Films have a massive impact on all of us, in overt as well as subtle ways. They influence our biases, our assumptions and they contribute to either reinforcing or breaking popular stereotypes that dominate our worldview. There is a lot that has been written about the ways in which films compound patriarchal worldviews and normalise violence against women, leading to a rape culture that views violence against women as regular and acceptable outcomes.

Mainstream cinema continues to romanticise stalking and valourise unhealthy and abusive relationships as ‘romantic ones’, leading to twisted understandings of love, sex, and consent. Violence against women is often a plot point for heroes to prove their masculinity and heroism, rather than focusing on the woman’s experience of it.

On this note, Oxfam India has instituted the ‘Oxfam Best Film on Gender Equality’ award, in partnership with Jio MAMI 20th Mumbai Film Festival with Star, the Mumbai Film Festival. A first-of-its-kind recognition, this award category focuses on films that challenge gender-based social norms which lead to gender inequality, and hence to the global pandemic of violence against women and girls.

Check out these 8 films at the MAMI Film Festival that are breaking gender stereotypes!

1. Imago | Dir. Karan Chavan, Vikram Patil| Marathi | 103 mins

Namrata, a shy, introvert teenage girl living in a small village is suffering from leucoderma or vitiligo, a skin abnormality. White spots on dark skin have set her aside from others. Weird, sympathetic, penetrating ‘normal’ eyesight have made her feel guilty and embarrassed for who she is and how she looks.

One fine day a young and vibrant teacher joins her school. A fine young man with a strong belief in freedom and self-pride, he creates space for Namrata to breathe freely. She finds solace in his gaze, relief in his presence. Her isolated bubble is about to dissolve in ether. Romance is kindling teenage desires with too much at stake, too much to lose. Destinations seem far away, but the journey prevails. The complexes, the taboos, the inner conflicts are about to be resolved, making her into a different being altogether.

2. Hamid | Dir. Aijaz Khan | Hindi | 113 mins

Eight-year-old Hamid learns that 786 is God’s number and decides to try and reach out to God, by dialling this number. He wants to talk to his father, who his mother tells him has gone to Allah. One day the phone call is answered, and two lives shattered in the strife of Kashmir find a way to be complete again.

3. Soni | Dir. Ivan Ayr | Hindi | 97 mins

The alliance between Soni, a young Delhi policewoman, and her superintendent is tested to its limits when they suffer a major setback in their fight to curb the most serious social crisis of a generation.

 4. Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil | Dir. Aadish Keluskar | Hindi | 105 mins

Love. Romance. Sex. Any combination of this is a relationship. Catching a movie together, whispering sweet nothings, a walk on the beach and those moments of intimacy. The motifs that define a happy couple. But what happens when the foundations are decaying? When the motifs we cherish turn into moments of degradation? What do you do when your life has become a parasite feeding on love? What happens when you are not what you speak you are and you don’t know? No one knows. Does this romance encounter reality? How does this encounter end?

 5. Light In The Room | Dir. Rahul Riji Nair | Malayalam | 97 mins

Ottamuri Velicham is the story of Sudha’s fight and survival inside a single room house against her husband who engages in acts to physically exert his dominance over her. The room has a strange light without a switch which changes its colours often. While Chandran calls the light his invention of a lifetime, it deprives Sudha of her privacy and begins to haunt her. Amidst deep trauma, Sudha realises that she doesn’t have any support and decides to fight for her survival and seeks revenge against Chandran. Will Sudha succeed in her fight for freedom forms the crux of this emotional thriller.

6. Nathicharami | Dir. Mansore | Kannada | 110 mins

Today India is a prosperous and progressive nation, yet our society has many taboos related to the subject of sex and carnival desire. Even the free use of the word ‘sex’ is considered a sin in itself. We have advanced technologically, the world is accessible on our fingertips and everything around us is out in the ‘open’. Along with our progress, a ‘conventional frame’ is also inherent alongside, since times immemorial. These intrinsic factors are controlling human actions rather than the ones that are exterior in nature. This is not only prevalent in villages or towns, but even the large metropolitan cities that have been brewing and imposing restrictions upon our society. This film is woven around the female protagonist whose personal life and hence her overall being is stuck within such a framework.

7. Sivaranjani And Two Other Women | Dir. Vasanth S Sai | Tamil | 123 mins

The home, considered the safest space for women, is where the casual sexism and entrenched misogyny plays out in the everyday routines of countless women across the world. Sivaranjani and Two Other Women is a sensitive capturing of the micro-awakenings of identity, space and self-worth when family dynamics, early marriage and pregnancy threaten to usurp the individuality of three different women. The story happens across three different time-periods. The film is a tribute to their inner strength and courage against casual sexism and patriarchy. 

8. Jonaki | Dir. Aditya Vikram Sengupta | Bengali | 95 mins

While Jonaki, an 80-year-old woman, searches for love in a strange world of decaying memories, her lover, now old and grey, returns to a world she is leaving behind.

Which of these films are you most excited to watch? Tell us in the comments!


Update: The Kannada film Balekempa has been withdrawn from the festival and has been removed from this listicle owing to the allegations of sexual assault against the director Ere Gowda.

Featured Image Source: Mumbai Film Festival

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