Beyond Borders, a film festival that celebrates South Asian feminism

The films from different South Asian countries, in a myriad of languages and landscapes, address issues like domestic violence, family crisis, social media hate and homosexuality

Kriti Film Club and feminist organisation Jagori have collaborated to present Beyond Borders: A Feminist Film Festival. The seven-day event, which kicked off on December 3, has been organised as a tribute to the annual international campaign, 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

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Aanchal Kapur, the founder of Kriti Films and the curator of the festival, said that the aim was to build South Asian solidarity, and gain support and inspiration from each other. “We have a common language, concerns, problems and a feminist spirit that binds us together. That’s why we decided to name the festival ‘Beyond Borders’; it indicates that this is what we bring to each other beyond borders.”

Aanchal Kapur 

A year before the lockdown, they hosted a physical film screening to celebrate South Asian Women’s Day, which falls on November 30. In the absence of physical space during the lockdown, the Kriti Film club turned to online film screenings, which were a success. Kamla Bhasin, the eminent women’s rights activist, poet and author, was one of the people who participated too.

“Kamla Di said, “Chalo issi bahane khoob films dekh rahee hu!” (I am watching so many films because of this). She asked if I could curate an online film festival, and thus happened the South Asian Feminist Film Festival last year, with co-curator Reena Mohan,” Kapur said.

But the unfortunate demise of Kamla Bhasin earlier this year left the team dejected.

“We briefly spoke about the second edition, but Kamla Di passed away suddenly and left us in shock. A few weeks ago, the Jagori folks called me and encouraged me to continue what we had begun. I had made a commitment as a feminist and decided to make it happen. It was with this thought, and in memory of Kamla Di, that this year’s fest was organised,” Kapur added.

This year, the festival showcases 61 films by 63 filmmakersm from seven South Asian countries in 26 different languages. The themes include Personal is Political, Family, Memory and Belonging, Her Stories, and Voices from South Asia. From the works of celebrated personalities like Baba Azmi and Debalina Majumder to young independent filmmakers and animation students, the viewing list offers a gamut of viewing options such as animation, short fiction, documentaries and features.

Priya Thuvassery is an independent filmmaker based out of New Delhi, whose documentary City Girls is being showcased at this festival. The 28-minute documentary follows the lives of two girls who have come from a small town in Uttar Pradesh to the city of their dreams: Delhi. But life in a city for these girls is not marked by socio-economic gains or a fancy corporate social ladder, but rather a freedom that the city embodies.

Priya Thuvassery 

Priya said, “While it (the film) is about what drives girls and women to cities and what the city means to them, it becomes a larger metaphor and moves beyond a city. The film ends with Umra (one of the girls) saying that the city is freedom.”

While listening to a podcast, filmmaker Prachee Bajani’s attention drew to two lines of a Gujarati folk song she heard in the background. She travelled to Devgadh Baria in Dahod, Gujarat, in search of the song and those who sang it. Thus began her journey to make The Spell of Purple, a film that is also currently playing at the festival.

“My journey led me to a group of women there who were accused of being witches; they had replaced the lyrics of a traditional wedding song with stories of oppression. This drew me to their lives and that’s how I started writing this film,” Prachee explains.

One of the biggest attractions of the festival is the collection of expansive titles from the neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Mynamar, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The films from these South Asian countries, in a myriad of languages and landscapes, address issues like domestic violence, family crisis, social media hate, homosexuality; many issues that hit home.

Pakistan-based filmmaker Anam Abbas’s film Saya (Shadow), co-directed with Fawzia Mirza, is part of the line-up. The film, she says, was made in a fluid dialogue with the city of Karachi, its architecture, and our performers.

Filmmakers Anam Abbas and Fawzia Mirza 

As a filmmaker and co-founder of the Documentary Association of Pakistan and the South Asia Doc. collective, Anam believes that South Asian feminists have always allied across struggles and across nation-states. “It’s what feeds us and drives us. Mutual aid extends across feminist work and also (in) cinema as a medium that takes a village to create. I think we share similar struggles whether it comes to gendered oppression or neo-colonial violence,” she added.

The festival also hosts a range of animation shorts made by the students of Srishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design and Technology. Piyush Jain, one of the students at the institute, has made an animated film, Rani (Queen) that in a short span of 46 seconds, takes one through the inner and outer journey of a woman in a joint family. The inspiration for this film came to him during a class discussion on patriarchy and how it affects their lives, particularly their homes.

A still from ‘Rani’ 

“As a filmmaker and an artist, I feel responsible for the message I put out into the world as it influences a lot of minds. Even though topics like these might be unconventional, I urge fellow artists to make more films that talk about important topics like patriarchy, gender roles, domestic violence and inequality,” the young filmmaker said.

The films at The Beyond Borders: A Feminist Film Festival are playing till December 10 here

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