A still from Paromita Vohra’s Unlimited Girls (Photo: Godrej Culture Labs)
| 5 min read

Inside A Feminist Film Festival 

As Mumbai woke up to India’s Independence Day with songs of patriotism (of Shaheeds, Jawans and Khoon ) blaring through everywhere, in an alternate universe a feminist docu film festival was stirring to life, celebrating Independence in a new form. The ‘Wandering Women: Feminist Docu Film Festival’ organised by the Ladies Finger and Godrej Culture Labs was held on Saturday and Sunday at the Godrej Culture Labs.

What one got at this festival was affirmation. It is rare that you get to watch films with interesting women characters. Bollywood’s version of feminism involves pre-marital sex, a vacation outside India and /or a devious scheme to fool a man, the rest is status quo. As Manu Joseph says in this piece these films are selling now and so are getting made, without any real motivation except profit driving them.

(Photo: YouTube/ zui kumarreddy)
(Photo: YouTube/ zui kumarreddy)

It is hard to find any real women characters in mainstream cinema, the documentary form in India luckily offers some respite. Films like Eyes of Stone, Something like a War, Tales of the Night Fairies, bring you face to face with women and the issues they face in India, in an engaging way.

This film festival then was an affirmation of the audience and creators of women centric content. Everyone there, or most had come to spend India’s independence day to watch films by and about women who, for the lack of any other defining adjective, “wander.” Wander within themselves, within the ideas of femininity and within society.

The hosts Nisha Susan and Parmesh Shahani. (Photo: Godrej Culture Labs)
The hosts Nisha Susan and Parmesh Shahani. (Photo: Godrej Culture Labs)

For all the times people get into talks about feminism, defining it is a struggle. It is an inevitable question that will come up at any feminism oriented event. As it did here too.

Bishakha Dutta defined it as “the radical idea that women are human” and Navneetha Mokkil, an academic working in the field of gender studies, said feminism is shifting, and its meaning changes depending on the cultural milieu one is operating out of.

We Are All Feminists Here

I had anticipated a sprinkling of people at the event, since those single words ‘feminist’ and ‘documentary’ can wreak havoc in their own right, to combine and put them together on a weekend at that, I thought was perhaps a path to certain abstinence on the part of the general public.

Surprisingly though the hall was packed, with people sitting on the stairs, where I had to too. The hosts pitched the number of attendees at roughly 400-450. And the slow trickle away of audience was slow enough for no one to take notice. And yes there were plenty of men there too.

A packed house on the first day (Photo: Godrej Culture Labs)
A packed house on the first day (Photo: Godrej Culture Labs)

There was an intimacy to the event playing out as it was from one designated screen, with many present already knowing each other and a general air of camaraderie. The hosts of the event were both extremely affable making it infinitely less boring since the consumption of documentaries back to back can get boring.

The selection of films while interesting, one wished there were other films, more disturbing or turbulent in their themes like for instance Something like a War that had been picked.

I’m really glad Ladies Finger took this initiative, it was much needed in the time of trash cinema, especially loved Manjuben Truckdriver, Kamlabai, Taza Khabar and Unlimited Girls. However, the films and filmmakers were mostly Mumbai based, would have liked a more diverse collection and discussion with each of the director.
– Japleen Pasricha, Founder-Editor of the website Feminism in India.

Shubhangi Joshi performs on the second day. (Photo: Godrej Culture Labs)
Shubhangi Joshi performs on the second day. (Photo: Godrej Culture Labs)

An All Women’s Party of India and Other Such

There were some bizarre questions directed at the filmmakers, with one guy asking if all women were united, and that if they could unite, they could form a political party and win elections, since the rest of the women would vote for them. Sound logic there. I wonder why no one has done it yet.

Another genius question directed at the filmmakers was, after the film what were they doing to help people that were subjects in their films. As if making a film weren’t an onerous task, as it were.

Nisha Susan moderates a panel discussion of feminism and documentary films with panelists Bishakha Dutta, Navneetha Mokkil, and Deepanjana Pal. (Photo: Godrej Culture Labs)
Nisha Susan moderates a panel discussion of feminism and documentary films with panelists Bishakha Dutta, Navneetha Mokkil, and Deepanjana Pal. (Photo: Godrej Culture Labs)

The films that stood out for me were:

  • Kamlabai, an endearing tale of Marathi cinema’s first woman actor.
  • Manjuben Truckdriver had too much swag to ever get boring.
  • Nirnay for its intimate portrayal of the filmmmaker and her friends.
  • Naach which brought the dancing cultures of small towns as shown in Bollywood to a more ‘real’ life.

It was a weekend pretty well spent with interesting conversation, films and women to keep company.

(Photo: YouTube/ zui kumarreddy)
(Photo: YouTube/ zui kumarreddy)