saurav Dutt's The Butterfly Room (2015) also makes an intervention in women's rights and LGBTI rights in India. The novel is a must-read and deals with domestic abuse, LGBTI rights, interracial relationships, and divorce. Available now at Amazon in Kindle and Paperback, the novel explores and develops complex characters who are dealing with raw and gritty issues, which continue to happen but are silenced  in lieu of sustaining the patriarchal status quo that has been ingrained within the Indian society.

According to his official website, Saurav Dutt has written for The Guardian, The Independent and has written a wide range of books, which include film star biographies, contemporary fiction and horror, Manga, and graphic novels. His books have been short-listed and featured in London and Frankfurt Book fairs, MCM Comic Book convention, and Book Expo of America. The Butterfly Room was first unveiled in the prestigious Kolkata Book Fair from Jan 25th to February 8th, 2015.

I got a chance to interview the author Saurav Dutt and engage in a discussion with him regarding the issues he has written about in his novel.

Nidhi Shrivastava: Please speak more about the inspiration behind the novel in particular, the NO MORE campaign, domestic violence against women and LGBTI rights. 

Saurav Dutt: I wanted to write a story that talked about how domestic violence against women and LGBTI discrimination within Asian culture is prevalent among those who really should know better. I wanted to explore the fact that such opinions have not necessarily evolved with time but have seemingly become entrenched in age old stereotypes and regressive mindsets which do not encourage dialogue but seek to eradicate it. ‘India’s Daughter’ was a good starting point. The denial and opaque nature of the ruling class to the programme and its determination to ban it made me wonder why they were so ashamed to talk about these issues head on; then I realised that these same fermented attitudes pervade dialogue of the above subjects and is not just limited to the hideous act of rape. This is not limited to India or Asian culture but seems to be particularly relevant to it due an unwillingness to encourage dialogue and admit to certain faults.

N.S: How was the experience interviewing survivors of abuse and discrimination? Were there any specific moments that were memorable during the interviews? What were some of the challenges that you faced during the research of your novel? 

S.D: This was both a troubling and inspirational experience. The media sometimes likes to stereotype those who have survived such abuse and discrimination as weak, ineffectual and even complicit in their own suffering. What if I were to tell you those I interviewed where as young as 19 and 20 and had settled for arranged marriages and marriages of convenience to preserve archetypes and a status quo that has pervaded certain cultures for decades upon decades? That they were not poor, uneducated but were extremely well read, articulate and struggled daily with whether they should accept their abuse and discrimination or fight to be heard. These were ordinary people: doctors, teachers, housewives; highly articulate, intelligent, independent and forceful people who were trapped because they were foolish enough to fall in love with an ideal in the 21st century: that they could love and be loved and not judged. However some seek to punish transgressions because they feel their stereotypes are reinforced by a culture which silently nods its head in agreement and that they will be met with unserving support throughout.However these talks were ultimately inspirational because those who were younger were determined not to be trapped in a vicious cycle in 20 years, they would rather take a stand now to earn freedom for later.

N.S: The novel is presented as an urgent response to the controversy behind Leslee Udwin's India's Daughters, please speak more about the two in relation to one another? 

S.D.: It disturbed me that the ruling class, the elite and its echo chambers seemed to revel in heaping scorn upon Leslee and her film; if it wasn’t one diversionary tactic it was another, all to obfuscate the real issues and to somehow shrug a shoulder or two and dismiss what happened as the product of evil lunatics hellbent on raping someone weaker than them. That’s only the tip of the iceberg. It exposed in its wake a primeval attitude that some women in society are still better seen than heard, that they should stop agitating and being a nuisance by advocating their rights. The same mindset seemingly applies to those from the LGBT community. You’d be surprised how entrenched this ideology is. At the same time this class elitism is directed against the LGBT community, that fighting for their rights in the 21st century is a sign of how allegedly sick minded they are and that they should shut up and let the legislature decide for them. I wanted to write a book that highlighted this class indifference; the family in my novel are a successful family in financial terms with status, power and prestige but who fall apart because they are unable to face and admit the kind of hidden realities a lot of Indians and Indian families experience and because they are not dealt with head on they tend to become hugely self destructive.

N.S:  In your novel, you write about Sunita's relationship with David, who is still viewed as a "foreigner". Lakshmi acknowledges that she understands the relationship but it is against their familial cultural beliefs. What was the reasoning behind the creation of the interracial relationship? 

S.D: Interracial marriages are a wonderful thing and within a few generations from now there will be no resistance-implied or otherwise-from Indian parents if there children want to marry somebody who is not Indian or from an Indian background. Lakshmi is in a way the last of her kind, she is from the old guard but knows that there is no point in resisting change and the development of society. She knows her daughter has to be happy, whoever she chooses but it is a realisation she has come to because her older daughter was more or less blackmailed into settling for another well to do Indian boy simply because it was more convenient. This was the kind of evolution that I wanted to show in the relationship.

N.S:   Divorce is another issue that is explored in the novel and it is important to acknowledge that both Sunita and Anita seem to be pariahs in their own families because they are choosing to transgress their "traditional" cultural values. Please elaborate more about the discussions of these issues in the novel. 

S.D: Divorce is hugely frowned upon within Indian communities and families, particularly so amongst those ‘well to do’ families with perceived status, prestige and who feel they are on the higher scale of class privilege. It is deemed a badge of dishonour and must be fought and eradicated. At the same point even if a relationship has broken down, this almost arrogant mindset believes that a broken marriage must be preserved because others may talk and gossip. At the same time the bond between Indian families in this sense is preserved because the children must not suffer by having their parents break apart; I had to explore this because it underpins the relationships of many who are successful on the face of it but are tormented inside because of what society expects of them.

N.S:  In the novel, Lakshmi and Foiza engage in a discussion where there is an important observation made by the women. Laksmi observes that where it is Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh, there is no open discussion about domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse, child molestation, and so on. I think this is an important moment in the novel because it acknowledges the fact that these issues and the silences behind them remain unresolved. As an author who was also researching on these issues, what types of silences from the survivors and victims? Were they all vocal about their experiences? 

S.D: Those who were younger were determined not to remain silent but when their community, their elders and even their own immediate family suggest it is better not to speak up, then they feel alienated and alone. Very few can fight the fight because it means ostracizing yourself and others instead seem to suffer in silence. I talk about the ‘wall of silence’ that seems to meet them and that is sometimes more harmful than being criticized outright. Again this mirrors the culture of denial pervading Asian society on these issues.

N.S:   Rohan is the arch-patriarchal figure in the novel. He does come across as being narcissistic and believes that money will all of his children's issues including Vinesh's predicament with his homosexual desires. He also seems to have a Machiavellian edge to him. Vinesh even accuses him of thinking that he is the "society" and William calls him a living "anachronism", Please elaborate more on this moment. What was the reasoning behind the creation of Rohan as the patriarchal figure?  

S.D: Rohan represents the old guard and yes he loves his family so much he must hold them up to his values; they are puppets to orchestrate his vision and image of what the perfect successful Indian family should be as it exists within the Western world. As a result he himself feels alienated when he feels this is not given the gratitude and thanks he expects, he almost feels those who do not share this idealism are traitors in a sense.

N.S: You use Hindi (Hinglish) phrases intermittently throughout the novel. Does the novel have a particular audience? 

S.D: The audience is for those who can identify with those who are voiceless needing a voice. The use of the Hindi is to lend the context credence because these families would speak in this sense and it provides a bridge between the two cultures. The novel is for anyone who wants to understand the deeper layers between these mindsets. Abuse and discrimination is never black and white, in fact the more deeply layered attitudes to it are almost as disturbing as the acts and words themselves

N.S: The Delhi rape case became an important turning point in India's history putting it on the international media map and violence against women has become a controversial and debatable issue since 2012. How do you feel about violence against women after writing the novel and interviewing the survivors? 

S.D: I have always condemned this violence in the most vitriolic of terms but I feel it is how we handle its repercussions as a society that says everything about who we are. Speaking to those for the novel I was dismayed about how they felt their voices were not being heard and that there was no freedom in collating a collective voice when a huge media sponsored event occurred because after the media and hype dies down we almost seem to be waiting for another India’s Daughter to happen. We pray it never does.

N.S: My final question is about the title and the significance of the Butterfly room. The room also reminds me of Virginia Woolf's essay called "The Room of Her Own." The room for Laxmi becomes a sanctuary but also a place for she contemplates suicide, which for me, was an allusion also to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" and the way in which the main female protagonist was slowly mentally disintegrating. Please speak more about the creation of the room itself. 

S.D: Yes the room is an allegory of self contained beauty put together with painstaking care, love and attention but only for show. What if those butterflies never wanted to be encased within a room? Who is to judge whether beauty should be imprisoned or what one’s ideal of beauty is? What about the butterflies, should they free as nature intended or contained and managed, their beauty on display for all to see as long as it can’t be set free to fly away…

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Dawat-e-Ishq Speaks About Dowry-ism in India

Pic Credit:xcitefun

Bollywood has been concerned with many of the women's issues that have put India on the map. This is one review I had been craving to write, perhaps more than even Finding Fanny (which was a great film- more Woody Allen style, but the critique of that film can wait, I think). As a huge Bollywood and Aditya Roy Kapoor fan, I was keenly awaiting the release of Dawat-e-Ishq (Feast of Love, 2014). Thinking it was going to be the typical rosy-Bollywood love story, I had no idea that there would be a surprise of the social message that film aspired towards in its content.

Pic Credit: boxofficecapsule

Directed by Habib Faisal and produced by Aditya Chopra under the Yash Chopra banner, right from the start, the film begins with a comical scene. Gullu (Parineeti Chopra), a motherless middle class Indian woman raised by her father (Anupam Kher), Gullu aspires to become someone. However, she constantly comes across dowry-seeking men who try to use marriage as an economic transaction to pursue their career and dreams. Gullu dreams of leaving Hyderabad and migrating to the United States so that she can become a well-known fashion designer.

The film speaks of the lives of Indian Muslims, which is a community least represented in Indian popular culture. Perhaps, the most endearing and poignant representation was in M.S. Sathyu's Garam Hawa (Hot Winds, 1973)  who are trying to adjust living in post-Partition India. The film honors and respects their colorful culture.

pic credit: Indianexpress

Now, lets focus on the crux of the issue that this film seeks to unpack. It speaks about the age-old problem that has plagued India for centuries - dowry! My late grandfather too used to write plays in Hindi about the issue writing about women who are empowered and stand for what they believe in. Here, too, Gullu does exactly that even for Amjad (Karan Wahi), a man she briefly sees before his family demand an atrocious amount of money for his further MBA studies in America. She walks out on him finally coming with a scheme to trick these dowry-hungry families and trick them into giving money and later accusing them using the Indian law 498a, which punishes families for asking for dowry.

While I won't give away what happens during the course of the film, the film addresses many salient points that are relevant to India's modern reality for Indians. The issue of dowry coupled with the status of women whose lives are determined by the economic status of their families often limits them from becoming someone or pursuing their dreams. While Gullu (in a true Yash Chopra style) is of course lucky in love and meets a man, Tariq (Aditya Roy Kapoor) who wants to marry for love and even helps her with the dowry.

This film is worth watching for its songs especially Sonu Nigam's "Mannat" but also for the chemistry that Kapoor-Chopra bring to the table! Of course, let's not forget how this film speaks profoundly about dowry-ism within the Indian community, specifically the Indian Muslim community that inhabits India. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fear No More: Easily Accesible Website Now Available To Domestic Abuse Victims

Image Credit:
October is the Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic abuse is a universal phenomenon much like the recent emerging rape crisis in Asia especially in countries like India and Malaysia. Crimes such as domestic abuse, rape, and sexual violence are hush-hush within any community. In my past teaching experiences, as a teaching assistant to the "Introduction to Women's Studies Course" at University of Western Ontario, I was approached by a student who told me that because these issues are such taboos, society silences the voices of the victims due to stigmas and taboos that surround these particular issues. Her emotional words have stayed with me all these years. Honored to be approached by Chris McMurry, director of Theresa's Fund. We engaged in a fascinating discussion about the ways in which technology now plays a key role especially in the social sector.
 Recently launched, Theresa's Funds with partnership with the National Coalition of Domestic Violence (NCADV), is the very first searchable online database of domestic violence and includes about 3,000 of the agencies in the US. When someone visits this mobile-friendly website, any one can find the near domestic shelter based on their location, services, and language preference. Easily accessible to anyone who is in desperate need to get out of the relationship, I found that as a young woman of twenty-eight years who is constantly engaged with social media for both social and intellectual purposes, I can truly attest to the value that this particular website offers especially within the South Asian community. McMurry informed me a surprising statistic that, "approximately half of the online searches nowadays take place through mobile phones." Because this particular search engine is mobile-friendly, victims have easy access to the three pillars of the services that it offers: "Find Help," "Be Safe," and "Get Smart." "Find Help" is a tool that allows you to get help in your language (available in international languages including sign language). "Be Safe" is a tool that allows you to escape detection by clearing your browsing history and clicking on "leave the site." Finally, "Get Smart" is an education tool to aid in making good decisions. 

Sylvia Torralba, membership director of NCADV, says, "The great news is that there are many good people, organizations and providers trying to help, and in fact, helping.” She further added, "With some 36,000,000 million searches a year in just the U.S. on the topic of domestic violence, is an overdue and much-needed concept that may help more people than any other service ever offered in this space, and may help save lives because it will be so easy, accessible and fast to use."

The organizers of the site worked endlessly for more than six months identifying 3,001 domestic violence provider organizations in the United States. 

The origin of the website was born out of the need as McMurry noticed that on the first few pages of the Google search engine. There will be perhaps attorney websites, national organizations, state coalition, and maybe a shelter or an organization on the first page. As the director of Theresa's Fund, he realized that there was a prominent gaping hole as there was no single site that made finding services fast and easy. The younger generation, he said, barely calls on the phone but uses the phone for Facebook, Texting, and online searches. This website, in particular, is mobile-safe to avoid the abuser from gaining access as the victim can easily access on the phone's browser without getting caught. 

To sum it up, as times are changing, technology is playing a vital role in the social sector. This mobile-friendly website indeed is a turning point especially when it comes to domestic violence - according to Google more than 3,000, 000 searches are conducted per month (a scary statistic!).  

Images courtesy: Chris McMurry

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Mary Kom: Can A Woman Indeed Have It All?

Mary Kom/Celebden
In recent times, Indian women are gradually coming into the limelight. For Anokhi Media, I have recently taken an interview with Asia's upcoming female comedienne and actress, Sharul Channa upcoming in the next month! 

While Deepika Padukone has recently made headlines with the Times of India recent photo gallery showcasing popular Bollywood actresses including Anushka Sharma and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan caused a controversy in Tinseltown drawing the issue of women's rights into the lime light once again. That being said, India's Film Industry has been attempting to make films, which raises awareness of women's rights in India. 

Although politically, I am a humanist and my heart feels compassion and empathy for all those who are suffering in need - men, women, child, and others who do not fit into one category or another. These are issues that do concern me because India continues to be remained with female infanticide, rape and sexual violence, child sexual abuse, and so on. 

Bhansali Productions, known earlier for blockbuster hits such as Ram Leela (2013) and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1998) released Mary Kom - a biopic starring Priyanka Chopra. The movie is about a young woman's dream to break boundaries and emerge as India's first woman boxer who has won several championships. What makes her dream possible is the support she receives from her family and life partner who encourage her to follow her dreams against all odds. Mary Kom goes on to win world championships. 
Priyanka Chopra With Mary Kom/IndiaToday

What perhaps make this film stand out among others is that it highlights the issue of racism that continues to run within India's nervous system especially when it comes to the people of North-east India commonly called "Chinkis" because they have many features that makes them look more Chinese supposedly and stereo typically than most Indians. Much like the North-South differences that continue to be apparent in India, there have been many attempts in media especially through advertisements (See Amitabh Bachchan's KBC episode). 

Throughout this film, we are able to see many experiences that the men and women from this part of the region experience on their daily lives. To have a woman fighter borne out of these circumstances is something that serves as a reminder that India's history and culture are much more richer than what meets the eye. Furthermore, this particular film is the perfect example of the power that popular culture has. If this film had not been made, we probably would have never heard or known about the success that Mary Kom had accomplished for her India! And as Indians, we should be proud and more accepting of those who are different from us! 

The Real Mary Kom exclaimed after watching the film to Indian Express,“What makes me happy is that my story and whatever it may contain to inspire younger generations, would now be taken far. Now the story of my struggle has gone to every corner of India." Indeed, where this story makes the most mark for me is that Mary Kom is the living proof that women can have it all - a career and a happy home if she receives the right type of support from her family and life partner. 

While obviously it is hard to overlook that her life is somewhat romanticized as a biopic, what makes it hard-hitting is that it is based on a real life biography of a woman who overcame difficult circumstances to become a successful boxer bringing India's name to the forefront in international games all around the world. 

This movie is a must-watch for all! 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

An Interview with A Rising Star: Indian Idol 4 Star - Rajdeep Chatterjee

Rajdeep Chatterjee 

      .....And I am back!

In the recent months, life has thrown many curve balls at my disposal in my personal life and at that moment, my priority was nothing more than my own family and personal life (as well as care for my own personal being). I have had to take a leave of absence this semester to remain at home. However, being a fan of challenges and fighting them through (thanks to the amazing support system I have and am grateful for), I am now back with a bang to continue to do what I do best - write, analyze, and critique cultural trends. I want to extend my thanks to both Samita Nandy, founder of Centre of  Media and Celebrity Studies (CMCS) for introducing us and Indian Idol 4 star and Bollywood Playback Singer Rajdeep Chatterjee for taking his time to answer my questions!

Teen Singing Sensation Rajdeep Chatterjee, 23, has been making waves in the Indian music industry winning the hearts of musical maestros like A.R. Rahman, Anu Mallick, Javed Akhtar, Kailash Kher, Sonali Bendre, Sonam Kapoor and Deepika Padukone. Mallick even declared him as the best singer of the season while the Symbiosis Group referred to him as the Jharkand Icon. He has performed with fellow music celebrities including Sonu Nigam, Alka Yagnik, Shreya Ghosal, Shankar Ehsan Loy, Himesh Reshamiya, Mika Singh, and Abhijit Bhattacharya. The judges have referred to him fondly as Mr. Smiley of course for his infectious smile and mature voice. An alumnus of Loyola School, Chatterjee has performed in 450 shows as a professional singer all over the world including in countries such as the United States of America, Canada, Africa, and the Commonwealth Games. Furthermore, he is also the winner of reality show singing competition Fankaar and a finalist in Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Lil' Champs.

I caught up with him after his return to Bombay after his recent performance at the Bollywood Monster Mashup in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada this summer!

Rajdeep Performing at the Bollywood Monster Mashup in Mississauga, Canada 
Nidhi Shrivastava: Thank you for taking the time for the interview. It is an honour. Did you always want to be a singer?

Rajdeep Chatterjee: Yes, music was always in my blood. My parents are musicians themselves (not professional) but they have learnt. So yes, I have been surrounded with music.

NS: What were your first impressions of India's music industry?

RC: The music industry is a dream for all musicians/singers. In this era of intense competition,its actually difficult to say who is good and who is not ,but honestly,I feel there should be more unity and appreciation than politics and negativity in this industry. The rest is all good

NS: How was the experience in the Indian Idol 4 especially working with India's music industry giants such as Javed Akhtar, Anu Malick, and Kailash Kher?

RC: Indian Idol was the turning point in my life. I had done a couple of reality shows before but as a kid .Indian Idol brought about a lot of change in my life.It taught me how to perform,how to face the audience,how to accept defeats as well. It's because of the show that I got the popularity and got opportunities to sing for Bodyguard, Khiladi 786,and Gunday as well it helped get my real self out.

NS: How was your experience singing for the films Bodyguard and Khiladi 786? 

RC: Bodyguard and Khiladi 786 experience was amazing. It was a treat working with Himesh ji (reshammiya).He is a gem of a person and an extremely talented music director. It was a blessing to work with him.

NS: What are the challenges that you have faced while being a part of India's music industry as a newcomer?

RC: We all face challenges everyday so I won't say that there was a particular time when I had to face challenges or problems. But I believe,music comes from your soul and not everybody can be a musician. You need to have that connection with GOD and that emotion within you. So I always sing from my heart. For me, my stage is a Temple,and music is the Idol that I worship.

NS: I have read that you had earlier sung for the Telegu and Tamil films as a playback singer, tell us more about your experience in these industries? 

RC: Yes,I had sung for a Tamil film long back after Idol. It was recorded in Ar Rahman sir's studio in Chennai.The experience was fabulous. I couldn't have asked for more.I have also tried singing in Marathi and Bengali languages.

NS: In the more recent times, singers also have to be excellent performers and have to be better "groomed" than the singers of the yesteryears? How has your experience being regarding the performance element of your singing career? 

RC: Yes ,its ABSOLUTELY right.Singers have to be performers.By performer, I mean,an entertainer who value the time that the audience has spent in coming down all the way to see his or her act. They should get the value for time and money that they have spent. It is our responsibility as artists to see to it that our audience enjoys and has a great time when they are with us. For that an artists needs to be versatile, charming, interesting along with his musical skills. The competition is fierce now.we have so many singers, but I wish our country discovers more performers as well!

NS: Who are your favorite singers? your idols? 

RC: My favorite singers have been Manna Dey, Mohammad Rafi sahib and Kishore Kumar. In the newer Generations ,we have Sonu (Nigam) ji who is amazing .I love his feel.

I hope you all enjoyed the interview with Rajdeep! Here is a clip of him performing for the Bollywood Monster Mashup this year in Mississauga, Ontario!