Bachelor Girls: Can gender decide whether you can rent a house in Mumbai?

Taken from Vimeo

“That’s why all single women come to Mumbai, to start brothels.”

“I never thought of myself as a bachelor, I thought of myself as a person.”

How hard would finding a home in Mumbai be? One would think, the soaring real estate prices and lack of space would be the only reasons to worry about. Bachelor Girls, a documentary by ad film maker Shikha Makan reveals the stark reality of why “Mumbai, the city of dreams is actually a nightmare,” for women. Lost The Plot, a rooftop cinema in Pune, recently held the screening of Bachelor Girls which concluded with a panel discussion.

Panel discussion at Lost The Plot
Panel discussion at Lost The Plot

The documentary explores the predicament of single women trying to rent a house in the metropolitan city of Mumbai. Makan has interviewed women from diverse professions drawing a parallel on how rampant and common the issue is. During the documentary one realises that the professions have not been enlisted intentionally in order to further reinstate the fact.

The topic chosen comes from a personal space for Makan, who later realised that it wasn’t just her who went through this ordeal. “When I came to Mumbai, it was so hard for me to find a house. I was slut shamed and what not just for being a single woman,” explains Makan.

The women in the documentary speak about the multiple interviews and verification they must endure while searching for a house. Sometimes, the questions being extremely belligerent to even being called names. “Being called a whore by a group of people despite talking nicely is traumatic,” says one of the women in the film.

One of them even explains how one almost feels like a criminal while being interrogated. It doesn’t end here as some societies even have a sign-board that says, ‘No bachelor women or foreigners allowed’, leaving single women to settle with houses that are unsafe.

From students studying in the city, to even being a banker or an actor, gender will play a card in where you settle. Actor Kalki Koechlin speaks out, “I had to move out from my apartment because of the suspicion and inconvenience I faced. My makeup person’s bag would be checked when she would come home. Where does a woman who has recently separated and without kids go?”

“Home is home, you don’t want to be fighting another battle here. You’re already fighting one out there,” says Kalki.

Talking about the discernment Kalki faced, she says, “The irony is they all want to watch your film but don’t want you to live in their building. They would even ask me for autographs and pictures.”

Being denied a house on the basis that you are unmarried is completely against the laws laid down by our democratic country. As one of the women in the documentary states, “I have been asked if I drink, smoke or throw parties. But then, don’t married couples also drink, smoke and party?” To present both sides of the story, Makan decided to interview real estate agents and housing society members which eventually proved to be a challenge. Out of the few who agreed to speak on camera, posing as moral guardians, claimed, “When girls are at home they have to follow house rules, how is it any different when they live outside home? Also, smoking and drinking are not part of our culture.” Another woman housing society representative said, “When girls leave their homes, they get freedom. They wear all kinds of dresses and start going out. We need to take precautions.”

The film also dwells upon the laws regarding real estate and housing societies. These categorically state that housing societies are not allowed to create by-laws or discriminate on the basis of gender. There are ways to get around the issue, by either paying a bribe or lying about your relationship status. In 2004, Lakshmi Pandit from Mumbai won the Femina Miss India-World pageant, but had to return her crown soon after allegations were made that she was married. Pandit later revealed that while she was single, she had lied about being married in order to rent a flat.

The documentary comes at a time when women empowerment and development of society are given focus even in advertisement campaigns. But, Makan argues, “How are we talking about woman empowerment and increasing female participation, when we cannot even give them access to basic facilities such as housing. Society can’t stop looking at you from the gender prism.” As one of the women in the film rightly puts it, “Mumbai is a city that allows you to be out till late. But, then we have to come back to rented apartments where the society members or even the watchmen have an issue with our timings. It doesn’t matter if we are 20 or 35 years old ”

On being asked if showcasing the documentary to a certain section of society with a more liberal outlook could seem like preaching to the converted. Makan replies, “I think films are a powerful medium. I am trying to spread the word and initiate dialogue. By screening it, I am creating an environment for willingness and acceptance to raise common voice against injustice.”

The panel discussion which had been organised by ‘Lost The Plot’ included the film maker, Rani Wilfred (founder of Real Estate Women Associates-India), Sowmya Rajendran (author and journalist) and Manasi Pinge (Communications Manager, JW Marriott). The women from diverse backgrounds shed light on the severity of the issue and the archaic views we still hold. This saw a lot of people from the crowd come forward to share their similar experiences on getting a house, due to their gender or being a foreigner. Sending out a clear message that it is a film that connects with people on a personal level whether they belong to Mumbai, Pune or other “liberal” cities. Pinge, a single mother living in the city revealed how most of her neighbours are unaware of her divorce. She tries to maintain this to avoid unwanted questioning.

The documentary has already been screened at four different venues and the film maker is trying to release it online. In order to ensure maximum outreach about an issue that poses several underlying nuances that need to be fought in this patriarchal society. Despite creating a positive ripple effect with her film, Makan is doing her bit to further the cause amongst the concerned authorities. “For the Mumbai screening I will be inviting the Chairman of Mumbai Housing Societies,” she adds.

This article contains excerpts from the film. The one hour long documentary reveals even more startling facts.

Zeenat Tinwala

Zeenat Tinwala

She’s our Employee #1 and is often the first to come in and last to leave office. And she’s an accomplished kickboxer. Stay clear!
Zeenat Tinwala