Thursday, September 19, 2013

Film appreciation: And you thought you knew me.

Pramada Menon. Picture from internet
Pramada Menon’s debut film, “And You Thought You Knew Me” introduces the viewer to five women who identify themselves as lesbians, creating an intimate portrait of ‘the other’ . The film was first viewed by an audience at the ongoing Open Frame International Film Festival in New Delhi, 2013, focuses on narratives of and by women.

The film is tastefully made, in the beautiful Delhi landscape, portraying monuments, juxtaposed with the voices of women speaking about themselves and their experiences, being lesbian, in Delhi.

As capital of India both politically and for reasons of being one of the worst states, kissing partners with Haryana and UP, famous for daily rapes, honour killings, lack of respect for women, using and feeling that women are commodities to be used for sexual gratification and child bearing, all five women, who spoke in the documentary film, chose to come to stay in Delhi, for whatever reasons. In that light, it becomes increasingly, important, that they, and perhaps a lot more women, who identify to be “the other”, are able to negotiate their space to be here and live their lives, in the way they want to.

But wait a moment! Where are the women of the past, women, who stoically stood their ground to establish to themselves, that they too were ‘the other’?

The LGBTQ movement in Delhi or for that matter, India, did not start only 5 – 7 years ago. While it existed in whatever form, prior to 1980, when the first International Women’s Meet happened in Bombay, the exposure to women who identified as lesbian and were sharing their lives with many gathered during that meet, gave an enormous push to our own movement in India. In 1996, aided by Stree Sangam, a ‘women who love women’ group in Bombay, the first national three day, meet happened in Bombay which brought women from different parts of India together. It became apparent that there existed small groups of women activists, across India, who were trying to put voice to women desire to be who they were, identified, women who love women.

Shortly after that, an idea that had been mulling in the minds of women in Delhi, to bring out an anthology of lesbian writings, was published. The book, “Facing the mirror”, edited by Ashwini Sukhthankar, was published by Penguin, in India, and became an instant sell out.

The movement had found a voice!

Since then, there have been so many other forms of Voice, including the Pride March. So in that light, this film, by Pramada Menon, is an important contribution to the LGBTQ Movement in India.

Yet, I must end on a note of disappointment; in the film, the voices from the past are absent. Not a single woman in the film is over 50 years of age, and that means, that from 1980 to 2013, visibility of women who loved women, is still pretty poor. Perhaps, the very reason why, the film-maker chose a landscape of Delhi's Monuments, red walls, silent as tombs. The silence of the past, the women, whose blood ran with the urgency to be recognised, is deafening!

Indeed, one among the five women said so herself – Looking for a woman who loves women, is still as hard. Therefore, what is it that is keeping us away from coming out. Is it, our own fears, or is it that we fear the society we live in? Or is it just that we are still negotiation, who we really are?

Only time will tell. Especially now that we know, that gender identities are as fluid as water, running under your feet. The real challenge is to find our own voice, loud and clear, at least for the time being.
Kal, kaun dekha  - who has seen tomorrow, and what it will hold for me? Who I will be;  what will be my identity, my voice, who knows?

Pramada Menon is a founder member of Creating Resources for Empowerment in Action (CREA) in 2000. CREA ( ) is currently based in New Delhi and aims to enhance the “capacities of a new generation of women leaders using a human rights approach. The organization works on issues of sexuality, reproductive health, violence against women, gender equity, economic justice and women's rights.”
Pramada began her career working with DASTKAR, a society for the promotion of crafts and craftspeople in New Delhi. Starting as a field assistant in 1987, she became the Executive Director of the organization in 1993. In the lead up to the 1995 Beijing Women’s Conference, she was actively involved with women’s groups on the issues of sustainable livelihoods. She left DASTKAR in 1998 and spent two years as an independent consultant working on issues of women’s rights--sexuality, literacy, empowerment and livelihoods.
Throughout her career, Pramada has spent much of her time conducting trainings with both men and women on issues related to gender, leadership and empowerment. She is a strong believer in the idea that young people need the opportunity and space to challenge themselves and to be challenged.(Courtsey: ) “And you thought you knew me”, is her debut film.

NB:Views expressed here are Julia Dutta's alone

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