On being “ladyoRIented”
As women, as artistes, as free citizens, let’s own our bodies, our writing, our desires, and our cinema
Right from the time I was young, I was drawn to stories about women. I was in an all-girls boarding school and then an all-girls’ college, and I read voraciously. Books had started teaching me that there is another way of seeing things. And it is books, especially written by and about women, that continue to be my fountain and source of inspiration. That perhaps explains my fascination with the complexity of female characters.
My diploma film in college—
My Mother’s Story—was about my mother’s struggle with cancer seen through my eyes; my first short—
Open Doors—featuring Tisca Chopra was about a day in the life of a woman who is trying to deal with an abusive marriage. My first feature
Turning 30—with Gul Panag was a coming of age story about a woman whose life spirals out of control as she hits 30. Lipstick Under My
Burkha is the story of four ordinary women and their search for freedom through secret acts of rebellion. The battle to get certification for
Lipstick though made me realise that this freedom to tell the stories I wanted to tell, could not be taken for granted. As a woman, and as a filmmaker, my voice is a threat to the patriarchal order. And my freedom thus, not so sacrosanct.
The question really is—are we claiming agency over our own lives? Or are we just too busy enabling patriarchal modes of existence? I think to “disobey” the rules of patriarchy is perhaps to live in freedom. I do feel that one of the essential ways through which patriarchy subjugates women is by indoctrinating the idea that the female body exists only for the purpose of fulfilling the needs of men and society. I think a cinema that challenges this narrative, should be termed “lady oriented.” The censorship embodied by the official censors of culture in our country is threatened by “lady oriented” cinema.
My only answer to the force of censorship is, I will continue to tell stories that speak of women’s inner lives and subvert the assumptions made by patriarchy.
Let’s not adopt the male gaze unquestioningly. Let’s find our own gaze. Whatever that is. But let’s know our eyes. Who is looking at the story and how is very critical for me. It is not just about making a film with a female protagonist, but about the eyes that look at her in the frame, and how the audience is encouraged to look at her.
I think as a woman and as a filmmaker, I want to break the myth of the films I should be “allowed” to make. I don’t need anybody’s permission to express myself through cinema. I don’t need anybody’s sanction to tell my stories. I must strive to gather the resources (read funding) and make my films. No one is going to gift me the cinema I want to make. I have to claim my freedom and my right to create that cinema.
“TO DISOBEY THE RULES OF PATRIARCHY IS PERHAPS TO LIVE IN FREEDOM”