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A voice for women

K.K. GOPALAKRISHNAN

Filmmaker Ananya Chatterjee Chakraborti talks about why her films are always focused on less fortunate women.



WOMEN-CENTRIC FILM: "Dwitiya Paksha" makes a political statement.

WHEN the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1993, Indian women rejoiced. The amendment made it mandatory to reserve one-third of the seats in the rural and local councils for women, paving the way for women to come to power in rural India.

But, there was a catch to such empowerment. For most women, it was their first brush with politics. And they were actually "allowed" to come to power by their dominating male relatives, those who could not contest because of the amendment. It was assumed that women would be "safe" proxies while the men could pull strings from behind.

Process begins

"This, however, did not prove true in many cases. The most important part of the Amendment was that it set off a process. Even though those seats were de-reserved at the end of those five years, paving the way for the next one million women in other constituencies to come to power, the women who had worked as Panchayat leaders during the first five years, evolved beyond most people's expectations", says Ananya Chatterjee Chakraborti, filmmaker and activist who made "Daughters of the 73rd Amendment, Act I" as a response to the amendment. The documentary was a profile of three outstanding women leaders who rose from nowhere to emerge as role models for their communities.

Inspired by the response to this film, Ananya went on to her maiden feature film "Dwitiya Paksha" (The Second Innings) based on the same theme. "To me the political process set off by the amendment and the shift in power that it triggered, are perhaps the best success stories of the Indian State," she adds.

Set against the 73rd Amendment, "Dwitiya Paksha" is the story of Shyama who comes into power by accident, as a proxy to her father-in-law in a reserved seat. Shyama had always been the second choice. She was the dark, unwanted second daughter of poor peasants.

After her sister's marriage, her parents had little money for her marriage. So she is married off as the second wife of an elderly widower in a neighbouring village.

In her husband's house, Shyama makes friends with her stepdaughter, who was closer to her in age. Shyama helps the girl go to school, something she herself couldn't do.

Her father-in-law is a man of power. Quite by accident, Shyama is asked to stand for panchayat president. The natural choice, her father-in-law, cannot do so because of the bill, which made it mandatory for the seat to be reserved for a woman! Shyama, the illiterate, meek daughter-in-law was the obvious "safe' choice, while he pulled the strings from the wings.

Ananya Chatterjee Chakraborti's entry into films was by chance, inspired "somewhere by my father, a talented amateur photographer". A fellow of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television in Norway (IAWRT), she worked and networked with television houses, government and non-governmental organisations in South Asia.

Active role

From 1992, Ananya played an active role in the women's movement and empowerment in Bengal and India through her columns, articles and documentary films, which are used by various universities, institutes and NGOs as educational tools in India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Her initiation to films came in 1986, when television was opened for private producers. She worked with filmmakers like Inder Sen and Asit Sen. "Whatever I learned in film making I owe it to Asit Sen," she says.

The late 1980s marked a transition in life. She joined the Times of India as a feature coordinator; then moved to Amrita Bazar Patrika as feature editor. Later she shifted to Delhi and started making documentary films for television.

After six years in Delhi, she joined the Kolkata-based channel Tara as Chief Producer of News on the invitation of Rathi Kant Basu, the former Director General of Doordarshan. After four years with Tara, in 2004, she left the job to be a full time filmmaker.

Ananya's first documentary was "Gandhari" (1992) that looked into the basic flaws of Indian concept of women, inspired by the personal lives and experiences of women around her.

"Even if educated and capable, the prime objective of women's lives still seems to be to get married and remain married. And making the marriage work seems to become their sole responsibility."

She believes that the primary objective of education is questioning and without questioning there won't be any development in any field.



INTO FILMS BY CHANCE: Ananya Chatterjee

"Gandhari bound her eyes because her husband was blind. Suppose she had beenblind, would her husband have bothered to tie his eyes? Had she not tied her eyes, the entire Mahabharata would have been different," stresses Ananya.

"All the sastras say that it is important to have a male child. The prayers of the women are for the betterment and long life of their husband, because they are considered as second-class citizens. All the religions stress that it is women's duty to sacrifice, compromise and adjust", she adds. "Gandhari" was her attempt to de-construct this belief.

Associations

In her journey, she has been closely associated with writer Mahasweta Devi and Bibi Russell among others. With Mahasweta Devi, she made the documentary film "The School that Karmi Soren Built", which enabled the school in Jhargram village to receive government recognition after 27 years of struggle. Ananya's convictions attracted designer Bibi Russell to work as a costume designer for "Dwitiya Paksha".

As a member of Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI), she was the coordinator and founder member of the Bengal Chapter.

She was the only filmmaker and journalist from Asia to be part of a 15-member women's delegation to the East West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii for a seminar "Changing Faces of Women's Leadership in Asia" in September 2002.

In 2003, she was invited as member of an all India women's peace delegation to Bangladesh where she documented the weeklong journey and produced 22 news capsules.

Currently Ananya is arranging for the shooting of her next feature film, tentatively titled "Lakshmana Rekha", which also looks into women's issues.

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