I had the opportunity to attend ‘Sama-bhav’ — a two day film festival organized by Men Against Violence & Abuse on 25th & 26th of November, marking the beginning of 16 days of Activism against gender-based violence. The term Sama-bhav constitutes of two words; sama which means even and bhav which means emotion and this two day festival was truly an emotional roller-coaster ride, where we witnessed a whole spectrum of different stories; stories strength, stories of hope, stories of pure emotion etc.
Day 1 kickstarted with a documentary ‘She Objects’ directed by Hong Kong based director Nicola Fan. ‘She Objects’ is the first documentary of its kind in Hong Kong to explore how traditional and new forms of media create and exacerbate gender stereotypes with often damaging consequences. At once provocative and inspiring, ‘She Objects’ challenges viewers to think critically about and resist the biased and often dehumanising portrayal of women in media. The film explores the impact of this on Hong Kong society and breaks new ground in bridging local, regional and global research and trends. Featuring engaging insights from celebrities and real-life stories and interviews with leading experts, the documentary explores the correlation between the media’s portrayal of women and eating disorders and self-esteem issues for girls, violence against women and girls, and the erosion of female ambition, and how social media and the ‘selfie’ culture are contributing to the phenomenon. The second film ‘Broken Image’ was about a photojournalist who comes face to face to with a girl who he had happened to meet 10 years ago in an unfortunate situation. This girl had been held captive by her fiance and while this man could have intervened and stopped, he decides to photograph her misery instead. She later reveals that her fiance poured acid on her face. Parallelly, there is a woman journalist who wants the details of this gory incident but only to make her story fleshy. This film touched upon a lot of critical issues such as bystander intervention, role of media in portraying gender based sexual violence (sometimes to increase their TRPs, sometimes to increase their ‘likes’) etc. The third film ‘A Pinch of Skin’ documented experiences of ‘khatna’ (female genital mutilation or female circumcision) among Dawoodi Bohra community in India. This was followed by a candid interaction with Aarefa Johari and Shaheeda Tavawalla-Kirtane of Sahiyo, an NGO dedicated to empowering Dawoodi Bohra and other Asian communities to end female genital mutilation.
The second half the day showcased a film ‘Inside Out’ made by 2 ex-students of Tata Institute of Social Sciences. This film had covered real life experiences of women in public spaces. There were three women in the film – a college going student who goes out alone to have a cup of tea, a burkha-clad girl student and 2 women taxi drives from Priyadarshini Taxi Service. These stories are stories of negotiation with an otherwise male dominated public space. The next film was a short film introducing an initiative ‘Why loiter’ that aims at girls and women reclaiming their right to public spaces. The first day ended with the screening of movie Pink which was followed by a vibrant discussion about topics like ‘consent’, ‘shame’, ‘honour’, ‘sexuality’ which time and again have been attached to the various kinds of violence against women.
The second day of the festival started with a silent film ‘A Short Scene About Waiting’ which only lasted a few minutes, but beautifully portrayed the differences of experience of a man and a woman when it’s way past dark. The film beautifully captures the anxieties of a woman while waiting for a man to pick her up from her workplace. This not only touches upon the gendered way of existence in a public space but also the gender roles that a man has to conform to by being the protector. The next film ‘Thanks’ is about a group of teenaged boys who while passing lewd remarks at a middle-aged woman see her getting kidnapped in front of their eyes. When they go to return her handbag the next day, she stops and expresses her gratitude by saying ‘thank you’ to them, which leaves them startled. The third film of the day ‘Boys cannot be boys’ was about sexual harassment at workplace. This film poignantly weaves the sequence of events and rolls out the process in which an Internal Complaints Committee operates in an organizational set-up. The next film ‘Mardistan’ brings together four narratives of Sikh / Punjabi men in four different walks of life who discuss their experiences with ‘manhood’ and their interactions with hyper-masculinity amongst their peers. The next film ‘Yuva Maitri: Young men breaking the moulds’ documented years of MAVA’s Gender Sensitization and Mentoring Program wherein young men are engaging as change-agents on gender-issues.
The second half of the second day started the film ‘Mitraa’ depicting a complex tale of lesbian relationships. This film is an adaptation of noted writer Vijay Tendulkar’s story ‘Mitraachi Goshta’ (A friend’s story). This was followed by an interaction with the film’s main actor Veena Jamkar, wherein she talked about her conviction behind playing the role of a lesbian in the film and her support towards the cause. The next film ‘Sundar’ was about a young boy who works in a beauty parlour and likes dressing up like a woman and dancing. The films very delicately and monochromatically makes us think about the gender binaries created by the society and how we conform to those binaries at every step in our lives. It makes us think about our socialization and how our likes and dislikes are a result of the same. In the film, when the protagonist’s mother finds him dressed like a woman and dancing on a garbha night, all hell breaks loose. Everytime he expresses his wish to go out and dance, his mother reminds him of ‘shame’ that he brought to the family by not conforming to gender role of being masculine. The last film of the festival ‘Walking the Walk’ documented Queer Swabhimana Pride. The parade was the first major LGBTQ demonstration in Hyderabad after the formation of Telangana, and local traditions that included queer identities were on display – like trays of flowers evoking the Bonalu festival, in which hijras traditionally summon the goddess.
Sama-Bhav was truly an enriching experience. These two days were spent learning about different kinds of gender-based violence in subtle and not so subtle ways in private as well as public spheres. This violence varies from physical to emotional to psychological. This systemic violence takes away a woman’s autonomy of her own life by taking away her right to assert herself at her home and by restricting her mobility in the public space. Additionally, these movies talked about some very critical issues such as market-fed ideas about the ‘perfect body’, ‘bystander intervention’, ‘reclaiming public spaces that are otherwise too hostile to other genders’, ‘female genital mutilation’, men as stakeholders towards a fair & just society, sexual fluidity etc. These two days truly proved that sometimes the best way to talk about issues violence is through art.
- Sumati Thusoo