What inspired you to make this film?
We all know what it is, yet we never speak of it- is the selling point that drew me towards propelling a dialogue with women about a subject they feel VERY uncomfortable talking about, menstruation. I hated my period and wished it never existed. It was almost as if I disliked a large part of my body and myself. The study of the body, and a particularly gendered body, is utilized to make a woman feel dirty and ‘ganda’ about her very being. Our body has become a commodity, based on cultural taboos that are all constructed to keep women under control and always policed.
What do you want to convey to your audience with this film?
The purpose of this video was to look at women only through the lens of menstruation , where period is first of all considered ‘natural’ and yet all these social constructions have been built around it, of not sleeping on the bed, no cooking, no touching children, or entering a temple. A woman who gets her period has to go through 4-5 days of being seen as someone who is dirty, whereas on the other hand, if a woman does not get her period, she cannot have a child. Not being able to bear a child is considered blasphemous in various sections of our society. This is when one thinks – either ways the woman has suffered and will suffer especially if our views do not change; what then, is the solution for a woman? How will she get out of this trap that has been put in place historically; one that does not allow her to make her own space in society?
What were the initial challenges while getting women to talk about a taboo topic like periods? What did you do to overcome those and get these women to open up to you?
My aim was to talk to men and women [of Dharavi]. When I actually began the discussion with women, I realised that they themselves were unable to talk about it openly, and would often whisper, or completely refuse to talk to me. It was almost impossible to talk to about menstruation to men; that was when I realised that this would actually be a lot harder than I had imagined. Many women who believed that their blood was dirty, blatantly refused to ever enter a temple on their period.I tried telling them that blood stains on your knees, or coming out of your vagina is nevertheless the same blood, so what is the difference? But nothing could convince them otherwise.
What I realised was that younger women, were open to newer ideas and ready to listen, talk and question but the older women, the mother-in laws or the daughter-in-laws listened but completely refuted any digression from customs. According to them my argument of ‘menstrual blood is not impure’ made sense, but they refused to go about their lives any other way. This made me realise how the taboos of menstruation are so ingrained in our minds, that a large part of our elder society refuses to change.
We dealt with this largely by trial and error method. I had to take a team of only girls who spoke
Marathi and Hindi; this made the women comfortable and ready to welcome us into their homes, while slowly and patiently opening the subject of discussion and giving them time to settle down. A lot of homes were not open to welcoming such discussion especially as as one daughter-in-law had said to me, “mein apne parivaar ka vishwas kaise tod sakti hoon” (How can I break my family’s trust like this?)
How is your film being received by the viewers?
The audience of the video on one hand love the powerful voices of the women that in itself establishes the visibility and voice of a woman, but a number of people disagreed with the outlook on religion. They professed why a woman can under no circumstances enter a temple during her period. What surprised me most was the fact that women thought it was incorrect to enter the temple across all economic strata, then you realise that at times even education, that is always considered as a solution to the problems of the world, does not necessarily take away from the socio-cultural and gendered inequalities; particularly in an Indian society.
Film-maker and interviewee: Giaa Singh Arora
Giaa is a budding filmmaker, performer and an Indian Classical Odissi Dancer. She is a second year student at Ashoka University majoring in English Literature with a minor in Performing Arts. She has also made another short film called Superman Paghdi Nai Pehenta Kya?
Edited and Interviewed by – Palashi Vaghela