Today the world talks through films. About its desires, sorrows, sticky challenges and coping strategies. Thus when MAMI, Mumbai’s very own international film festival, zooms into the city every year (since the past 21 years), loaded with films culled from across the globe, it invariably draws audiences by hordes.
This year was no different, as MAMI 2019 (17-24 October) kicked in with over 200 films in its bag. MAMI also scores high as it offers a range of films pivoted on women — delivering stories largely from women’s perspective, and not men’s, as is conventional in popular/ mainstream cinema everywhere.
One does not know if a woman — noted film critic, television anchor and author Anupama Chopra — being the festival director accounts for this trend, but be that as it may, this year, MAMI tracked several engaging women’s journeys, dilemmas and posits through its repertoire.
The dominant issues still remain survival, identity and relationships. If in a cold, mountainous, thinly-populated Macedonian village, the setting of film Honeyland, its protagonist Hatidze must continue her lonely struggle to survive by cultivating honey and selling it, in another Macedonian film, God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunya, the 32-year old unemployed Petrunya must bend backwards to secure a job and what is rightfully hers, fighting down severe male prejudices.
Again, in the visceral French film, Sorry, We Missed You, if the gritty, middle-aged husband Ricky pushes himself to his limits, to provide for his family, resisting dole, his wife assumes equal responsibility and works 12 hours a day as a care-giver, remote-parenting her kids through her cell.
What residues with the viewer is that the women persevere without compromising on their core qualities of kindness, dignity and gentleness.
Honeyland presents a moving picture of the 50-year old protagonist, weathered by nature, as she tends to her 85-year old dying mother; bonds easily with a family that puts up for a short while in her locale; and then continues to live all alone, sharing her meagre meals with a dog and cats.
Her compassion propels her to remove half the matured honey-hive and leave the other half for the bees, each time, a practice that sustains nature and is characteristic of tribal communities.
For the modern woman, to live with dignity is not a choice, but a need, and she will wrestle today to the end for her right. The message comes out loud and clear from the German-Turkish film A Regular Woman.
Hatun, a young Turkish woman from a conservative Muslim family, based in Berlin, walks out of her marriage and then her parents’ house, to live on her own with her baby boy, much to her family’s chagrin.
The family upset intensifies into deadly rage, as Hatun sheds her headscarf, trains for a “male” trade, goes dancing with her German boyfriend, and asserts her right to live as she chooses.
Her three incensed, masjid-going brothers threaten her even as the fourth brother, a liberal, advices her to seek police protection. She does too late, with dire consequences.
The question of what constitutes a woman’s rights, always incendiary, gains urgency in the documentary film One Child Nation, curated by now US-settled Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang; the film affords a rare peek into the implementation of the one-child policy that obtained in China from 1979 to 2015, and scarred generations of parents and children.
In the film, a woman gynaecologist confesses to having conducted over 50,00 forced abortions on crying, hysterical women; she now helps couples with infertility issues, to have babies, as a way to expiate for the ‘sins’ she committed, even if under pressure.
Nanfu Wang underpins the irony and persistence of the cloud over a woman’s reproductive rights, by pointing that she has moved from a country where abortions were forced on women to one (the US) where the right to abortion is wound in debate.
Besides delving issues kernel to women, MAMI scores by giving visibility to the middle-aged/ageing woman and her dilemmas — particularly her lock-ins with the spectre of loneliness.
If in a film like the Belgian Ghost Tropic, we see its benign form, in the figure of the 58-year-old Khadija, who is reconciled with her loneliness as a widow and overflowing with compassion, in the French film, Who You Think I Am, abandoned wife, 50-year-old Claire Millaud, resorts to deceit, creating a false profile on social media, to seize love and rapture.