Shikha Makan is a filmmaker and writer. She is also a prominent ad-film maker in India and is one of the few women directors to have lent her craft to the ‘automobile/bike’ category. Her short experimental film “Linger” was part of the festival circuit in 2011.
SoulCafe caught up with Shikha to talk about her latest feature length documentary “Bachelor Girls” which raises an important question about freedom of women in urban India, in the wake of housing discrimination faced by single women in Mumbai.
SoulCafe : What is your inspiration behind making a documentary on this topic?
Shikha: It began with a personal experience that translated into a search for reasons, and led up to unraveling this issue in a film. I am an ad-film director but for me making a film on realities of single women facing housing discrimination felt a very important thing to do. It was not just to raise a voice against it, but also to throw light on our social attitudes that continues to look at women from a ‘gendered’ perspective, even in 21st century urban India. This unveils an important fact, that our society is negating the journeys of women into independence and self-reliance, by such discrimination. With the news of the film traveling across mediums, the issue has sparked a debate, the way it should have and I am glad that we are speaking about it.
SoulCafe: What were your biggest challenges in making this documentary?
Shikha: Once I started researching for the film, I found so many resonating, stories of women, who came into the city, from various places in pursuit of their careers, and were denied a space to live. So finding stories wasn’t the most difficult part, but convincing them to share on camera was, at times. I understand the reservations of those women who chose not to speak. Real estate professionals and housing society members were skeptical too, and refused mostly.
I strongly feel that Indian society has not evolved at the same pace Indian women have in redefining their identities.
SoulCafe: A recent survey showed that there are now 71 million single women in India which is a 39 % increase over the past decade. Do you think the society as a whole still needs to come in terms with the economic freedom of the modern Indian women?
Shikha: Absolutely yes. I strongly feel that Indian society has not evolved at the same pace Indian women have in redefining their identities. Today people may opt to remain single out of choice, but in case of women it comes with a big price. Even if she is urban, educated and in control of her life, for the society she is not good enough, without a ‘care-taker’.This is a clear paradox, as on one hand we exalt the freedom and empowerment of women, and on the other hand, reject the very empowered women, when she is at our doorstep looking for a roof above her head. I also think there is a complete absence of dialogue in our understanding of traditional vs modern today. We are becoming a modern society but are not willing to look at the challenges in the transition. We just find our comforts in passing judgments and labeling things.
We are becoming a modern society but are not willing to look at the challenges in the transition.
SoulCafe: Isn’t it equally difficult for urban single men to find rented house/apartments? How do you think it’s different for single women?
Shikha: In the course of my research I did come across many single boys/men speaking of not finding homes. But men never get viewed through a ‘gendered’ prism. No one questions their clothes, call them names, slut shame, or wonder who is their care-taker. For a woman it’s a double whammy, first you are woman, and alone, hence not in line with what society expects of you and if you protest, then you are dismissed as a wreck and a troublemaker. Having said that all kinds of discrimination need to be questioned. My film is a human story, though I have taken a woman’s voice. And it really speaks largely about the way we treat each other in our society.
My film is a human story, though I have taken a woman’s voice. And it really speaks largely about the way we treat each other in our society.
SoulCafe: Nowadays, from watches to washing machines, almost every product has been coming up with “empowerment” ads that feature strong, independent women who make their own decisions and live a life in their own terms. In reality how supportive is the Indian urban ecosystem for the growing number of strong, independent, upward moving single women?
Shikha: That is where the dichotomy lies. Today, in Indian advertising, ‘Women Empowerment’ may be as fashionable as it can be effective. But I want to ask, if we have equal opportunities for women? Are women getting paid equally? Is our system open minded to seeing more women take on assertive and top positions in leading professional industries? Urban women will tell you stories of discrimination at all levels. Along with the information about emancipation and equality, we also need to sensitize people through education, in the way we bring up our children, and very importantly in the way we uphold basic human values. Our Urban ecosystem is in a state of flux and chaos, where consumerism is driving ideas of who we want to be. There are merits in such movements but we also need to introspect and look within. I am not sure if we have a culture that encourages questioning power and authority and finding constructive solutions. At the seat of power, unfortunately Patriarchy continues to rule.
SoulCafe: With recent Bollywood releases like PINK bringing to light social issues pertaining to single women in India, do you think the mainstream movie industry is ready for a change?
Shikha: I think mainstream Indian Cinema time and again has been making films on women’s issues. Though percentage of such films comparatively continues to remain low. The interesting part is that the subjects are becoming more uninhibited, bolder and in the face. I haven’t seen Pink yet, but I certainly hope that it will have some social impact.
I think the first big step towards making a change is to begin ‘talking’ about a problem and ‘accept’ that it exists.
SoulCafe: With “Bachelor Girls” getting released, what is it that you truly hope for?
Shikha: I hope I am able to release the film on an online platform soon, so that more and more people are able to see it. I am also holding a series of private screenings so we can carry the discussions forward. I think the first big step towards making a change is to begin ‘talking’ about a problem and ‘accept’ that it exists. Bachelor Girls is hopefully and positively moving to achieve that.
The film will be screened in Bangalore soon. For updates please check Bachelor Girls Facebook page.
We wish you the very best with “Bachelor Girls” and hoping to see more such films that bring to light issues which need open discussions.
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Photo credit : Riva Bubber