- Several such 15-to-20-minute short films on YouTube deal with a range of topics including gender equality, dowry, infanticide, rape, and widow remarriage.
As the timelessness of pandemic work-from-home scenarios gives way to post-pandemic schedules and commutes, we might start to miss the time to catch up on full-length movies and long serials. In that light, I recommend a set of Hindi language mini-films, on YouTube, easily catchable on a smartphone. Aimed at catching the busy viewer’s short spurt of dispensable time, perhaps while waiting at a child’s soccer practice, or while taking the train to work, or even otherwise while planning to steal some down-time on the couch, without letting the family in on it, these 15-to-20-minute short films are precious for the range of topics they cover. It is gratifying to report that in a similar vein gender equality is particularly frequently dealt with, through films on dowry, infanticide, rape, widow remarriage, and the like. And that makes me recommend such shorts even more.
Here are two mini-films that I make a notable mention of both produced by the same production house.
- “Arranged Marriage”: As the name suggests this movie is about the very desi practice of arranged marriage. However, this is not a satire on this institution. It is a highly positive take on what a truly arranged marriage can be when the two partners are enabled to sit across each other and openly communicate about the most important values that are dealmakers and deal-breakers for each of them. The charm of the set-up in the movie is that the two people in question are not wealthy, or even upper-middle-class urban professionals meeting via common friends in ultra-sophisticated locales. Here are two decent adults- one a teacher, and the other an educated non-employed person with a desire to work in the future. They are made to meet in Mumbai through a common family from their village, to see each other for prospective matrimonial alliance. Alone and dressed in a semi-ironed silk sari the girl sits across the man in a balcony of what looks like a government colony apartment. The whole film is about the question-answer session that the two people engage in, in a manner that is refreshingly candid and devoid of any judgment. The characters are your boy and girl next door but not innocent and young people unsure of their stations. Here are two mature adults who are able to assert some strong observations on women’s clothing, sharing of workload at home, the role of respective families in their lives etc.
What is remarkably heartening is how through a practical conversation on gender roles and gender stereotypes as these apply to a mindset and real domestic scenarios, the two people’s admiration for each other grows during the length of their maiden meeting. This growth of mutual appreciation based purely on active communication, as opposed to being based on educational degrees, beauty or wealth, is empowering as both the sexes speak their minds and illuminate their common grounds. One can fall in love with the two characters for their convincing display of genuine human emotions, as they navigate the not-so-easy gender conversations with confidence laced with understandable coyness and infectious smiles.
Two thumbs up to this movie for efficiently presenting a progressive framework for a traditional institution like the arranged marriage, and that too in the context of a modestly placed couple, whose vernacular will endear them to many similarly placed viewers in India and who will thus identify with the characters and warm-up to the message of the movie.
- “Wedding Night”: This second movie follows the same couple above, into their first night as a wedded couple. This movie impresses from the start by declaring that the topic being dissected is the ‘supposedly cherished virginity’ of the bride. How the society simply assumes that the bride is a virgin, without loading any such expectations on the groom. The movie starts with the groom being handed a white bedsheet by his family as he heads toward the matrimonial chamber for their first night. Once again, our hero-a matured man has been pre-granted a sensitivity which reminds us why the mature bride even agreed to marry him. He enters the room, reluctant to use the bedsheet. And that is when the two people talk. They sit on the bed and discuss the biology of a woman’s virginity and the various ways in which it may be lost, sex being only one such way. Both the man and the woman maintain a neutral stance on this subject, where they both amplify the fact that dwelling on the woman’s virginity is an exercise in orthodoxy, absolutely unnecessary to a good marriage. The replacement of the sexual intimacy that is typically glamorized in a scene about a first night, with the intellectual exploration of a sensitive and hushed issue, is praiseworthy. Once again, in bringing to fore a subject that is so obscure and taboo, and so gender-biased, the short movie creates a great starter conversation for many such practices and expectations that weigh heavily upon women in many cultures.
These look like low-budget movies, with just two actors and almost one location each carrying the show. Yet the acting, script and direction are so spot-on, that one doesn’t ever feel that the modest set-up and costumes are a function of lack of funds, if any. ContentkaKeeda, the production house that makes these shorts has an entire set of content available on YouTube and is an outfit co-run by a brother-sister duo. I have subscribed to their channel, and I want to watch more of their films in the future, for I am convinced that they are bringing a fresh, inspiring and progressive take on many social issues.
Dr. Nidhi Thakur grew up in Dehradun, India, and moved to the U.S. for graduate studies. She now teaches Economics (of gender, health and sustainability), and writes short fiction and poetry in Hindustani (a blend of Urdu-Hindi) and English, as a commentary on the socio-economic currents of the time. She uses the moniker ‘HeartVersesMind’ to curate her publications on youtube.com/kunuishere2009, and on other social media platforms. Previously, she has performed and published fiction/non-fiction pieces in Asian American Writers’ Workshop Pop-up and In Full Color — an anthology of monologues. She currently lives in N.J. giving the final edits to her debut manuscript — a collection of short stories on immigrant sensibilities, with a twist!