Indian film-makers tackle sexism with edgy videos

MUMBAI • From The Period Song to How I Raped Your Mother, one all-woman Indian production team is challenging conservative attitudes with no-holds-barred satirical videos that are causing a stir online.

Mumbai-based film-making collective Girliyapa have released a series of hard-hitting clips that tackle misogyny, with subjects ranging from marital rape, which is not a crime in India, to social stigmas surrounding menstruation cycles.

"Our videos aren't preachy but laced with humour and to the point, which drives the message home rather effectively," group head Tracy D'Souza said.

The five videos, which vary from music-and-dance sequences to mini-sitcoms, have received more than five million views since the first one was uploaded onto YouTube last October.

But the 10-member Girliyapa team have faced plenty of online sexist abuse from anonymous critics wanting to silence them.

Their skits are the type that never screen on India's main television networks, dominated by soap operas whose sari-clad female characters almost always play traditional roles of mother and housewife.

Girliyapa is one of several film-making teams taking the Internet by storm, tackling social issues, but also tapping a growing desire among India's youth for a modern portrayal of women on screen.

India's massive Hindi film industry has been regularly criticised for depicting women as meek and subjecting female characters to aggressive methods of wooing by dominant male leads.

Critics point to Bollywood superstar Salman Khan's controversial comment recently that his heavy training schedule for wrestling movie Sultan left him feeling "like a raped woman", as an insight into attitudes in the industry.

In How I Raped Your Mother, a play on the title of hit American sitcom How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014), Girliyapa tackles old-fashioned familial attitudes towards marital rape, which is not illegal under Indian law.

In the 13-minute satirical video, a daughter complains to members of her family that her husband has been sexually abusing her. The mother says it is just part of marriage, while the father terms it "intense love-making".

"Political statements aren't solving the real issue. So we decided to make the video to highlight rape and violence against women," Ratnabali Bhattacharjee, a scriptwriter who plays the role of the mother, said.

Indian film-maker Paromita Vohra also deals with the subject of consent in a short online sitcom titled The Amorous Adventures Of Shakku And Megha In The Valley Of Consent uploaded on YouTube in March.

It is part of her project called Agents Of Ishq, meaning love in Hindi and Urdu, which aims to create awareness of women's rights and sex education through videos and animated graphics.

Sitcom Web series Girl In The City, on youth television channel Bindass, and Ladies Room are also proving a massive hit online with their 21st-century depictions of independent-minded women.

Girl In The City is about a 21-year-old, who moves to Mumbai to be a fashion stylist.

Ladies Room sees two female protagonists discuss subjects ranging from relationships to pregnancy, all while in a women's washroom. In one episode, they even smoke drugs, something rarely seen on Indian television.

Girliyapa's The Period Song celebrates the menstruation cycle, a taboo subject in deeply patriarchal India where women are often banned from religious sites and even rooms in their own home during their periods.

Another of their videos deals with young women buying condoms, while trying to navigate Internet dating is the subject of one of their other productions.

Analysts say the videos are playing an important role in overturning gender biases.

"Digital media can help educate, advocate and encourage people to adopt attitudes and behaviour that promote gender equality," Mumbai-based women's safety activist Elsa D'Silva said.

However, it is also online where women are being subjected to misogynistic trolling, including sexual slurs and threats of rape, all in a bid to shame them into silence.

The Girliyapa team members say they have faced such attacks every time they release a new video, but remain determined to change attitudes. "We won't stop telling our stories. People will have to accept the narrative despite all their inherent inhibitions," co-writer Shruti Madan said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2016, with the headline 'Indian film-makers tackle sexism with edgy videos'. Print Edition | Subscribe