Can two women, separated by a generation, lead two different and purposeful lives under the same roof? What is it that makes the younger one defy stereotypes about what is imposed because of her gender and religion while the older woman succumbs to societal norms and carries on with her passion secretly? If both of these queries are addressed with real time visuals in a typical lower middle class Muslim household of Kolkata, it indeed turns out to be cathartic.
The 52-minute film ‘Beyond the Veil’, directed by Anusha Nandakumar qualifies to be described as one. Screened as the first part of a two-event ‘We Women’, the One Billion Rising campaign by Asmita Resource Centre for Women, it was a very impactful presentation.
Hearing from the two characters – Rukhsana Begum, the mother who struggles with her Hindustani music background and Sughra Fatima, a teenager who comes from the same, large, Muslim family, fighting her way to take up boxing as a sport and excelling at it – the film is revealing. The tones too are contrasting.
“There is no real respect for music today where pre-recorded numbers are mouthed by out-of-tune youngsters wearing short clothes,” says Rukhsana in the film. “Today, it is more of a sensuous experience than a spiritual one which was what I was used provide patrons who listened to ghazals and soulful numbers in those days,” she reminisces.
Her firebrand daughter brushes away her Muslim identity and declares strongly that nothing can come between her and her passion. Reality however is not shoved under the carpet as she adds, “Our house is small and I am tempted to ask my father to build another room above the one where we live. But that space will be ours only after our boys allow us to seek it.”
For a better part of the film, the camera remains static, taking in the stark visuals of an overcrowded home, a single-room tenement. With hardly any space to breathe, the camera swings around, tight close-ups upholding the changing social trends -- while one sibling holds out the mobile with its songs blaring, a Hindi film number of yore wafts in as the mother strains on her electronic keyboard to practice some latest tunes. All this, while the sick head of the family sleeps away, unaffected by the commotion all around.
It ends as both the mother and daughter return to their homes, a fully-cloaked lady all alone in a tram and the other, sport kit in tow!
Voices to remind
The second part of the One Billion Rising was a bi-lingual reading of noted writer Volga’s ‘Voices from History’ translated into English by Vasanth Kannabiran. Talking during the inaugural address. Volga expressed, “History and future are inter-related closely and the bi-lingual voices will highlight this forcefully.” The session began with Kandukuri Rajyalaxmi who re-defined social reforms to how women see it today. Explained in Volga’s words, “Reform measures are not just about fiery speeches but combating many pressures that society brings upon the women who have no friends or support from peers, leave alone family and in-laws who boycott them.”
From there on, the baton was passed along to six other characters, all of them victims of being brushed under the carpet of history. Bengaluru Nagarathnamma, who was criticized for her explicit prose on sex and love, Durgabai Deshmukh who collected `5,000 for a five-minute audience with Mahatma Gandhi (who ordered thereafter that she would his official translator whenever he spoke) and the disillusioned communist Kommaraju ‘rebel’ Achchamamba who was targeted for her brave take on man-woman relationships followed. Bringing up the rear end of the session was the brave Chityala Ailamma who led the armed struggle against Nizam rule, Kummuri Padmavathi Devi, the orthodox Brahmin woman who chased her dreams of becoming an actress and finally the faceless woman who battles all social evils - alcoholism for one.