Among the 120 films being screened at the Samsung Women’s International Film Festival in Chennai, there’s one by a filmmaker in Delhi that looks at sexuality and space in a fresh, experimental way.
Meet, Delhi-based filmmaker and editor, Sameera Jain. Sameera’s primary research on her film, Mera Apna Sheher (My Own City) that was first screened in August 2011, began some seven or eight years ago, with making mental notes of listings of elements, experiences, incidents, occurrences, all pertaining to the context of gender and space. But three years ago, despite a funding from an organisation and several brainstorming sessions with a hand-picked assistant about the form of the film, Sameera found her interest in the project, dwindling. “The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced I was trying to communicate something that people already knew,” she says, “I mean, we all know and recognise gendering of space or that space is gendered; I felt I wanted my own idea, my own voice.”
Not surprisingly, the project was put in the backburner. Sameera gave back the money to the organisation; paid off the assistant and decided to give herself space and time, to deliberate and delineate. Six months later, she returned to the film with two essential strands that she had drawn and detailed, and with camera person, Rita Banerjee, Mera Apna Sheher went on the floors. “I was clear about two things,” Sameera explains, “I wanted the camera to frame women who had to be out in public spaces; the other essential strand of the film was interventions that were centred around the reclamation of spaces by a woman, especially from a lower middle-class background.”
Among the many comments and feedback Sameera has received for this 64 minutes experimental film, there’s one, she remembers in particular: “The father of the woman who does the interventions — she is actually a Professor of Journalism, an actor and really looked her part — said to me, in Hindi, that the most notable aspect of the film is the fact that there is no camera in it.”
Nominated from India for the Network of Asian Women’s Film Festival, content-wise, the film is all about look and looking; yet, the way of looking is dismantled. “For me,” Sameera says, sipping a watered-down coffee at a small café at the Russian Cultural Centre (the venue for the screenings), “Content is determined by the form.”
Sexuality and space are the film’s articulations while the camera interestingly achieves that by “hanging out” casually with the various women who amble along the metropolis—Delhi, aware of its onlookers; alert of the threats and troubles they may pose. On the one hand, the film follows the everyday journey of women drivers (trained by Delhi-based not-for-profit Azad Foundation), as they manoeuvre their way amid traffic and male attention. Juxtaposed with this strand is quite another that follows a single woman as she attempts to reclaim public spaces—park, a street food place, a road—by casually hanging around them; for company, all along, she has the disconcerting male gaze.
Together, the narrative is the inspiration for the title that celebrates both a sense of ownership and the need for reclamation. “It’s ironical, I know,” Sameera says, “But it’s a way of saying that it’s mine and I’m going to do what it takes to reclaim my space in it.”
Even though, the characters belong to underprivileged sections of society, the film rises above and can well be applied to women across class and caste in the country. “It’s amazing how the film,” Sameera says, “resonated with everyone at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival in October last year, where it was invited. That was my intention; to go into the micro to address the macro. You see, patriarchy rules the world.” Look around you.