Night time experiences in public spaces, especially for women, can be starkly different in urban and rural India. In Chhote Shehron Ki Lambi Raat (Night time in small town India), being screened in the short documentary competition category at the 14th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK), 14 young filmmakers, most of them women, chronicle their experiences of venturing out with cameras at night in India’s small towns.
The towns they have chosen to shoot are in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan. Most of the filmmakers are also from these towns and are evidently novices in the craft, as can be gleaned from their narration. Yet, what they document is important, with which women from different parts of the country would easily identify. Some of them capture on camera their experience of the difficulties of a night commute, while for a few others, public spaces at night time itself is a novel experience.
No woman on the streets
A common factor is that other than the woman behind the camera, whose presence we register only from her voice, there is no other woman to be seen in public spaces at night. For some of the filmmakers, this was clearly a daunting experience, especially due to the questions and stares from the men around them. One of them who decided to shoot a sequence on men chit-chatting near eateries around a liquor shop, is confronted by a group of men, who question her on why the liquor shop is in the frame too. This external intervention forces her to shift the frame.
A series of stark black and white images from inside a moving bus touch upon the many challenges of night-time commuting for women, which is marked by unwanted attention from strangers. Some of them had to do the hard work of convincing their family before they could venture out to shoot at night, highlighting the extra hurdles that they had to surmount, unlike men, for whom a night jaunt is something taken for granted.
The experiences that these women document are from places which are yet to witness movements like 'Break the Curfew' spearheaded by young women on Indian campuses, or 'Women's Midnight walks' to reclaim the urban streets which have remained out of bounds for women after sunset. But, attempts like these from the rural corners of the country can also be read as being influenced by such movements. Works like this add to the many small and big attempts being made across the country to reclaim public spaces for women at night.