Women collectives in cinema ensure respectful atmosphere: Filmmaker Deepa Dhanraj

So far, Deepa has directed around 40 documentaries on a slew of issues related to women’s political participation, health, education, and human rights.

Published: 01st August 2023 09:13 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st August 2023 09:13 AM   |  A+A-

Independent filmmaker Deepa Dhanraj. (Photo | Express)

Express News Service

KOCHI:  Writer and independent filmmaker Deepa Dhanraj will be bestowed with the Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s International Documentary and Short Film Festival (IDSFFK), which will be held from August 4 to 9.

The 70-year-old filmmaker is not new to awards, but she tells that this honour is a special one. “I have been attending the festival since its first edition - as a delegate, participating with my films, and later, as a jury member. The lifetime achievement award is an honour for me,” says a delighted Deepa.

Also a social activist, Deepa, has been engaged in the documentary field for over four decades. She started her career in 1980 by filming three documentaries about the struggle for women’s rights as part of ‘Yugantar’, a feminist film collective she founded.

So far, Deepa has directed around 40 documentaries on a slew of issues related to women’s political participation, health, education, and human rights. These were screened in many languages and at several international festivals.

Her latest work and which holds a special place in her heart, is 'We Have Not Come Here to Die', completed in 2018. It follows the anti-caste student movement that arose after Dalit PhD research scholar Rohith Vemula’s death. “For me, this film was the most challenging, both emotionally and physically. His institutional murder and the national response from students across the country changed the conversation around caste and caste discrimination in higher education,” she says.

On Kerala film industry, WCC 

The veteran also shares her affiliation with and observations on the Kerala film industry. “Kerala has always been a place of ardent cinema lovers. The place has a history of film society movements and many serious film publications too. So I feel the place is very literate in cinema,” Deepa says.  

She also points to the strengthening of women’s collectives in society, especially in the film industry. Welcoming the activities and contributions of the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) in Kerala, she adds that such mobilisation in the film industry is needed to ensure a safe work culture for women film workers across the country.

“A few years ago, I attended one of the meetings of women filmmakers in Kochi organised by WCC. In Telangana, we also have an organisation of women from the film industry that includes women who are working in all departments, technical as well as junior artists, make-up artists, etc. I feel that within the industry, women are organising, and it is a very positive development,” Deepa says.

Such initiatives, Deepa feels, leads to the creation of more non-discriminatory spaces as well as structural changes within the industry. “It will ensure a safe work culture for women with a respectful atmosphere and the elimination of exploitation, sexual harassment, and sexism on the sets. Apart from this, it can also help create opportunities for women to advance in their careers too,” Deepa says.

On documentary scene

Deepa is also very optimistic about the possibilities in the Indian documentary scene. “Now it is a very exciting time for Indian documentaries. In terms of subjects and styles, we have many genres today. Documentary filmmakers are blurring the lines of fiction and non-fiction, using experimental genres, dramatic reconstructions, personal stories, and investigative journalistic modes as well,” she says.

IDSFFK honour

The award, comprising a cash prize of C2 lakh a statuette, and a citation, will be presented by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at the closing ceremony of the 15th IDSFFK, to be held at Kairali Theatre Complex in the capital city on August 9. As part of the event, some of Deepa’s selected works will be screened at the festival, including We Have Not Come Here to Die (2018), Invoking Justice (2011), The Advocate (2007), Something Like A War (1991), What has Happened to this City? (1986), and Sudesha (1983).

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