@ The New York India Film Festival

Image Courtesy: New York India Film Festival


American actress and comedian Roseanne Barr has said, “The thing women have yet to learn is that nobody gives you power. You just take it.”

I saw two movies and just finished a book that epitomizes these words.

The inaugural movie at the New York India Film Festival has had its fair share of controversy and was even banned in India, though I believe it is now scheduled for release.

The director Alankrita Srivastava has to be commended for writing the script and going ahead with making “Lipstick under my Burkha.’ It is a brave film and much needed.

During a question and answer session, the director candidly admitted she wanted a woman centric film and had purposely not fleshed out the role of the men. The women’s voices needed to be heard.

Her four protagonists are different from each other but united by their subjugation and the need for them to behave in stereotypical fashion. It is a movie about following dreams. Without giving away much of the story, the script revolves around a mother/daughter who need to resort to all means possible to earn a living and save for a home; a young college girl who is stifled by her parents but let’s go outside the confines of her room; a subjugated wife and mother who swallows mental and physical abuse by her husband and finally a 55-year old widow who tries hard to fight sexual feelings by living under a veneer of spirituality and faith.

I could not understand the need to ban the movie. Was it because two of the protagonists were Muslim? Or could it be because the actors do not shy away from portraying sexual scenes?

The movie is set in small town India and is steeped in realism. This is how life is and why the need to gloss over it? It is high time these issues were addressed and dragged out of the closet.

An American friend who watched the movie with me was uncomfortable at how callously the women were treated. The director cleverly left the ending ambivalent allowing people to interpret it as they desire. My fertile imagination had already written the sequel, with a positive outcome.

The festival is in its 17th year and one would imagine it would be set with funding and support. Unfortunately, it appears they had issues with funding as a result of which the venue was changed at the last minute. There was obvious cost-cutting during the premiere.

The previous week, I attended the premiere of a Broadway musical with some of my non-Indian friends. We were given great wine, appetizers and dinner followed by Orchestra seats for the show.

For the same price, all we got at the film festival, was bad wine in plastic mugs. Even the popcorn came at a steep price. I had invited a friend who was at the show the week before and was embarrassed at the obvious difference in treatment.

At the musical premiere, the producer, music and dance director interacted with guests and welcomed everyone. There was press interviewing them but it did not distract them from interacting with guests. The celebrities at the film festival were only concerned with the red carpet and the organizers did not mingle with unknown guests.

I have noticed Indians behave in a cliquish manner at functions, isolating outsiders. Initially I thought it was a peculiarity of Indians in the US but was told by some of my friends in India that it happens among the elite in India too.

It is a sad reflection of us as a society.

That said, I hope the New York film festival attracts decent sponsors because the caliber of films is fantastic and it’s a shame the rest of the event does not fall into a superlative category.

Talking about superlatives and the other movie I saw at the festival, Poorna, deserves every conceivable accolade. It is based on the real life story of Poorna Malavath, an Indian mountaineer who was the youngest person to climb Mount Everest.

Post the screening, Rahul Bose said the movie is a love poem to India, his gift to his country, delivered with love and warmth. He stated it was not his film but India’s film. Poorna is not just a movie that entertains, but one with a soul.

The story line is layered with different textures. On the surface, it appears to be the story of a tribal girl who fought against all odds to climb Everest at the age of 13. But beneath that veneer many other narratives get a voice. The best part of the movie is the positive feeling it generates. It gives us hope in the Indian political and bureaucratic system where otherwise all we hear are stories of corruption and incompetence.

It shows if the system works, India can become glorious. It is a movie that needs to be seen by every person in India; to learn from, to feel hopeful and to feel pride.

And as a woman, it was yet another movie emphasizing how a woman can do anything she sets her mind on, even in a man’s world. Though the festival promotes the movie as a documentary, there is nothing about the movie that gives it a documentary feel. It has been shot like a regular movie with stunning cinematography, great music and absolute attention to detail. When Poorna finally summits, the celebrations are shot in complete silence. It made a powerful statement.

Only a man with heart and vision can pull something like that off.

Vision is what Ayaan Hirsi Magan/Ali did not have while growing up in Somalia. It came to her gradually, in a life I feel privileged not to have lived. Hers is a story of a woman who fought a system that stifled her and managed to break free. Her search for truth and understanding led to the questioning of age old norms even if it meant losing familial ties.

Hirsi Ali’s traumatic and controversial life and the way she dealt with adverse circumstances is truly inspirational. She has written several books such as Infidel and The Caged Virgin.

She is another example of a woman who triumphed over adversity. A woman who eventually realized no one could give her the power, she had to claim it.

Just as the four protagonists in Lipstick under my Burkha eventually realized and absolutely how Poorna fought against society, hypothermia and hallucinations to power herself to success.

Monique Patel

Monique Patel

Monika Patel – Monique to her friends – is now a permanent resident of New York City, but her heart is permanently in Pune, her home for 28 years.
Monique Patel

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