Through the woman's lens
WOMEN WHO make films often protest against gender labelling just like women who write or paint do. After all, Peter Jackson is not called a male film maker, while Sophia Coppola has to carry the `woman' tag. But speaking on the closing day of the international festival of films ``Made by Women," Aparna Sen declared that she was happy to be identified as a woman director, it meant that she had a vision quite different from the male. This ratified the aim of Mumbai-based Point of View which put together a package of five films from four continents to tour seven Indian cities: ``The mission of the festival is to explore women's images, talent, their distinct ways of seeing.''
Made by Women was presented in Chennai by the Indo Cine Appreciation Foundation and Ellements (April 2-6). ``Didn't we see how sensitive Mira Nair was in handling the child abuse sequence in `Monsoon Wedding?' Aparna Sen had no blatant imagery for communal violence in `Mr and Mrs Iyer.' Deepa Mehta makes her point in effective visuals. Their approach moves me,'' said film maker Janaki Viswanathan. Many viewers saw the event as a welcome focus on women directors facing uphill struggles in a male dominant industry. Chennai's women directors like Suhasini Maniratnam and Revathi were conspicuous by their absence, as also film star Khushboo, slated to inaugurate the show. The festival drew sizeable crowds, even though the films were not new, being the early works of their makers.
For many first time viewers, Aparna Sen's ``36, Chowringhee Lane'' was a revelation of what was achieved 23 years ago in a low budget, off beat production. Documentarist R. Buvana said, ``Some men did remark that Sen could have avoided scenes of sexual intimacy. But what was important was that the old women whom the lovers betray saw something tender and spontaneous in it, and what a wonderful performance by Jennifer Kapoor! In fact the entire film scared me by showing how natural human interactions can be on the screen, and how far we have to go as film makers to achieve it, and whether we can ever get audience empathy for such portrayals in this part of the country.''
Vera Chytilova's ``Daisies" (Czech Republic) had a strong appeal for poet Kuttirevathi, where two young women, Marie I and Marie II, engage in endless pranks to combat boredom in a sterile society. `` `Daisies' says everything visually, and without a conventional narrative line. Abstract, absurdist and political, nevertheless communicative.'' Jane Campion's ``Sweetie'' (Australia) attracted her with its theme of the painfully thin and miserably fat sisters.''
A family summer interlude in a torpid country house, the sluggish ''Swamp'' (Lucretia Martel, Argentina), had few takers. But Samira Makhmalbaf's ''Apple'' proved gripping. Combining documentary and feature in a realist-expressionist venture, Samira painted a graphic picture of how women are perceived in a hidebound theocratic society. The `male gaze' acquires new meanings with the frail, bespectacled father guarding his blind, foul-mouthed wife and twin daughters by locking them in the house. ``Girls are flowers, they will wither under the sun,'' is how he justifies imprisonment to the social worker who demands that the children must be free to roam in the outside world. How can he agree when the `sun' enters even his own yard in the form of boys who jump in and out as they play? The spare screenplay fascinates by using words to mean things other than their literal import. Samira's empathy is not only with the deprived girls but also with the destitute father who prays for death. How can he be blamed for ignorance? The mother too must emerge from seclusion and taste the fruit of knowledge.
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