Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Sukumar Ray and Suprabha Ray

By Tumpa Mukherjee

On October 3 this year it was the 125th birth anniversary of Suprabha Ray. The present generation has hardly heard her name and perhaps the world knows her just by one line – wife of Sukumar Ray and mother of Satyajit Ray.

But her existence and identity was much more than this one line. I am privileged to be born in a family, which knew her very closely. My dadu (my maternal grandmother’s own brother) Dr Surit Mukherjee, was her physician. But she treated dadu like her own son till the last day of her life.

Dadu was popularly known in his time as Noshu babu and I called him Chini dadu. It is unfortunate that Chini dadu is no more with us but everyone, who had ever interacted with dadu, still speak about him with fondness and respect.
In my family my mamas, mashis called Suprabha Ray Tulu mashi. They still speak about Tulu mashi. She was a very strong and dignified lady. After the untimely death of Sukumar Ray and the failure of their family printing business, she moved with her three-year-old son to her brother’s place. But she was never a burden on him.

As a young widow she traveled everyday by bus during 1930s and 1940s from South Calcutta to North Calcutta where she worked as the Superintendent of the handicraft department at Vidyasagar Bani Bhawan”

As a young widow she traveled everyday by bus during 1930s and 1940s from South Calcutta to North Calcutta where she worked as the Superintendent of the handicraft department at Vidyasagar Bani Bhawan founded by Abala Bose. I have heard stories from my mom and mashis that she used to tell my grandmother that nobody knows how she struggled and brought up Manik (Satyajit Ray) single handedly.

She was excellent in knitting and stitching especially Kashmiri stitch. In fact Kashmiri wallahs (people coming from Kashmir to sell products in Calcutta) would be stunned seeing her Kashmiri stitch. She was a brilliant cook and excelled in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. She made excellent payesh and she would keep it for my Baromama (mother’s elder brother) because he was very fond of payesh.

She had made a sweater for Manik using two strings and by making knots with the strings, but later on gave it to Baromama. He told me that whenever he would wear the sweater, people would ask him who made it.
It was Chini dadu who convinced Suprabha Ray to accept Manik’s (Satyajit Ray) decision to marry Moinku (Bijoya Das). She was initially not sure because they were first cousins.

Later when Satyajit Ray, after his marriage went abroad, Chini dadu and his family, comprising my dida (Joytirmoyee) and their daughter Krishna and son Bachu, went and stayed with them.

Krishna mashi called Suprabha Ray Didimoni. She told me every morning she would wake up and sing Brahmo upasana sangeet in front of Sukumar Ray’s photograph. She was a very good singer. She had recorded a song with HMV in Calcutta. She used to teach Krishna mashi and tell her stories of Brahmo Samaj, Sukumar Ray and other things that interested her. She would draw two lines and then would make different types of floral designs. She was a perfectionist in everything. from cooking to knitting.

Every afternoon she would sit with my dida and other women and would teach them different types of stitches, different types of cutting, making shameej (a blouse worn mostly as undergarment by women of late nineteenth and early twentieth century), katha. She used to make panjabi, pyjama for her sons which included my dadu.

She was a good sculptor too. With the help of norol (traditional nail cutter) she would draw on a slate. 

She was a good sculptor too. With the help of norol (traditional nail cutter) she would draw on a slate.  In fact she had made a lovely bust of Gautama Buddha which I saw occupying pride of place in Ray’s Bishop Lefroy Road home.

In fact, during Krishna mashi’s wedding it was Manik (Satyajit Ray) who had drawn her biyer piri (flat wooden desk type where traditionally Bengali brides sit for marriage).

Suprabha Ray breathed her last on November 27, 1960. It was Chini dadu who performed the last rites. Since Manik was heartbroken and refused to light the funeral pyre, Chini dadu performed the last rites.

I am told she was very down-to-earth, simple, but a strict disciplinarian. It is very sad that very few people know about her talents and potentials. I think she got completely overshadowed by her genius husband and internationally renowned film maker son. I think she was a woman who suffered happiness and sadness simultaneously. After seven years of her marriage her son Manik was born and at that time Sukumar Ray fell ill and subsequently died of Kalazar. From the age of 2 years 4 months she brought up Manik alone .

Satyajit Ray is a renowned name, in fact, a cult figure in Bengal. He enjoys a demi-god status among Bengalis. But he never inherited the creative instincts of his family through direct interaction with his paternal side. Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury died six years before his birth. Sukumar Ray died when Satyajit was two years 4 months old. But it was his mother who brought him up, taught him, looked after him, cared for him, communicated their creative, literary legacy to him. But it is an irony of patriarchal society that Satyajit Ray is referred mostly as grandson of Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury and son of Sukumar Ray. Suprabha Ray has faded into oblivion.
But she has always remained with me ever since my childhood through oral narratives of my family members.

Tumpa Mukherjee is working as Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology , Women’s Christian College, Kolkata and is researching for a book on Suprabha Ray.

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The Bengali version of Birangana was Published in the August issue of Femina Bangla

Nisha’s shift always ended at 3 am. Others at the call centre switched between early and late shifts, but Nisha preferred the late shift because she gave tuitions in the evening. At 23, she was juggling a job at a call centre and teaching a dozen school children just to pay the medical bills for her mother, who had been suffering from a rare bone disease for the last 5 years. Since her father’s demise two years back, it was just the two of them.

Nisha had lived in this lane in Bhowanipore since her birth. Theirs’ was a sprawling old mansion that had seen good days but now that there were only two women living in it, they had to be doubly careful about bolting all the doors to the balconies and the terrace carefully from the inside. Her mother was more scared of thieves and intruders, although she wasn’t. She felt pretty safe in her home, cocooned from the outside world in the locality she lived in, because here everyone knew everyone else. While going to work she would wave at the para (locality) boys steeped in concentration over the carom board. One of them would invariably say, “Sabdhane jash. Taratari phirish.”

While getting back home, usually one of her male colleagues would be there in the car and they would wait till Nisha unlocked the front gate, went inside and locked it again. Sometimes there was the concerned colleague who would disembark the car and wait till she went inside and sometimes there was also the selfish colleague who would insist on being dropped off first.

That night Nisha was travelling with a selfish colleague who also lived in Bhowanipure, but he insisted that he got dropped off first. Nisha was the last person to tell him that this was the most boorish thing to do. She dropped him off and proceeded towards her home.

As she was opening the lock of her gate, she realised the driver also didn’t have the patience to wait. He just screeched off. Nisha thought after a long day at work it was probably unfair to expect chivalry from a driver at 4 am, who was anyway driving through half-closed eyes.

Then it happened. Nisha felt someone was holding her by the waist from behind and the next moment she felt someone thrusting something inside her mouth and the scream got stifled in her throat. Now she could see clearly in the moonlight.

There were five men, one of whom she knew from the locality. They were now trying to push her into the waiting Maruti van. Nisha gathered all her strength to push them away, but they were too powerful. Then she saw a blinding light.

The light came from the headlights of three bikes that had stopped. The next moment the men were shrieking in pain. They had been hit by something. She was now free. While one man was lying on the floor, the other four managed to get into the car and scoot.

“Are you alright?” a woman asked Nisha.

Her head was still reeling. The lady held her and she steadied a bit. She was in a black short kurta and black leggings. Her hair was long and she would be around 30. She was wearing black sneakers.

“Do you know him?” she asked pointing at the man lying on the footpath.

“Yes, he lives in the locality,” I replied.

“He will be a good example then,” she said.

The other two ladies were similarly dressed and now stood beside them. They both were carrying some kind of gun which Nisha later came to know were taser guns.

“Who are you?” Nisha asked.

“We call ourselves Birangana.”

Nisha wasn’t quite ready for what the Biranganas did the next day. They came back in their black clothes and black bikes and paraded the man all around the locality saying he had been caught last night assaulting a woman.

“If a man is trying to take away a woman’s honour, it is his shame. And it is our mission to ensure that any man who tries to assault a woman feels ashamed. Terribly ashamed,” they said on the loudspeaker.

Nisha had thought that people would retaliate, they would criticize this action. Instead the women clapped and jeered and many men slapped and kicked the offender supporting the action of the Biranganas.

The story in Femina Bangla

*

The college lecture hall was packed with at least 200 young women. Nisha sat in the front row.

The lady at the mic was saying, “During the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 when the Bengali Nationalists wanted a separate state and clashed with the Pakistani Army, rape was used as a weapon of war. The Pakistanis tied up hundreds and thousands of women and gang raped them and most were dumped in mass graves. Those who survived, to give them dignity, the newly established state of Bangladesh called them Birangana. But this led to their further social ostracization and these women still live in the shadows in Bangladesh and Pakistan. We believe a woman should not only be called a Birangana because she survived rape, but she should be a Birangana because she put a stop to the culture of rape.”

There was pin-drop silence. Everyone was listening in rapt attention.

“We believe that rape is a weapon of power that is used over women to subjugate them, to take away their freedom and honour. Our society has progressed leaps and bounds, but rape continues to be the scourge of our society. Each and every woman lives in the fear of sexual assault. At home, in the workplace, on the street, in public transport – are they ever completely safe?”

Nisha’s mind trailed off to that night when the three Biranganas saved her. It has been two years since then and much has changed.

The Biranganas had started a women’s movement in Kolkata demanding safety of women. Women joined the movement in hordes and they quickly spread their wings to the rural areas as well. They were all over the state on their bikes in groups of threes, especially after dark, patrolling the streets. They had been able to bring down the crime rate against women in the state of West Bengal from 17 per cent to 2 per cent in one year.

Nisha’s association with the Biranganas changed her life entirely. She no longer needed a male colleague to drop her late at night, she did not feel the cold sweat when she turned the key in her lock at 4 am.

Achieving this state of mind meant back-breaking training in the Birangana training centres, but she took it without complain. She toughened her body and mind and became an expert in self defense.

Nisha could hear her name being called. She was to speak now.

“I survived an abduction and rape attempt, but I decided never to live in fear. A woman is truly independent when she doesn’t have to look over her shoulders when she is walking down the streets. I don’t anymore. It is a very liberating feeling,” she said.

Nisha came out of the lecture hall with a smug smile sitting on her face. She was in a black kurta and leggings and black sneakers. She took her black bike off the stand. It vroomed into life.

She had to report to patrolling duty. She was a Birangana now.

  • BY AMRITA MUKHERJEE

You can check out my collection of 13 soul-stirring short stories Museum of Memories here

 

 

 

 

Recently I was reading Shoma A. Chatterji’s book Filming Reality: The Independent Documentary Movement in India (Published by Sage) when I realized how little is known about the documentary movement in India which started three decades back and has proved to be a very strong alternative voice on celluloid.

However, if most Indians are asked to mention one documentary focusing on women’s issues that they watched in recent times, the unanimous answer would be India’s Daughter made by Leslee Udwin.

Thanks to the controversial content of the film, the ban on it by Indian Government in 2014 and the publicity it garnered, the film has found a space in the mind of the masses.

Filming Reality is written by Shoma A. Chatterji

Filming Reality is written by Shoma A. Chatterji

But as is well known, and as Chatterji also ratifies in her book, when it comes to indigenous documentaries on women made by women, there are plenty in India that are a must watch but are often plagued by a lack of awareness and publicity.

Chatterji, who is a National Award-winning author herself,  writes: “Documentary cinema was almost exclusively a man’s world till around the 1970s. However, change in the direction of the wind brought in more and more women into the field. The documentary movement in India today has as many women film-makers as men, if not more since a demographic profile is not possible.”

Filming Reality contains in-depth analysis of the work of Indian women documentary film-makers and talks about how they have dealt with varied issues like sexual harassment in the workplace, trafficking and child marriage. They are also looking at other relevant issues like food, politics in India, socialization of violence and many more.

It has taken Chatterji painstaking research for five years to write the book but what she has written is the most comprehensive presentation of the documentary movement in India.

In this article, I list 10 commendable women filmmakers, about whom Shoma A. Chatterji has talked in her book. These are women who have challenged the perceptions of Indian society and continue to do so with their phenomenal work.

  1. Sherna Dastur

Her film Manjuben Truck Driver (2002) is about a woman who broke gender stereotypes. She has deliberately assumed a male identity, dresses up like a man, speaks like local goons, likes to be photographed in movie-star style, blends into the masculine world of truck drivers, and commands respect. But she believes that the man of the house should get special privileges like eating before the women and follows that diligently because of her so-called “male” profession and hence derived identity.

  1. Nidhi Tuli

Her documentary The Saroj Khan Story is about the Bollywood choreographer who has broken every rule in the choreography book. One of the most successful choreographers of all time, Saroj never cared for glamor or clothes, she let her work speak for her and she has been brazen, bold, uncompromising, rude and ruthless.

Saroj Khan

Saroj Khan

From a background dancer to Bollywood’s best known choreographer, her rise has been phenomenal but apart from the professional ups and downs, the film takes a look at her personal life where she was dumped by her mentor when she got pregnant. She had to deal with her daughter’s illness and her eventual death.

  1. Mamta Murthy

Her film Colours Black made in 2011 is a beautifully structured documentary based on four children, now adults in different stages of life, recounting mainly off camera, their experience of child abuse and the silence they were coerced into which continued till they grew up.

  1. Nishtha Jain

A scene from Gulabi Gang

A scene from Gulabi Gang

She has made a number of documentaries and won prestigious awards too but two of her best works are Lakhsmi and Me and Gulabi Gang.

Lakshmi and Me delves into the life of a maid Lakshmi who works in Nishtha’s home and she shows through the film how little an employer knows about the life of a maid who has to constantly deal with the drudgery of working in different homes and the lack of love and security in her personal life.

Nishtha, in an interview in the book, says: “In one scene, I seem like such a nag about the teacups and my editor took it out because I didn’t sound nice. We finally put it back. Because I control the camera I cannot paint myself white.”

Gulabi Gang follows the Gulabi Gang, an unsual group of rural women in Bundelkand in central India dressed in dark pink sarees led by their leader Sampat Lal fighting for the rights of women and Dalits across several villages.

  1. Ananya Chakraborty Chatterjee

Her 2010 film Understanding Trafficking shows how trafficking is an organized crime involving a human chain starting with parents, who are willing to sell off their girls, and pimps some of whom even pose as social activists.

The film won a National Award.

Her other hard-hitting documentaries include Gandhari where she has shown how women have naturalized the silent process of subjugation, suffering and oppression.

Najaayaz is on the vulnerabilities of the children of sex workers. The School that Karmi Soren Built is about this tribal lady who gave all her land for the only school to be built on it in the area so that it could transform lives.

  1. Suhasini Mulay

A National Award-winning veteran actress, Suhasini Mulay has 60 documentaries to her credit four of which have won National Awards.

An Indian Story, based on the 1978 Bhagalpur blindings when a set of undertrials lost their vision when acid was forcibly poured in their eyes, and Bhopal-Beyond Genocide on the Bhopal gas tragedy, are two of the winners. Her first film made in 1977 on women’s literacy was picked up by UNICEF.

  1. Deepa Dhanraj

One of the best known documentary filmmakers, Deepa Dhanraj has a number of powerful documentaries to her credit.

For instance, Invoking Justice (2011) is a strikingly original film on how a group of women got together in 2004 to form their own Jamaats (gatherings) in southern India where so far Jamaats were all-men local bodies, who tried disputes according to Islamic Sharia Law and rarely gave a chance to women to defend themselves.

The network comprised 12,000 women and despite immense resistance from men, they have been able to settle 8,000 cases that range from wife beating to murder.

Her other film, Something Like a War delves into the forced vasectomies and sterilizations on Indian rural poor that were carried out during the Emergency to control the population.

  1. Madhushree Dutta

Her film I Live in Behrampada fetched a number of awards. It was a socio-political feedback on the people of Behrampada, a slum-like neighborhood near Mumbai’s Bandra station where Hindus and Muslims lived in peace and harmony, which was shattered by police atrocities on the minority community after the Mumbai riots of 1992.

Her film Memories of Fear, which shows how girls are socialized into a fear psychosis about just anything so that it is easier to control and suppress them, got her the National Award for the Best Film in 1996.

  1. Paromita Vohra

Her works are tinged with satire and humor and interestingly two of her most successful documentaries talk about society through food.

Annapurna: Goddess of Food is about a women’s co-operative started by 14 women in 1975, who cooked meals for the migrant workers. The co-operative now boasts of a membership of 150,000 and has its own credit co-operative bank, short-stay home and a catering centre.

Defeat of a Minor Goddess tries to delve into food politics as an understanding of intolerance and the meaning of public and private space. The idea struck her when she realized a whole area in Mumbai was vegetarian starting from restaurants to apartment buildings.

  1. Reena Mohan

Kamlabai, the first screen actress of India, was 88 when the documentary was shot. The film Kamlabaishot in 1992 remains a landmark documentary that traces the life of this old lady through the mundane daily chores and yet there are flashes of her past and a glimpse of her sense of humor.

Skin Deep is more contemporary and extremely relevant at a time when every Indian woman is grappling with body image. The filmmaker interviews six women in various ages and from different social backgrounds and shows how they constantly struggle to live up to the social expectations of beauty.

(This article, written by me, was recently published in the website Asia Times.)

 

Actress Ananya Chatterjee

Actress Ananya Chatterjee

I had been away from Kolkata for more than seven years but what makes me feel really wonderful to be back in the city is the warmth of the people I have always known professionally and personally.

Recently when I was invited to the newly-opened seafood and tribal cuisine restaurant, Fishermen’s Deck, on Swinhoe Street, apart from sampling their mouth-watering fare, I was really looking forward to meeting Ananya Chatterjee, who was the celeb guest at the do.

While working as a full-time journalist in Kolkata I had known Ananya well. She was always a straight-talking person, lived life on her own terms, believed in style statements and needless to say, was supremely talented.

The last time we exchanged an SMS was in 2009 when she bagged the National Award for Best Actress for her role in Abohoman directed by late Rituparno Ghosh. I was elated that she had won. She acknowledged my wishes with warmth.

The next time we met was a few weeks back at the restaurant and I was elated once again to see that Ananya hadn’t changed a wee bit. She hugged me warmly and said, “I was looking forward to the adda with you.”

We quickly got down to that between devouring pepper calamari and green rice. Ananya wanted the mutton, made in bamboo, to be specially cooked for her and with her trademark simplicity she told me: “I can only have the crab if you can extract the meat for me from the shell.”

I did that. Then we moved on to the unusual-yet-tasty egg halwa and embarked on a trip down memory lane talking about all our earlier addas on shooting floors, at parties and about a couple of occasions when she saved my day by accommodating a last-minute shoot in her hectic schedule.

The interiors of Fishermen's Deck

The interiors of Fishermen’s Deck where Ananya and I had our chat and yum seafood

While talking about work, Ananya said: “You know I can never accept a script where I don’t have much acting to do. But I am looking at some innovative work which includes a short film.”

Now close on the heels of the superhit short film Ahalya, that stars yet another wonderful actor and down-to-earth human being Tota Roy Chaudhury, Ananya is acting in Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s 15-minute Debi.

The film has got an equally talented cast of Arjun Chakraborty, Koushik Banerjee, Reshmi Sen and singer Monali Thakur.

Filmmaker Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury

Filmmaker Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury

Debi is about the nostalgia of Durga Puja in Kolkata and about homecoming. It is nothing like Ahalya but it has something that is bound to pull at your heart strings and remind you about the Bengali’s love for grandparents, for food and the magic of wearing red during Durga Puja.

It’s nine days to Durga Puja now and National Award-winning director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury couldn’t have picked a better time to release Debi online. This is the time Bengalis all over the world miss the azure of the Bengal sky, what we call the “sarater akash”.

Ananya has beautifully portayed the character of a strong, independent single mom Anu, who comes to her ancestral home during Durga Puja with daughter Lali in tow.

Some relationships don’t change even if you haven’t met for ages – like mine with Ananya’s or Anu’s with her home.

Watch to see what I mean:

Link to Short film Debi

 

 

 

Exit Interview is a fiction published by Rupa Publications

Exit Interview is a fiction published by Rupa Publications

“How many times will you read it? Haven’t you written this book? Then why are you always reading it? Will you not read my books?” my five-year-old son Vivaan was really infuriated.

It was end of May and a couple of days after Rupa Publications had delivered author copies of Exit Interview, my first attempt at writing a fiction, at my doorstep, and I had not yet got over the thrill of holding my book, smelling it and going through it, although by then I knew every page by heart.

But Vivaan wasn’t liking the fact that I was suddenly giving more importance to Exit Interview than Hansel &Gretel and I was even telling him to sleep off on his own while I had work to do.

“Work? What work? You are reading your book. That can’t be work.” He retorted.

I lovingly showed him the acknowledgments page where his name is there. He looked at it and then seemed satisfied that even in the book he continues to be the centre of his mom’s universe.

Vivaan probably will never know that my protagonist Rasha Roy has been actually abandoned so many times for him – for the call of his nappy changing-feeding-cuddling duties.

I started writing the book when my son was 10 months old. I had just quit my job in Dubai and I was at home, writing. Obviously it was expected or I was internally conditioned that way, I suppose, to get up from my laptop every time my son wailed.

Although Rajasri, the wonderful lady who looked after my son was there by his side all the time, I was there too telling myself, “Isn’t this why I left my job?”

Hence the breaks from writing extended to walks in the stroller and playing sessions in the balcony.  Sometimes when I went back to Rasha Roy, my protagonist, I had forgotten what she was doing or what I wanted her to do. My train of thought had been shattered.

There were days Vivaan kept me so busy that I couldn’t write a single line and there were days I would be up all night writing. Some nights Vivaan was so restless and wanted me by his side (we always co-slept) that I also tossed and turned with the next twist in the tale in my head, unable to put it down on the keyboard.

Sometimes when I sat down to write instead of the words the only thing that came was my tears. I was still mourning the untimely demise of my brother Anirban. It had only been 10 months that cancer had taken him away.

But was it Rasha who gave me the strength to carry on, to write the story or was it Vivaan, this little boy, who only knew the sound of my heartbeat, who changed me as a person altogether and gave me the strength to follow my dream?

I wouldn’t know. But four years down the line I have realized Vivaan doesn’t like Rasha. While looking at a newspaper review or a picture of a friend on Facebook holding my book he does get excited saying, “Isn’t that your book?” but the next statement inevitably is, “If you are writing again it better be a book you can read out to me at night.”

Picture taken from the internet

Picture taken from the internet

That day a friend casually said, “Rasha Roy’s story would make a great sequel. Are you thinking of writing one?”

Before I could answer, Vivaan said, “No Rasha, only Puti.”

“Puti? Who’s Puti?” my friend asked.

Vivaan clarified, “She’s a girl from the village who can beat the boys at racing, fight off bank robbers and hijackers, she saved a boy from drowning, she is a supergirl. Mom has made Puti for me.”

The last sentence was uttered with a pride that melted my heart – a pride that comes from his innocence, a pride that he feels about my book but can’t express, a delight that he feels to have the creator of Rasha or Puti as his mom.

Few days back an uncle had come home and asked for a copy of the book. I just had a couple left and needed to send it to someone so I said I didn’t have any.

I quickly realized why people say you should never lie in front of  a child.

“Why? Aren’t there a few copies in the blue bag?” Vivaan said with authority. With great embarrassment I explained to my uncle the reason I couldn’t give those.

After he was gone Vivaan told me, “You should have given him the copies. Exit Interview is intolerable anyway.”

(Any kind of reaction failed me because I was astonished anyway that my son had the good sense to tell me this after my uncle left.)

So looks like I might have to choose Puti over Rasha very soon but I wonder whether Puti will be able to deal with bank robbers and hijackers between me handling homework, school drop off and pick up, freelance deadlines, blogging and my naughty son hitting the sleep button on the laptop at the slightest opportunity.

PS: If you are still interested to read Rasha’s story then for online orders check Flipkart, Amazon India and Amazon International.

Suchismita Dasgupta

Suchismita Dasgupta

“… I think that childfree by choice is the new gay. We’re the new disenfranchised group. People think we’re irresponsible, immoral sluts and that our lifestyle is up for debate.”

Suchismita Dasgupta wrote this on her Facebook wall a few days back. I was not surprised though. She is someone who has always spoken her mind and not always done exactly what society expected her to do. That is why Suchismita, though happily married, has decided not to be a mother.

In this post Suchismita, in her inimitable bold style, has penned her thoughts on being childfree in Indian society:

What’s a good reason to have a child?

Yes, it’s a bit tiring! I got married at 33 and have been hearing since I was 23 when am I going to get married? Then around 30, if I don’t get married now then when will I have kids? Then 7 years after getting married, I am still told ‘but you will make such a wonderful mother’ or ‘you will miss them when you are older’ or ‘it is so selfish not to have a child’ or ‘who will look after you when you are old?’. It has always made me wonder are these reasons good enough to have a child when you and your partner do not want one?

My masseuse came today for the first time. Yes I am 41 and till now didn’t think massage was important. Anyway coming back to the point, she asked me my age etc. and then children? When I replied that I don’t have any her next question was ‘naoni na hoyni’, literally translated it means, you haven’t taken one or it didn’t happen???!!!

How can a child just “happen”?

I find this word ‘happen’ extremely infuriating. In India everything seems to be happening to you. Marriage happens to you, child happens to you, misfortune happens to you and the list is endless. As if we are a bunch of reproduction machines, programmed to get married, consummate the same and reproduce. If you have not done any of them, then you are an irresponsible person bringing shame to the family.

Am I supposed to feel guilty for not having a maternal instinct?

I once had a conversation with a woman; she and her husband adopted a girl when she was about 40. This was soon after our marriage and she took it upon herself to tell me how important having children was. When I told her that I love children as long as they go back to someone else’s home, she said I was plain selfish, someone who doesn’t like children is not worth talking to. Now that suited me fine, I really didn’t care but it made me wonder how patriarchal and institutionalised this whole thought process was. I am sure there would be many (in my shoes) who would have felt guilty after this conversation for not having a lot of maternal instinct.

Suchismita in a Nextiles creation

Suchismita wearing her own design

It’s a well-thought out decision made by two people

In seven and a half years of marriage my husband and I both asked each other many times if the other really wanted a child and was not saying that because of the decision we took jointly and each time after a lot of discussion and deliberation the answer has remained the same. I still think to myself sometimes what if? But then I realise I am too settled in my life as it is right now; there’s no reason why I should change it! It might be for better or for worse but since I do not feel the urge to change it, I won’t do it and I don’t think I owe this to anyone either.

I think there should be a reason to have a child

Everyone should have a reason to have a child. A child should not just ‘happen’ to you because that’s the way you have known things to ‘happen’. Some of my friends and acquaintances have given birth to a ‘bandaid’ child; they gave birth because they think the child will save their relationship.

I feel instant pity for the poor child and the baggage it is born with. Added to this will be the pressure to perform and cope with the constant competition between the parents for attention.

A child is not born to fulfill dreams

Many parents want to fulfill their unfulfilled dreams through their children. I know someone who tells his two-year-old daughter that she has to become a doctor. I see parents treating their children like a talking doll. You go to their place, they call their children and ask them to show all the skills they have acquired. Who cares if the child hates to perform in front of strangers.

I am a doting aunt but can’t do this full time

I as an individual have no such personal crisis or future plans, in fact, I have no maternal instinct either (yeah go on call me a slut) and to be absolutely honest, I feel extremely settled and comfortable in the current state of being and I somehow don’t want to disturb that. My sudden motherhood rushes (like chocolate rush) are fulfilled by my absolute gorgeous nieces and nephews with whom I have a mutual adoration club. In fact, being a favourite aunt to many for the last 16 years, I realised, I cannot do it full time. So whilst being an aunt absolutely suits me, being a mother definitely doesn’t.

Why can’t a woman challenge social norms?

Our upbringing leads us to believe that women are the reproduction agents, who “must” look after children, home etc. We have enough books, films, television to support and coax you into that system. However the time has changed, we don’t think in terms of man and woman as genders anymore. It’s also about time we treat each other as individuals. I (a woman) as an individual may not want to give birth/adopt, breast feed/look after feeding, be woken up in the middle of night, or wake up the child in the morning to take to school. My choice, right?

Making a choice does not mean disregarding a system

Just like you don’t ask an individual (at least I should think you don’t), do you have a car? A bungalow? A pet dog? A Rolex watch? An M. F. Hussain painting? Don’t ask do you have a child? They are all pretty much a matter of choice and affordability.

At this point, I must apologise to some of you who might have been upset by the points I have picked up. That definitely wasn’t my intention. To me/us children have always been a matter of choice; the likes of us don’t believe that we must condone a system if we didn’t want to.

My choice comes with huge responsibility

To me this world has lost its story; and I must say I don’t think that this world deserves another new life, definitely not someone I will be bringing up. So let’s go back to the matter of choice. We all have a right to choose, like you choose to have a child, I choose not to have one. And to be honest this choice too comes with a huge responsibility. One day may be we will learn to respect that. Till then I live with hope.

About Suchismita:

If you have been raving about Sujoy Ghosh’s short film Ahalya then you should also know that Suchismita was the dress designer of the film. Not only that one she was the designer for Kahaani, and some of her designs were used in Parineeta. She was the winner of the Best Costume Award at Madrid International Film Festival 2013 for her work in the Bengali film Koyekti Meyer Galpo. Till date she was been the costume designer for more than two dozen films and one of the noted recent releases is Kadambari.

(From left:) Radhika Apte, make-up artist Aniruddha Chakladar, Tota Roy Choudhury and Suchismita on the sets of Ahalya

(From left:) Radhika Apte, make-up artist Aniruddha Chakladar, Tota Roy Choudhury and Suchismita on the sets of Ahalya

Growing up in Kolkata, Suchismita Dasgupta felt the need of creating comfortable yet exclusive garments using the traditional textiles and techniques. Hence, she formed Nextiles in 2004.

Nextiles focuses on the most important aspects: fabric, fit, and tailoring quality. Working closely with the weavers, embroiderers and printers from all over India, Nextiles’ main focus is to translate the traditional handwork into styles that suit the urban needs.

Nasseruddin Shah, Sujoy Ghosh, Soumik Sen, Swastika Mukherjee, Paoli Dam, Sahana Bajpayee, Aniruddha Chakladar, Ananya Chatterjee, Bidipta Chakraborty and Aparajita Ghosh are celebs who swear by Nextiles.

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Alaka Sahani won the National Award for the Best Film Critic for the year 2013

Alaka Sahani received the National Award for the Best Film Critic for the year 2013. She received the award for her phenomenal writings on Indian theatre and new facets of documentary film making, for writings that took Indian entertainment beyond the staple of glamour. No wonder when entertainment journalists in India are obsessed about chasing glamorous stars for their pictures, quotes and interviews, Alaka chooses to stand apart and says she finds Tun Tun, fascinating. In a no-holds-barred interview Alaka Sahani talks about current state of entertainment journalism in India and why she rarely takes selfies with the stars.

Do you feel that there is an obsession with glamour?

Definitely, yes. As a movie-crazy nation we all are interested in gossip, glamour and stars’ private lives. Most leading newspapers and tabloids cater to this. They have special sections and supplements that feature such pieces along with glamorous photos of stars. An array of websites too feed on Bollywood gossip as well as photographs of stars making an appearance at events, walking the red carpet or sneaking into their lover’s pad. Even an insipid photo of an actor having dinner or coming out of an airport can create a buzz.

However, my understanding is that such obsession is more acute in urban centres. In the Tier-II and Tier-III towns of India, people are more interested in politics, developmental issues and sports.

What kind of articles you feel work with readers but are rarely written or researched?

We hardly come across a piece, unless it’s a blog, which goes beyond an A-lister’s stock replies and brings out his or her quirks, concerns and insecurities (A case in point is this piece I had read long ago http://www.theguardian.com/film/2008/may/16/ewanmcgregor). Also, it is rare to find a star who does not stick to politically-correct answers. That’s the reason Kangana Ranaut’s straight-speak on Anupama Chopra’s show The Front Row was so refreshing and went viral in 2013.

Do you feel the internet has changed journalism to a great extent?

Yes, it has. It gives previously unimaginable reach to all kind of film-related writings – be it a news break on Twitter, Facebook post or blogs. The online department of leading publications too religiously upload Bollywood-related tidbits with attention-grabbing headlines. YouTube has been yet another major gamechanger.

Are stars and PR people manipulating the media?

Absolutely, yes. And this is not a startling fact anymore. In fact, both the parties — stars and their PRs as well as media — feed off each other. Today, money can buy the stars, or for that matter anyone, space and visibility in media.

Gone are the days when journalists and stars shared a very informal rapport. Even though some prominent journalists might have access to top stars, the latter mostly speak to the media only when they want to. For example, when the release date of their movies is nearing or they are keen to clear their stand in a controversial matter or they want to push their pet cause/project.

An article/interview that you would want to write but haven’t managed to write yet.

Someday, I would like to write about popular and talented supporting actors of India such as Tun Tun, Mukri, Kanhaiyalal, Leela Mishra, Om Prakash and Iftekhar. I have grown up on a heavy dose of black-and-white classics as well as movies of the 60s and 70s thanks to my parents. So those worlds continue to fascinate me. I find these actors with their mannerisms and character traits so endearing even though they were typecast.

Tun Tun was called the first woman comedian of India

Tun Tun was called the first woman comedienne of India

How has winning the national Award made a difference to your life and work?

It has not made any major difference in my life so far. But, thanks to this, today I am connected to a lot more people from various fields — the film industry, writers and, most importantly, people from Odisha, my home state. After the award was announced, I received immense warmth and love from all around — my office, family, friends, lost friends and cinema lovers. Recently, my father, a former deputy commissioner of Income Tax, received a thunderous applause at the annual meet of his department’s pensioner’s association which celebrated my award. This was priceless.

In an age when journalists are doing everything to show how happening their lives are you are very low profile despite being a National Award winner. Why?

I am a bit inhibited when it comes to showing off every little achievement. I would like to change that about myself to some extent. To begin with, I will post my bylines on Twitter and Facebook more often.

Alaka Sahani receiving the National Award from the president of India

Alaka Sahani receiving the National Award from Pranab Mukherjee, the President of India

Most journalists publish selfies with stars on FB I have never seen you doing that. Why?

I believe selfies should be for fun, not to show off that I just met this actor. Since most journalists are fans of stars as well as movie-buffs, I understand there is natural urge to take selfies. Later on, they post it on social media partly due to the pure joy of meeting a film star but mostly to have more followers or grab attention on social media. Stars too understand this and rarely decline a request for selfies.

Having said that, I am not immune to such temptations. I do take photographs with the stars I love as well as with whom I end up having a memorable conversation. In the past, I have put up a photo with Naseeruddin Shah (it’s my favourite. The camera that was focussed on him had caught a hazy reflection of mine on a mirror behind him) and Wong Kai Wai whom I met at IFFI, Goa. I will admit to you that I have selfies with Hrithik Roshan, Varun Dhawan and Dimple Kapadia on my phone. Someday, I should be able to post it on social media. Someday.

What is your opinion on the current state of film journalism?

It is an exciting time for film journalism, given the multiple platforms and wide reach that it enjoys today. While magazines and newspapers continue to carry regular stories related to cinema such as interviews with film personalities, trend stories and gossips, some of the websites and blogs have been putting up in-depth and well-researched pieces. What makes some of them a nice read is the quality of writing.

 

About Alaka Sahani: 

For the year 2013, Alaka Sahani received the National Films Award for the Best Film Critic. She was presented the award for her writings that highlighted facets of cinema beyond glamour and gossip. Currently, she is working as a Senior Assistant Editor with The Indian Express, Mumbai, and heads its Features section.

During her eight-year stint at The Indian Express, she has written extensively on cinema and theatre, apart from covering the Mumbai Film Festival and IFFI, Goa. She have also worked for some of India’s leading newspapers including Hindustan Times (Kolkata and Mumbai) and The Times of India, Kolkata, during her journalistic career spanning over 15 years.