Monday, May 8, 2017

The Story Teller

Madhureeta Anand   
Madhureeta Anand is an extremely prolific, independent filmmaker. She has directed two feature films, written five feature films, directed many documentary films and series, spanning an array of genres. Many of her films have won national and international awards. She also writes for various websites and magazines and has been featured in various books and other publications. She is also an activist for women’s rights and rights of other minorities. She has consistently used her films and influence to support the causes of ending violence against women and children.

1.Tell us about your childhood, growing years, education and family.
My father was in the army and my mother was a trained Kathak dancer. Both my parents loved to dance and my father was an intellectual, he was very well read. The environment I grew up in was creative and intellectual on the one hand and was also full of abuse and isolation. A family member had huge rage issues and so, I got beaten up a lot. This was combined with sexual abuse from the staff that worked in our house. It was just terrible.  But the stories in my head saved me. I remember being encased in stories. I was just never there in my family, home or the life I was leading then, I was floating in an imaginary world full of lovely stories where anything was possible and where people were gentle saviors. It was very amusing for those around me that I had all these imaginary people in my life - but it's these "imaginary" people who became my bedrocks of sanity and who rescued me. Looking back I guess that's where I became a storyteller. I was always writing, first in my mind and then on paper. 

When I was seven, my father died.  He was lovely man and my hero. It was the final catastrophe - it is then that my life turned for the second time. We moved to my  maternal grandmother's home - she was a gentle, loving woman with a great sense of humor. While the death of my father was traumatic for all of us - i.e., my sister, mother and I - for me it had a positive impact because the abuse ended. I think just the fact that my grandmother was in the house was a big help. That's when I started making friends and became a happier person. At this time in my life, my aunts, i.e., my mother's sisters, also got quite involved in my life - and I learnt a lot from them - one of them taught me to stitch, another read my writings with great seriousness and encouraged me and so on.
When I was 11 my mother re-married and I went to boarding school. This was a stroke of luck and it helped shape me in the most positive way. Here, I met the people who would be my friends for life, my support structure. Boarding school was the best time in my childhood. This is why I am generally fearless and feel protected, because no matter what happened in life, a force, a very creative force has always been there to make things better, to change and transform and I'm eternally grateful for that.

What got you into writing and directing? 
I was always a writer. I actually can't remember a time in my life when I wasn't writing.  But I came to direction quite intuitively.  One doesn't really know what direction involves before one starts studying it or working as a director.  I remember when I came to film school - it was such a marvel for me that the stories/concerns in my mind could be transferred onto screen for all to see. I could share the deepest parts of me and my imagination and was given so many tools to do it - I took to direction like a fish takes to water. I love making films, I love writing, I love directing. There's no other way to say it.

Let's talk about Kajarya. What inspired it? 
It was the birth of my daughter 19 years ago that seeded this story. Until one has a daughter one does not realize just how bad the gender bias is. It started with one regressive in-law telling me that "I shouldn't lose heart." I couldn't even understand what she was referring to because I was over the moon with her birth. I thought I'd given birth to the most beautiful creature in the universe! Following this, there were many such incidents, including the fact that no other girls were born in the nursing home in the ten days that i was there. It was a pretty upscale nursing home. I was told by the nurse that this was because of sex-selective abortions. The final dynamic of the Kajarya story came from an article I read where an insensitive journalist was questioning a mid-wife who was accused of killing new born baby girls. The line of questioning was condemning the woman but not the society that gave birth to a heinous custom like this.  It was the last line that the mid-wife said that really gave birth to Kajarya, she said "I'm just the hang man, someone else sentenced these girls." And then it took me years and years to first convince myself and then others that this was a film that needed to be made.  It's really quite crazy!

Could you tell us a little about the journey of filming it and any memorable incidents from the sets?
Kajarya's subject and tenor was very serious but the filming was easy and so wonderful. Everyone worked cohesively and was committed to the making of this film. A memorable incident?  Kuldeep Ruhil the "bad guy" in the film is really the nicest man in real life. There is a scene where he physically abuses Kajarya and then rapes her. It was a hard scene to shoot.  Both for us, Kuldeep and for Meenu Hooda was was playing Kajarya. But I recall how after each take, Kuldeep would rush to Meenu apologize and hold her. It was  a sweet thing to do. 

The film had a resounding impact that drew plenty of awards. Would you like to talk a bit about the positive impact of the film on people - were there any turnarounds / mindset changes?
One makes films not fully knowing what they will do for mindsets and thought processes. But no matter how many times we screened it - there was always overwhelmed crowds.There was silence and then I could see it touched something within people.  We never actually measured how it changed mindsets but I'm sure it did....and the fact that we were able to use it as a tool for activism was just absolutely great. It's really what I wanted from the film. For me that's it's resounding success.

What challenges / resistance did you face while releasing / after releasing Kajarya? 
Well we are a film without stars and a "non commercial" story-line. So it was really tough. But we got it done. Frankly being a woman filmmaker in India, one is so used to resistance and it is taken for granted. It becomes part of one's load. I don't feel it anymore. It's just there - it's a reality that's getting sharper  in the current political environment - where being a creative person and added to that a woman will bring challenges and resistance.

Let's talk about Know Your Porn. Could you tell us a bit about it, and maybe talk about the CrowdFunding campaign?
Know Your Porn is a very important campaign to me. There is just so much porn circulating in India, and as the digital/internet presence grows so will the use of porn. But there is no information or discussion about it.  Let me clarify that we are not campaigning to ban it - we are making films and a campaign to create awareness and help people to discuss their concerns around it. For example the use of children in Porn in India has gone up 142 percent. But those watching these films do not know how highly illegall they are. Plus there is incidences of porn addiction and people do not know.....there many such issues. 
When the films are made we want the films to be sent out far and wide and for free. We think that this issue belongs to everyone and so it should be crowdfunded. Those who contribute to the campaign will  have access to the films first and are free to send it to others in their network. I think it's a socially responsible way of doing things.

The CBFC's ban on Lipstick Under the Burkha has been ridiculous to say the least. Any reactions you'd like to share? Any thoughts on what the CBFC may react like, to Know Your Porn?
The censor board is a joke we cannot ignore because it has actual ramifications on the future of our films.  Some of the things that they say are just ludicrous. But the fact is in the current political climate we will have more and more of it. We will have censorship at all sorts of levels because the political forces and law enforcers don't actually think we deserve any freedom. The idea of creativity is already too threatening for them, and then if it's women talking about sexuality I think it blows there narrow moral fuse. I frankly don't care what they think, there's the internet and we will do as we like. The only way to stand up to these forces is to not allow them to censor you in any way.  Speak even louder and be as lewd as you can be.

With such a move, do you feel like your freedom of expression and freedom of work is under threat?
They can try to threaten, but who cares about the threats of people who are powered by narrow bigotry.  They don't deserve the respect of even being recognized - they can go to hell.

What, in your opinion, is the reason for this toxic patriarchy that keeps reinforcing itself? What needs fixing before things change? 
It's the turn of the many more men now to recognize how toxic patriarchy is. They have to step out of their fears and take the baton -. as feminists we have carried it long enough and will continue to do so till they show up. I think that turn is around the corner - just somewhere after all the right forces commit hara-kiri with their own false promises. One can hope right? :-)