Musings of a female documentary field-director
My documentary shooting assignments have taken me to some of the most interesting and interior regions in India. So, I usually flaunt myself as the rural India expert at Carrot.
With topics ranging from Health, Sanitation, and Education – I have seen the nation through an unusual lens. A lens of Gender.
Female field director’s experience- that’s what I have been assigned to write. The word “director” has always intrigued me. Words always have layers of meaning; to each of its own.
So, a director is a person who is well aware and equipped to direct. Show direction to people. Lead them towards something. But when it has female and field as prefixes, it becomes special. At least for me.
As a female who grew up in possibly one of the most beautiful, little quaint towns in
India, and raised in a very gender-exclusive way, this is my story of overcoming barriers or sometimes just breathing out of what I see around. And trust me, I have seen a lot.
Ours is a country of some set preconceived notions about men and women, and everything in between. It’s always a sea of stories, and we are thrown midway- with no clue how to swim out of it.
Coming back to my travel stories, which I have a lot- I consider myself lucky to have
been a part of stories that maybe others don’t have the access to, otherwise.
Different food, culture, languages… but what remains most pivotal is the gender barrier. The roles assigned to men and women in almost everywhere I go. And, what
I experience as an outsider.
I did a long series of films traveling almost entire Uttar Pradesh. It is a huge state,
immensely rich in history, resources and culture. I know this is not a popular opinion,
as the state has been politicized way too much.
I was shooting in a small village there on how the village became one of the cleanest in the state. We were supposed to take an interview of an elderly person of the village. He was quite a friendly man with the rest of my team (all men) and for some reason, he wasn’t talking to me. I didn’t notice the problem until it was his turn to give us an interview.
Usually, I am the person who asks questions (of course, by now I know, how women asking questions are a big problem in all kinds of situations in our country). So we looked around a bit, finding a good enough location to set our frame for the interview. We were ready, with all my set of questions and earnest desire to know his story.
But, he just couldn’t look at me! Let alone giving an interview. His eyes spoke uneasiness.
He got so uncomfortable that I had to ask my cameraperson to stand in my place and talk to him. After that, he spoke quite nicely. Also sang a beautiful folk song. For whatever time we were around in the village, he didn’t speak to me. I felt an urge to confront him but didn’t.
Usually, when we are in such places, the village head (Pradhan) or the community makes arrangements for our food. They are generally very happy to host us and the food is always, always finger-licking good.
However, when I sit with my team to eat, they get a VIP treatment. And I, fulfill my bare minimum need to fill my stomach. Men get uncomfortable serving food to me.
They keep asking my guys if they’d like more food. They, however, don’t feel the
need to do that with me.
Men remain oblivious to my presence around them. And women, well, they don’t even get to know that I am there, they remain inside the kitchen. Making delicious food for us.
In Bundelkhand, it is a sad state of affairs when seen in aspects of gender roles. I
went on a long shoot in Bundelkhand in some 8-10 villages. While the day was ending, we needed some cooking shots. We went to a household, where women were making dinner.
They were not speaking too much to us so we asked the men of the household if we could shoot in their kitchen. They got excited and we went in.
We must have been there for 15-20 minutes, and a crowd had gathered in that house. All men. They all started howling and instructing the women- how to sit, how to cook, how to pull their veil up so we could see their faces… I kept telling them it’s not required but why would they listen to me? The women didn’t speak a word.
They just followed the instructions. Each, and everyone.
Instances like these tell us that while I am living in a big city and enjoying a life of
independence, the “real” India still remains its own kind of real-full of stereotypes,
hypocrisy and discomfort over a woman trying to behave as “equals”.
I am pretty sure that none of my team members understood this situation. It’s not their fault. They come from a different mind-set.
However, having said that, they too have been conditioned through years of societal upbringing that these things, in fact, are OKAY.