SAIFF Day 4, Saturday

Day 4 started with lunch for the filmmakers to mingle and get to know each other. It was a very good idea and it was nice to talk to other filmmakers, especially those based in NYC. Then, I dashed off to try to catch some of their films.

RED ROSES, a short documentary by Madhuri Mohinder and Vaishali Sinha was their thesis film at The New School. This documentary looks at South Asian women who frequent the Red Roses beauty salon. It was an interesting look at the issues faced by South Asian women, many of whom come to the United States through marriage. A wide ranging set of topics were covered from immigration to arranged marriage to divorce and how South Asian women deal with these topics.

THE LEGEND OF FAT MAMA by Rafeeq Ellias was a short documentary about the Indian Chinese community in Calcutta and Canada. Wrapped in the search for Fat Mama, a legendary cook in Calcutta’s China town, this documentary touched on history of the Chinese immigrant community and the issues they’ve faced. I was shocked to learn that many of the Chinese in Calcutta were forcibly deported to Rajasthan during the Indo-Chinese war of 1962, very similar to the US internment of the Japanese after Pearl Harbor. Why isn’t this vile treatment of Indian citizens mentioned in Indian History textbooks? At least one line? Terrible. It was sad to hear that most Indian Chinese leave for countries like Canada and Australia. It was also touching to see these former Indian citizens, singing Hindi songs, speaking fluent Hindi and in many other ways proving that they are really Indian. But… why do they have to prove it?? India, unlike the United States, is not an immigration-based country, but it is time we gave equal importance to all of our ethnic groups and it is time the government apologized for how we treated this minority in the aftermath of 1962.

SITHARIYA MUTHUKKAL (BROKEN BEADS) by Hari Das is a 30 minute film set in a village in Tamil Nadu. It dramatizes the very real issue of female infanticide that takes place in the state. Muniamma is expecting a child and her husband and mother-in-law make it clear that a son is the only acceptable outcome. All her efforts to show them that women are needed in society are in vain — the mother-in-law will not even see that she herself would not be around if she’d been disposed off after birth. And of course, Muniamma has a girl. She wakes up to see her mother-in-law trying to suffocate the newborn infant and saves the child, but the next night when she is asleep, the child is taken from her. The movie weaves in the Cradle Baby Scheme where the government encouraged families to anonymously drop their girl babies in the cradles placed outside the offices instead of killing them, but this has had very limited success. Muniamma discovers that her mother-in-law, in cahoots with her husband, have killed the child by feeding it an uncooked grain of rice (which then cuts up the baby’s insides that are not ready for even soft foods). When her mother-in-law promises to keep exterminating all female children Muniamma bears, she takes her revenge. There were many in the audience that thought that this film was over-dramatized, but unfortunately, it is the reality in Tamil Nadu.

NO PLACE TO HIDE by Yousaf Muhammad deals with gang rape abuses by the Pakistani Army. This narrative depicts the situation of a woman who was gang raped by army men and then when she informs the authorities, the same men return and kill her husband. This issue was in the news when Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf ridiculed that these abuses happen and had the gall to say that women made up these stories to make money. It outlines how the callous President’s statements have made it even harder for the victims of brutality to get any justice. The acting (besides the lead actress) could have been better (the husband and the lawyer in particular could have been cast better) and if this movie had been 25 minutes instead of 35 minutes, it would have been more impactful.