An Analysis of Documentaries About Women in India
A look at how women’s work has changed to make a more modern India.
After 60 years of national independence and the election of the first woman president, Pratibha Patil, India is one of the world’s most rapidly developing nations. With nearly half of its population below the poverty line, India’s diverse economy is built on the cultural effects of women’s roles. Here are five documentary films illustrating the intersection of Indian culture and gender over the last decade. See how women’s rights issues and cultural traditions collide to create a more modern India.
Miss India Georgia (1997)
Topic: Cultural Pageant Contestants
Awards: Athens International Film & Video Festival; New England Film & Video Festival
Summary: In America, first generation Indian mothers work hard to teach their daughters the balance between their Eastern past and Western future. With pageantry as the backdrop, this film follows four contestants and their families as they prepare for a cultural pageant. Watch the girls explore “being Indian enough” and being “like everyone else.” Don’t miss the colorful teen angst and 90s fashion trends depicted in this film about beauty, gender roles, and cross-cultural family values. (Duration: 57 minutes)
Eye-Opening Extract: “You gotta always put in that cultural crap.”
Topic: Off-Shore Outsourcing
Awards: Black Maria Film & Video Festival
Summary: After receiving a call from a telemarketer who pronounced her last name correctly, Indian-American Sonali Gulati explores the boom of outsourcing in India. In cities like New Delhi, calling centers are the most coveted positions for many middle-class urbanites who don’t mind answering to a pseudonym like Nancy Smith and practicing an “American” accent. This film focuses on the economic benefits and contradictions between the U.S. and India with a sense of humor. (Duration: 27 minutes)
Eye-Opening Extract: 1 Telemarketing Position Creates 1-2 Additional Jobs
Born to Bondage (1999)
Topic: Overview of Women’s Traditional Roles
Summary: For centuries women have been treated as second-class citizens in India. Treatment towards poor and “untouchable” women is even worse. The dowry custom, child marriage, female infanticide, child slavery and prostitution, are common practices. This film investigates the detrimental effects of cruel gender customs, ineffective legislation and illiteracy. Find out why women’s rights are violated and how the economy and population are affected at the expense of women’s lives. (Duration: 40 minutes)
Eye-Opening Extract: “In my next life I want to be born a boy.”
Science for Survival (1995)
Topic: Women’s Progress and Influence in Modern India
Summary: As more women enter science, technology and medical fields, doctors like Vandana Shiva are dedicating their work to a more balanced and sustainable, “polyculture,” ecosystem for India by embracing biodiversity and seed varieties in farming. They have also discovered the positive effects of blending modern and traditional medical practices. This film is a well-organized and fact-filled piece about how women are improving the future of India. (Duration: 50 minutes)
Eye-Opening Extract: 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of silk is sold for 141 rupees ($3.55).
Topic: Children of Sex Workers
Awards: Academy Award for Best Documentary; 12 Film Festival Awards
Summary: This film is the Oscar-gold standard for films about India. Provocative, yet, stunning shots of the red light district in Calcutta combine with a lovable cast of would-be photographers. Fly as high as the kites they play with on rooftops or sink down to the reality of their lives in the brothel. Either way, this film lets you walk in the dredges of Sonagachi, where the cluttered streets are framed in the kids’ camera lens as they momentarily set aside the physical and emotional abuse they experience daily. Become invested and involved in their escape from a life where their mother’s work hinders their way out. (Duration: 85 minutes)
Eye-Opening Extract: “Now I feel like taking pictures.”