Let’s Talk Men 2.0, a set of four films screened in the Capital recently , seeks to represent and interrogate masculinities.
Without an understanding of how men are socialised, what drives them towards violence, how men become ‘men’, discussions on gender and sexual violence are useful only up to a certain point. While the global women’s movement has generated significant amount of insight about women and their continuing oppression, masculinity has rarely been addressed in all the cultural production in its wake.
A lot of it has to do with men not talking about what it means to be a man. “If there is a woman filmmaker or a woman artist, the issue of gender is floating very close to their work…It almost naturally comes into their work. If one looks at all the male artists, the issue is never there,” says filmmaker Rahul Roy. He is the co-ordinator and co-producer of Let’s Talk Men 2.0, a package of four films from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Nepal, which seeks to break the silence around men. It takes forward the process which began in 1998, with Let’s Talk Men 1.0.
The project, which includes two documentaries and two fiction films, shows that masculinity isn’t an essential concept. Rather, it is a performance orchestrated by family, neighbourhood, religion and state.
According to Roy, “The films are the way they are is because they are windows of experience…If you see other lives unfolding in certain situations and certain ways, then it gives you a moment of thought and reflection about your own life.”
Men At Work
Kesang Tseten’s documentary is an anthology of four fly-on-the-wall films set in spaces that “smell of men”. The operative word in the title is ‘work’, for the film looks at how work produces different forms of masculinity. In the first film, a young male domestic worker is attending to chores on a terrace, while in the second men in a garage are zealously repairing and refurbishing old vehicles. In the third, boys at a residential institution learn how to become priests, while in the fourth young Gurkha men undergo the necessary rites of passage for joining the British army.
“The central thing I took away from the project is that gender is all pervasive. If that’s the case, I didn’t want to really have a film looking for things that would be illustrative,” the director explained. Masculinities exist in everyday life in diverse contexts, and it is these the director brings out.
With You, Without You
Set in post-war Sri Lanka, Prasanna Vithanage’s fiction feature tells the story of the lonely pawnbroker Sarathsriri, who spends his evenings watching WWE. The job, and an old secret, have hardened him, but his marriage to Selvi brings about a possibility of redemption.
The film is an adaptation of “The Meek One” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
“When I read the short story I felt it’s all about masculinity. What I have added to the short story is planting it in post-war Sri Lanka. So in a way it’s not just about masculinity of the person, it’s about masculinity of the State also,” the director said.
As a fiction filmmaker, Prasanna’s handling of masculinity is different. “I was thinking about masculinity all the time. As a fiction filmmaker I thought it shouldn’t be on the nose, it should be in the subtext.”
Directed by Farjad Nabi and Meenu Gaur, Zinda Bhaag tells the story of three footloose Lahori youth — Khaldi, Taambi and Chitta. All three are bent on doing, or have done, a dunky, an illegal journey across Pakistan’s border, to improve their economic prospects.
There is a mythology of the successful dunky which emboldens these men. Puhlwan (played by Naseeruddin Shah), a local strongman, informs viewers early in the film of one Bubba, who journeyed successfully into France to open a chain of restaurants (called La Bubba). Notions of pride and honour are wound tightly around this network of fate and illegality. The film subverts these notions. Attempts by these men to tempt their fate (through gambling or illegal travel) end in failure and shame.
Full of songs and dance, this film is probably the most colourful of the lot. “We were very conscious of the fact that we were doing a Punjabi film, and Lollywood and Punjabi films have a certain kind of history. For instance, the Lollywood hero will not dance. The woman will do the mujra and the man will stand like a rock. We wanted to invert these stereotypes,” the directors said.
Till We Meet Again
Rahul Roy’s documentary revisits the characters of his earlier film, When Four Friends Meet. Bunty, Kamal, Sanjay and Sanju, residents of Jahangirpuri in Delhi, are still best of friends, although the city has changed around them. In 1999, these four men were single. In the new film, all of them are married.
Unlike Kesang Tseten’s documentary, Till We Meet Again is interview driven. By asking the men pointed questions, the film excavates their sense of self, their ideas of love and marriage, and their attitudes towards their children and wives, characterised by a certain violence.
Parts of the film have been shot by the characters themselves. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to use the footage they were shooting, but I felt instinctively that the film requires them representing their own reality. I wanted to see how they would present their own lives and families," Roy said.