MIFF 2008: India tops the list of woman directors

By Jivraj Burman

Mumbai, Feb 7 (IANS) Women power is at the fore at the ongoing Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF-2008).

There are 54 women directors whose movies, including documentary, short and animation films (MIFF 2008), are being screened at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) complex in south Mumbai.

In the national category, the country's northeastern region comprising eight tiny states has been represented by six women directors at MIFF 2008 while New Delhi tops the list in the national category represented by eight directors.

The subjects these woman directors are handling are as varied as introduction of black tea to the world by Assam in 1838 (prior to that, the world knew only the green tea of China), the matrilineal society in Meghalaya to docu-dramas of Nagaland folklore.

The themes underscore the fact that the new generation of women filmmakers from the northeast is no longer fettered by archaic traditions, but are zooming ahead to keep pace with the times.

Another pleasant aspect is that, barring one, all the women directors from the region (north east) are in their twenties and students of mass communication, who are eager to put their classroom knowledge to practical use for mass audiences.

The movies they have made are all about the northeast and they provide a glimpse into the contemporary scene of the region even as the rest of the country generally knows it as a region infested by insurgency and cocooned in narrow regionalism.

Tinat Atifa Masood from Guwahati is a diploma holder in journalism and a student of mass communication from the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).

Her 28-minute documentary, "The Brew of the Eastern Clouds," is about how the Englishman, Charles Alexander Bruce, introduced to the world the black tea in 1838 after he observed the Singpho tribe of Assam drinking the brew called "phalap" from the tea plants growing in the wild in Sadiya, a tea district in eastern Assam.

Sixty-year-old Yengkhom Romabai Devi from Manipur is the senior most of the lot. A theatre and cine artiste, she is also an active member of the Indian Peoples Theatre Association (IPTA). Her 23-minute documentary, "Jagodia Katthoklabi Suryamukhi Devi" is a brief biographical account of noted Manipuri dancer Suryamukhi Devi.

Guwahati-based Prerana Barbarooah Sharma's 35-minute short movie, "Spirit of the Graceful Lineage", is about the history of the matrilineal society in Meghalaya, perhaps the only Indian state where the family is headed by the woman of the house, who also inherits her parents' property.

Metevinuo Ate Sakhrie from Nagaland obtained her masters' degree in Mass Communication from the Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi. She has so far made 20 documentaries. Her MIFF 2008 entry, "The Hills Silently Recount," is based on a Naga folk tale.

Kivini Shohe is another Naga woman director whose 35-minute docu-drama, "A Winter Night's Dream," is also based on a folk tale from Nagaland, popular among the Sumi community.

Aneisha Sharma from Guwahati had started her career as child artiste in Assamese films in 1982 and has produced and directed 30 documentaries so far.

One of them, "Freedom at the Edge" was adjudged as the "Special Best Documentary" at the Boston International Film Festival in 2007. She has entered this documentary in the national documentary category at the MIFF 2008.

It is about a tribal youth from Assam, Machang Lalung, who was sentenced to prison for an unknown offence in 1951.

He was later shifted to the Tezpur Mental Hospital, where he remained confined for 54 years without trial until the Indian Human Rights Commission rescued him. The documentary had also received the Kerala State Award for Best Documentary in 2007.

Adding to the special northeastern Package of 33 movies, Jammu & Kashmir is also screening one movie at the MIFF 2008. But there is not a single woman director representing the seven-movie package from the state.

In the national documentary category, New Delhi tops the list of women directors. Pallavi Arora, Gargi Sen, Priyanka Mukherjee, Kavita Joshi, Vaani Arora and Akhila Krishnan, Vani Subramanian and Santana Issar are the eight woman, whose movies represent the New Delhi package in MIFF 2008.

Pakistan and Bangladesh have sent movies by three woman directors each. They are Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Maheen Zia and Mahera Omar from Pakistan and Catherine Masud, Fauzia Khan and Shaheen Dil Riaz from Bangladesh. Their movies have been included in the package of 23 documentaries and shorts films from SAARC countries.

Among the 37 countries participating in the festival, there are women directors only from Australia (5), USA (3), Canada (2), South Africa (6), Egypt (1), Bulgaria (1), Switzerland (1) and Mexico (1).

India also tops the list with 24 women directors representing the country.

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