Myths, Midwives and Motherhood

Ruchika Goswamy

A scene from the film Mamatva.

Kirti Singh’s diploma film Mamatva brings out the myths and stories around motherhood. A student from Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata, the film has travelled to festivals in India and abroad. Singh, 34, tells the story of a lower caste midwife in a village in Uttar Pradesh, and how the birth of a baby boy raises within her the longing to be a mother. The film was shot in Tundla, a town just 30 km from Agra. In an interview, she talks about the choices women make, the contrasts they are straddled with, and exploring Brij as a language.

How did you come up with the story of Mamatva?

Our film talks about the myths, rituals and practices surrounding motherhood. The protagonist, Rama, the midwife, is not able to become a mother. The film shows what all begins to take place in her heart. Through her character I have explored the social structure in society. People who are at the lowest level have to carry a lot of violence within themselves. In a village, if you follow the caste system, you will see often, women from the sweeper community are the midwives during a delivery. These women handle the dirty clothes and the other aspects associated with birth. She helped give so many births but could not have a baby of her own. I wanted to play with these contrasts.

What did you want to convey?

It is not that I wanted to show that women are weak, but in a way, Rama is pushed towards that. So what pushes people, especially women, to do what the society believes they should. In rural areas, women do not get a chance to talk about what is going on in their hearts. I wanted to explore how you yourself define the meaning of something. Just like you do not need an idol to meditate, same goes for the fact that you do not need to have a baby to feel like a mother. In our film, the character just wants to hold the baby and sing a lullaby.

What were your challenges during the shooting of the film?

Our actors were from different places and they were not very well versed in Brij, a dialect of Hindi. The lead actor Somnath is a Bengali and Vartika, who plays Rama, speaks Awadhi. With a small budget and little time, it was quite difficult to get the actors into their roles but after a day or so they were into their characters. It is the collaboration from everyone on the team that made it all work.

Is there a particular reason why you retained Brij as the language of the film?

I belong to a Brij speaking area and what I have observed is that when people visit Agra or Mathura, they have a typical character in their mind that they would get an auto rickshaw driver who will speak in a certain way. So, I always focus on the language that is spoken in an area. It is about the authenticity of that state. The characters will only be authentic when they speak in that particular language. They have to behave and live like the people of that area. It is the authenticity of the stories and the characters that I am inclined towards. I have lived in that area and I intend telling the stories of that area and breaking the stereotypical characterisation of the characters belonging to that particular area in UP. Also, Brij is a language that cinema has not explored.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a Brij feature film called Matilana, and I'm a part of an Awadhi feature film with a friend. The Awadhi film explores the rural social set-up while Matilana talks about how the marriage of a girl is a celebration for everyone but herself.