Jayisha Patel’s documentary Circle is a depiction of internalised misogyny

What turns women against women?

February 10, 2018 04:15 pm | Updated 04:15 pm IST

 Circle goes beyond the portrait of a rape victim.

Circle goes beyond the portrait of a rape victim.

In a dimly lit room, 13-year-old Devi (first name withheld on request) reveals her suspicions to her mother, as she braids her hair. She believes her grandmother orchestrated her gang-rape for money. Her mother, in turn, tells her that she was beaten by her mother-in-law for serving dinner late.

These stories of abuse are exchanged, revealed and confessed dispassionately, as the camera observes them silently from a corner.

Going beyond the straightforward portrait of a rape victim, Jayisha Patel’s Circle is about the problems of internalised misogyny. The documentary, which has been shortlisted for Berlinale Shorts this year, asks: what turns women against women?

Jayisha met Devi when she was commissioned to make a film about the Red Brigade, an organisation fighting gang rape culture in Uttar Pradesh. As the two bonded, Jayisha decided to make an immersive film on Devi, told through a female gaze.

It took the British-Indian filmmaker three years to make the 14-minute documentary. The long process allowed her to push beyond the practical reasons for the grandmother organising her granddaughter’s rape, and focus on the misogynistic and patriarchal grounding that fuelled the decision. “I couldn’t have fully understood that, had I not gone through a process of understanding my own identity,” says Jayisha.

Being a British woman of colour, the hostile political climate in the West today made Jayisha think of her own active distancing from her cultural heritage in order to fit in. It helped her understand how people can internalise racism to survive power structures that aren’t in their favour. “It’s bizarre relating her case to my racial identity. But through that, I could understand how somebody can internalise racism and, in the same way, internalise misogyny,” she explains.

Sense of empathy

The filmmaker’s experience of sexual assault also gave her a layered sense of empathy towards Devi. “Our circumstances can be different but the emotions can be very similar,” says Jayisha.

Crafted as a minimalist narrative film, Circle takes you inside Devi’s life by detailing her interactions with her mother, conversations with women in the fields, and eventually moves on to her wedding day. “I’m a big fan of magic realism, and being able to see everyday life in a new light,” she says.

It was important for the filmmaker to tell the story in narrative form, rather than in traditional documentary format, to avoid being sensationalist. “Filmmaking can invite the audience to inhabit a space rather than you having to dictate that space the whole time,” she says. Jayisha is aware of the temptation to pander to a Western eye, a trap she wanted to avoid. Leslee Udwin’s documentary India’s Daughter (2015), for instance, faced criticism for its “white saviour” approach to the 2012 Delhi gang-rape.

Circle thus focuses on listening to Devi’s story, without offering a perspective of its own. “I know what it feels like to be a British-Indian woman in the West and see stereotypes of it on Western television, so I can only imagine what it would be like to be in India and have people from outside make films in India that can be (about) stereotypes,” she says.

Reflections in reel

As a British-Indian, Jayisha holds intersectionality in high regard, which reflects in her film. “There’s no feminism for me without intersectionality,” she says. “It can be very dangerous structurally to think that white feminism can fight for the rest of the world.”

With misogyny and patriarchy at its core, it becomes imperative to ask where Devi’s voice figures in the #MeToo movement, considering she doesn’t possess the agency to tell her story.

Jayisha says the agency to stand up against sexual harassment, especially after the Harvey Weinstein scandal, comes from a place of privilege, which is in contrast to the state of affairs in a rural Indian village. “For me, her resistance or her strength is that she can continue with life,” says Jayisha. “It may seem very naïve, but you can imagine that her spirit has been crushed continuously since she was a little girl. To have that survival structure and find her own way to deal with it is an ode to the power of resilience and the ability to survive.”


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