Wednesday, July 22, 2009

and the reaction

dear prerna
it's good so far but now i think you have to think of the story
get mics and proper camera asap
take care
reg story
stick to what you said
experimentation won't let you go far
dont let story emerge from shots you've taken but let shots you've taken be slotted by you into parts of story you want it to go into

notes on the first review

hi koshy
i went to bangalore and met with aisha, vasanthi and mike. i got some good feedback, very helpful. i was advised by aisha and mike to start shooting. aisha gave me some nice ideas for the shooting. she said instead of fictionalizing the marriage part for the daughter i could work with a videographer who shoots weddings. i could make some arrangement and shoot the whole setting whatever way i want to shoot it. mike questioned my intentions for making this film and together we figured out why i want to make this film the way i'm making it. vasanthi asked me to do some readings and watch some films and think about the form.. i.e. the way i want to shoot the film.
also i wanted to tell you that i've started shooting since i managed to get a college camera to delhi. i was a bit apprehensive at first because i had to shoot at home itself, which seemed like a strange idea. to shoot my mom and my family. strangely i felt a little empowered after the first session. i've already done three rounds of shoot and it wasn't that difficult to pick up the camera after the first one. my family has accepted my camera and dont seem that uncomfortable with it. i am not reacting to much, i'm just patiently and peacefully trying to capture the images, not particularly thinking about what i'm doing to a particular situation, how people are reacting to the camera, my rights and ethics as a film maker etc. etc. not thinking about all these things that much. i'm enjoying shooting at home, it's quite fun. though i do want to concentrate a bit more on my shot taking, i want to roll long shots for this film. for this i want to concentrate on the rhythm and the duration of the shots a little more.
let's see how the shoot turns out to be, this film seems more and more of an experiment which is good i guess. i mean i dont always know what i will be shooting or more like what i'll be getting to shoot. but i'm just shooting it. also there is some show coming on tv, which might be interesting in this context. i might shoot a bit of that. i'm still struggling to get a proper camera and mics. hopefully it'll be done within the next 2 days.

i wanted to tell you what i've shot uptil now, here it goes. the first session was just introducing the camera at home. everyone reacted to it in their own way. i do think i captured that. after that since raksha bandhan is coming, my mother wanted to buy some rakhis. so we went to a rakhi mela nearby. it was crowded with women of all kinds. for some time before starting the shoot i was really apprehensive and felt like i was making up everything in my head and was feeling really lost. but that mela was a firm affirmation of the fact that there are thousands of women like the ones i had thought about and i need to have some faith in myself and my project. it was a kind of a self realization moment. but it was important for me. after that an old friend of my dad's, who talks a lot had come over. He's a strange character. he was talking about how he's been the matchmaker for over 51 couples and how he's started looking for grooms for me as well now. and my dad and him were talking about how this whole system of wedding works etc etc. i didnt ask them too many questions, i was just shooting their conversations. i was thinking that maybe later i'll do an interview with him.
for the next shoot i'm going to goa with my mom and dad and with a lot of their friends, i'm sure i'll get some nice stuff to shoot. some conversations, some time with my parents hopefully. let's see what i get.
ok prerna , i thnk our convs have been fruitful now please start story boarding -what i mean by story is images - soundtrack -texts - start working on it straightaway -write it in blocks - doesn't matter whether you use it or not - the characters will emerge best too that way
i repeat -don't bother about whether there are only women in story -we are post post modern and such questions are totally off tangent


this makes a lot of sense
the daughter's relationship to the temple and her mother/family - loving them but hating parts of an ideology connected with it that denies women of a certain age freedom to think for oneself and grow up - that then is the angle we have to try for
i thnk you should read kamala das's "my story" - also her poems
they reflect one path- that of rebellion to the situation you have described
the kind of economic and social history of india that you speak of - it is found in the writings of peoplel like annie besant, pandita ramabai, margaret slater, ssiter nivedita etc - not as a whole but in bits and pieces as new women who carved out a space for people in india who are women to become more and more free- in poetry i could add names like toru dutt, sarojini naidu, and later prose writers like nayantara sehgal, anita desai etc.


two new thoughts entered this discourse yesterday while i was trying to free my writing about the daughter and her relationship with her mother.
for the daughter, the temple is not just an endorser of sati, for her it is the image of a protector as well. this is similar to her attitude towards her family, she does see flaws and other things that she cant understand but at the same time she doesnt want to detach herself from it, her character is not distant from all the conversations that go on. she is at the centre of it. she is trying to find herself in the temple as well, knowing very well what it stands for, stood for. i feel that her resentment is not against her family or an individual, it is against an ideolgy and the film needs to be emotive of this.
koshy even the attacks on girls in mangalore and that valentine's day drama in bangalore comes from this ideology that a girl is not allowed to have a life between her adolescence and her marriage. maybe i could relate it with the temple, as in the burning.
also, i want to read something that gives me a kind of economic and social history of india, which have created a space where the woman has more of an opportunity to be an individual of her own. can you suggest me some book or some film..


dont be overawed or swayed by others including me - there's nothing wrong with a film with only women in it - or with being naturally woman-centred and trying to find the balance between modernity and tradition -it's a worthwhile effort
don't listen to what others say if it feels so negative that the criticism makes you want to pull back
go ahead and do what comes to you from the gut
dont give in to discouragement or self- flagellation which means thoughts like what i wrote is lousy my work is no good etc
all such emotionalism doesn't drive the work
real emotions do - like taking a camera and trying to shoot the moments between mother and daughter that matter, between grandmother and daughter, or the moments that make up the daughter , the myth, climactic monets, sexual moments etc. all this is being in the workshop -where it's not about too much self reflection but the work drives you


my other panelists are aayisha and vasanthi, wasn't sure whether you knew or not. i've mailed them about the blog and will be meeting them on thursday or friday when i go to bangalore

.oshy tell me something.. am i becoming a feminist of some sort in making a film about a woman? one feedback that i got for my proposal was that the 'man' is missing from it. i tried thinking about it but coudnt really figure out anything about the role of a man specifically in my film at this point. also becuase i was getting stuck so i tried writing about what i want the film to be. i ended up with writign the motivation for making this film and it sounds sick and feminist. i never want to read it again even though it is what has driven me to make this film. i dont want the film to be about some kind of fighting for female rights film. i am not against traditions and beliefs.

the dialogue continued

you say her story and character are clearest in your mind
then put that down, prerna
forget where it connects with the other two sections/streams
and that it will change
write down her story now
mother-daughter relationship of a 21st cent girl etc
write it down

the dialogue continued

prerna: koshy, i'm getting really stuck. i can't figure out how to approach the daughter's story. what i script for her will depend on what i shoot for the other two streams. at the same time her story and her character is the most clear in my mind at this point of time. mostly because i haven't immersed myself in the other two as of now. there is so much that i want to write for her character, although i'm not sure if all that will come into the film. it is important though, to understand her. but there are so many questions that her character raises that i'm feeling a bit scared myself. i as a writer don't have any answers for her. can there be a story with only questions and observations?

i have written a couple of pages of diary entry for her, and i made some images. it's hardly anything though, i need to do a lot of work on her character. there a couple of other things that i've read that i connect with her character. i think i should try creating a compilation of things that i connect with her character than try to create a wholesome character from the beginning.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Beginnings of a script

Some new terms and ideas enter this conversation and loose strands of narrative begin to emerge - the relationship between mother and daughter, childhood, adolescence, wifedom and after. The readings are helping me get an understanding of sati as an ideology and as a practice. Simultaneously, i try to understand how this image entered my subconscious and how it affected me as a child. 

koshy, i was trying to work on the second draft of the proposal just to sort things out a little bit more. have been reading some stuff to get back on the track. i'm reading this book called 'On the margins of Hindu Marriage'. it's a compilation of essays and i think has some interesting stuff. i read your paper also and am planning to get lata mani's book. as i'm reading about sati and other things around the project i'm realizing how complex it is. sati itself is a very powerful metaphor and i feel i have to be tactful with it and use it intelligently. the theme of marriage is an essential part of my film. but by this i dont mean that i want to shoot a wedding. also the struggle between two different sets of values is the crux. at some level between modern and traditional as well as urban and rural. so i'm just trying to think of images for these. i have something in mind..... i was planning to shoot three streams of narrative. one being the everyday lives of the women in my family and interviews with them. this will be talking about the transition in their indentity with marriage and their lives as wives etc. also in this i want to explore the mother -daughter relationship and how these so called values are transferred orally in that relationship.the second part being the temple and other things that connect with it.. like the karva chauth. this is still a bit hazy to me, going there and seeing the temple will help as well as readings on the phenomenon.the third part i will fictionalize, this will sketch the character of a young girl as she approaches womanhood and marraige. her exploring her sexuality, her relationship with the mother probably, her take on the wedding. this part will only be images, without talking heads. i have some images for this in mind, i'm still working on the character sketch though.i havent thought about how the three are going to cut with each other.

the daughter's angle may be the best one to start from, a story about her and her mother, the temple, childhood ,growing up, sexuality, love, marriage, wifedom, then return to the concept of sati and its divisive nature as a symbol.....that book sounds promising
one of my questions to you is can the satimata belief be in any way considered somewhat like the yellamma one? this is a personal question and needn't come into the project as yet, i mean - is it good or evil or both to believe in such things? or to put it in more contemporary terms to be not able to escape the influecne of such a powerful figure drawn in one's mind during childhood by elders? (grand)mother/daughter,urban/rural,past/present yes, these are defintely the three frames you need to work in

ya.. i personally am most attached to the daughter's angle, but i need a camera desperately to start on that. i'm trying to arrange for one these days. because i have these strange images in my head for this part that i want to try shooting. but i dont know how to articulate these images... there is no story in them.. just a mood. i want to write them down because surely i will forget otherwise. just dont know how to start.i dont exaclty know it's position in our family. strangely, i think it is like yellama in a lot of ways. yellama's sacrificial nature is similar to sati's in a different context. but that can't be practised anymore because it's banned. also, people as in yellama have a strong faith in its power to protect their families. also from the book margins of marriage i know that these temples and their goddeses are know to have the capacity to curse if insulted in any sense. even my family strongly believes in this. in fact there is a story that goes with it. one is supposed to take some very specific things for her pooja and one of them is sweet homemade crackers. once a family went to celebrate the birth of a newly born son and by mistake happened to take salty crackers. nonetheless, the family finished the pooja and came back home. the newly born started developing a weird disease in which his bones became brittle and he would get multiple fractures for no rhyme or reason. the doctors couldn't fathom what was happening and they gave up on him. later someone in the family realized that at the time of his birth so and so had happened at the sati temple. so the family went again with sweet crackers and did the pooja. the boy was cured in no time and things went back to being normal.there are lots of other stories similiar to this about the power of the temple and the goddess on the family. also another thing, some women are considered very lucky for the whole household and the family prospers with them. and their death results in the downfall of the family. like my great grandmom was really beautiful and lucky and so the family was so prosperous that they almost owned the whole town in her times. but after her death all the brothers seperated, lots of money was wasted, the business wasn't that successful, so on and so forth. although i'm not sure if this has anything to do with the temple.about the temple, i definitely don't agree with the ideology that forms its foundation. at the same time i don't want to be a skeptic. as in i believe in the power of faith and it runs very strong in this case. i dont know what the faith is in exactly but there is something that the whole family believes in collectively and very strongly. i dont know how to bring in this are right - is it both good and evil to believe in such things?
from the book -"from the religious perspective, the death of the body does not take place until the indissoluble spirit (atman) is released through the purification of the cremation fire. the wife does not become a widow until her husband is cremated. by joining him on the pyre she dies together with him as his 'half body', bypassing the status of widowhood and avoiding the ritual contamination and social marginality it would bring on her and those around her. the display of devotion releases a surplus of religious merit, which the sati distributes to her kin and community at the time of her death and afterword in the form of her continuing presence as a beneficent ancestress to her lineage. subsequent generations of her lineage appeal to her for protection, as she had protected her husband in the transition from one cosmological plane to another. this is the place where the hindu construction of marriage, body and dharma wrings itself out. and the wife, the sati, becomes the vehicle for it. she is the field of battle for this internal conflict of the tradition. from the perspective of the logic of hindusim as a system, the perfection of pativratadharma, the sati is its embodied substance. she is the context or form in which the normative religious world and the existential moment converge in an act that is at one and the same time one of annihilation and deification. hence, she takes on a supernatural persona. she walks calmly to the pyre, whereas ordinary people would shrink in terror. she dispenses blessing on those who venerate her and invokes curses on those who resist a person, she is the victim, the one wrung out of the system, the one who is backed into the corner of choosing between a death of life in the fire or a life of social and ritual death as a widow. this double bind gives sati its religious character, its emotive power and its moral dissonance. as a sacrifical act it carries within it the burden of the validity of the religious world from which it takes its definition."
also as a place of worship this temple is considered as a secure and legitimate zone for women devotees to assemble in order to draw from the strengths of the charismatic presence of the satimata to carry out their own efforts at pativratadharma.have u read lata mani's book? do you think i should get it? i'm not sure how useful it'll be.. it seems more about the politics behind the banning of sati. i'm not particularly interested in that.

no i dont want you to read lata mani's book, i want you to keep writing to me.
the reason is - when you write as you said you put it down and then it can be used and you articulate those images that you feel cannot be articulated. this part of it is extremely important. it needn't even be to me but in a notebook but i've found it helps to have a person to bounce your ideas off. do whatever works for you\these letters are important as formulations\i'm really pleased with the direction this is going in i feel the quuote you have sent me is the essence the crux of the whole thing, the idea of the pativrata, i mean is both evil and good, and how can you bring that out effectively for the twenty first century ? the earlier stories you said of sweet/salty crackers and deity curse won't work becasue they are only anthropomorphisms that make one want to fight the faith, if you get what i mean, but the collective belief idea and that of protection and women being a blesing -these are modern and surpirisingly so for me the whole point hangs around what story you will tell so the idea(l) of satimata comes through in a twenty first century context and how you will tell it
in this ocntext your non-articulatable(?) images need to be artic(ulate)d and the talking heads section sounds interesting - or should it be talking torsos
i remember what you said earlier -the image of a woman on fire -that is a powerful theme/image. symbol.metaphor .peg
how can we build on that -also the daughter -get that bloody camera and start shooting as quickly as possible

what do you mean when you say that the collective belief of protection and the women being a blessing is a modern idea?this story being situated in the twenty first century INDIA is very important to me. while i was reading some stuff today i was wondering what part does india's colonization at the time when sati was prevalent and rapid change in india due to globalization and liberalization play in this? the 'western influence'... the mother daughter relationship 40 yrs ago is a world apart from the mother daughter relationship today. though i dont think it changed that much or that rapidly before this.i wanted to tell you how this image entered my subconscious. as a young child, my paternal side of the family doesn't believe in this temple and my parents as well aren't that religious so we never had a deity that we believed in strongly. but i had heard about this temple from my mother and my grandmother and i must have gone there once long time back. so i didn't have any direct connection with it though from the name i knew it was connected to 'sati' in some way. my knowledge of sati was limited to it being an activity where a woman burns herself on her husband's pyre. once i asked my grandmom to tell me the story of this woman, who was she, was she connected our family, how did her husband die? she told me that she was a newly married bride and was going to her husband's place after the wedding through the jungle. on the way, the dacoits attacked them and killed her husband. she was looted of her jewellery and other gifts. then they cremated the husband and she became a sati. as a kid i used to watch these vikram betaal stories that came on tv. one of the stories in that is very similar to this one. it has a different ending though, but the first part is the same. i used to love watching these stories and from the first time i saw this particular one my mind just assumed that it was the story of the woman in the temple. maybe i'll use that footage as found footage if need be.

i meant three things are modern - not post modern. collectivisation ,belief in collectivities - is a communist and sixties phenomenon. collective belief - again, faith as more important than what you beleive in, that is a modern idea - and for the individual and the group in the twentieth century life became uncertain - so the need for protection increased. Women being a blessing - feminist idea -again 20th century, anti-patriarchal. mother -daughter - how the relationship has changed -that's psychological and modern -as you said the result of colonization etc. -the idea of found footage is definitely interesting - in fact the film could begin with grandmother -daughter ,then the tv serial beginning if you wanted, the way you have narrated it to me
i mean all this in the western sense - in the light of recent history in the west, in the western sense, some of these ideas about satimata are modern while others are not.

Whether to script or not is the question

prerna, i watched the nine films of the last batch and the scripted ones were, i felt, leagues better, so you better write a proper script please.i mean aditya's, vinay's & bharati's especially. a story helps. laziness prevents people thinking it through properly. dont fall into that trap, when you go for shooting it should be crystal clear in your mind what you want. after that if you experiment it's ok

but koshy, for me it is not a about making a 'great film'. or at least it doesnt start with that. it is a search essentially. both in the subject and in the skill of film making. writing a tight script in the beginning hasn't worked very well for me in the past. when i did that i felt that my story had already died by the fifth draft and i didn't know what i was making a film about any more. at the same time i am not closed to fictionalizing if something comes naturally to me. have you seen r.v. ramani's films? you didnt like tahireh's, radha's, dj's film? i thought they were way better than the rest.

prerna, tahireh's and rebana's and and radha's were equally good -i showed the films to many experts and they all came up with the same kind of grading , ashwin's and even devika's had many memorable sparks in it. i was not saying you need a closed script and five drafts - i was just saying that you need a script. oh yes and there's no excuse for not making a great film - go all out please

Prerna: After this i received feedback from Mike and he also advises me to find some way of scripting otherwise i'll end up as a 'thief',' greedy to grab images.

Initial reaction and discussion to proposal

dear prerna,
i read your proposal & i have a problem with it, i suggest you leave out the bride and wife bit, instead leave it at till lover this would tie in powerfully with the temple. you would have to fictionalize it. suggested readings include - around the world in 80 days - jules verne, raja ram mohun roy -i will send you a paper i wrote which has a bibiliography that tells you what books of his to look at. watch a film called giddh -it's on the yellamma cult. that's it for now
you can watch it online or download it here - giddh i mean
p.s. the idea of the new birth - initiation into sex, first night etc., -is a powerful idea and in this context i wish you'd read shashi deshpande's novels

thanks koshy
I'm a little confused... what do you think will tie in powerfully with the temple?
the child abuse or the bride and wife bit?
which one of shashi deshpande's novel do you think i should read?

India does not talk yet "powerfully" in images of two things - the sexuality of girl children harmed at home by relatives. A husband or a lover harming a bride or lover or wife at night in bed in the act of sex against her consent often in the first night or first nights immediately after marriage. Both these things tie in with the temple. The woman is still a burning figure, still acceding to her death or to becoming a partner in masochism to a social (male) sadism for some nameless larger cause that has to be examined, uncovered, again something not yet done powerfully in images so far etc. the three novels i'd like you to read are "the dark holds no terrors" and "the binding vine" especially and also "that long silence" finally if you have the time.

koshy, what's disturbing is that in the case of sati, this burning figure of a woman becomes the image of a protector by some strange logic. the more she suffers the more holy she becomes.

prerna, that is the point at which you have to interrogate the concept -at the point where it is at its most disturbing.
is it true or hogwash? - could be both and more.

Starting with the proposal

i successfully finished my pre diploma jury a few days back and have to work on an independent film now. i have an idea in mind and wanted to share it with you. i've attached the proposal, it's a brief description of what i have in mind and only describes the starting of this project. please tell what you think about it and if there's anything that i can read or watch that will add to the ideation

Creative brief:
To explore the thoughts, dreams, the struggles, and anxieties of a woman brought up in a small city in rural India and married (or living) in an urban city space and finding an audiovisual expression for the same. My exploration will be about a girl and her becoming a woman, a bride and a wife. I want to explore the different sets of values attached to these stages in a woman’s life in a traditional Indian context. Also I want to explore notions of ‘sanskar’ (values, ethics), purity & impurity and various other unspoken laws that a woman is subjected to - understanding the need for these and exploring their relevance and their alternatives in the context of today’s India.  

Research questions:
The seed of this project is a small temple in Pilani, Rajasthan. As I realized later, it’s one of the many satimata temples in India. My mother’s side of the family is a firm believer in the goddess or the force of this temple and her permission is sought before any major decisions are taken in the family. What puzzled me was why people still believe in worshipping the image of a woman being burnt alive on her husband’s pyre. What does this image signify subconsciously for us? What is the ideology behind this practice and how has it sustained itself for so long? Following this trail of thought and the origins of sati, I want to explore the concept of a marriage and what it brings with itself for a woman. By many, it is described as a second birth for a woman. For me it is a disturbing thought and I want to explore the thoughts of a girl right before it. Again exploring the transition of a girl into a woman, a bride and wife. Alongside this I want to explore the notions of a modern woman and the various values attached to that image. In this, I particularly want to explore the values that are clashing with the traditional value set created for a woman. The most contrasting values are about a woman’s independence, the role of caretaker, family values, her freedom, beauty and being an individual. At the same time I feel that it is not a choice between these value sets that a woman has to make. I feel she has to adapt to both as and when required and is convenient for her family. The film will be about this struggle between living the old values which are subconsciously embedded in her and freeing herself of these as there is a gradual decline in the need for these in the urban landscape.

This will be a non-fiction film, though I’m open to fictionalizing in the later stages of the shoot if need be. To start with, I want to shoot my family and their space. I feel this struggle is intrinsic to a lot of women, girls, including me in my family and the struggle for me as a filmmaker will be to translate this into images for the film. For the beginning, I want to shoot on an everyday basis, trying to create quick video sketches to aid scripting. The script will be a plan of what I want to shoot including the time, place, person and the activity I want to shoot. If I’m interviewing then it will be a list of questions that I want to ask. If it’s a space then it’ll describe what I feel about that space and what I would like to capture in the shots that I take there. 

This is not an exhaustive list, as I will keep adding (or deducting) from this list as I progress with the script and the research.
Oxford publications book ‘From the Margins of Hindu Marriage’
Lindsay Harlan Book - ‘Sati - A Blessing & A Curse’
Prem Sagar’s - Vikram Aur Vetaal
Old Hindi films – Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam, Sujaata, Devi, Bodhi Vriksha
My grandmother, Rajkumari Singhal and her house in Hisar,
Haryana Satimata temple, Haryana
My Mother, Seema Gupta and my house in New Delhi
My Aunt and her daughter, Chetna, their house in New Delhi
Handycam and DVX 100  

Learning outcomes: 
Through this film I want to improve my camera work, both skill-wise and conceptually. I would like to be open to what the camera shows to me and be able to shoot accordingly. It is an attempt to create the portrait of this woman - her dreams, her thoughts and her world from what she does on an everyday basis. I hope to see her mundane world in an imaginative, creative way and be able to express what I perceive in that reality in my filmmaking and the final film. The process of scripting hasn’t worked very well for me in the past so I for this film I want to experiment with different ways of scripting within the limitations and context of this project. Lastly, I hope the process of this film familiarizes my family with the kind of film making I’m interested in and helps them to accept me as a ‘film maker’.

An attempt at documentation

As a fifth year digital video production student at Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology I'm required to make an independent film. This blog is an attempt at documenting the process of making this film.
The first series of posts are e-mail exchanges between me and one of my panelists, as he helps me find a way around this abstract, complex space I've managed to put myself in.