‘Listen to Her’, a short film by Nandita Das, exhorts women to break the silence on domestic violence

Nandita Sen in a still from ‘Listen to Her’, a short film on domestic violence, which has been directed by her   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Nandita Das has made her mark as actor and director by playing memorable characters and choosing relevant themes that steered off the mundane and the clichéd. Her latest is a seven-minute short film on domestic violence, ‘Listen to Her’, which was completely shot in her home.

Supported by the UNESCO, United Nations Population Fund, UNICEF, UN Women and the South Asia Foundation, the film exhorts women to break the silence surrounding domestic violence. Nandita talks about the film in an email interview.

Edited excerpts:

Considering the shocking rise in domestic abuse during the lockdown, was there any particular incident that touched you that motivated you to make this film?

From my friends, who are working on this issue, I was told the surge in domestic violence cases is more than what we are hearing. I participated in an online campaign to break the silence around it. When I read an article in the New York Times, When Mom’s Zoom Meeting is the One that has to Wait, it reaffirmed that this overburdening of work is also a form of abuse. And during this period, many women find themselves locked up with their abusers and slowly there were whispers heard about this too. So I brought these two issues together to spontaneously respond to the idea of “STAY HOME, STAY SAFE”. The irony of it should not be lost on us. I hope the film sparks conversation around it to encourage women to speak up and for us to listen when they do. Such short films can help spread awareness and we can find and share helplines numbers widely.

You have subtly but clearly shown the multiple responsibilities women are forced to juggle with even during work from home while the men get to be the 'head' of the family. This is a kind of emotional fatigue that some women are speaking about now. Your views on it.

Overburdening of work is not seen as abuse, but it drains many women who relentlessly work for their family and if they also do paid job, then that further adds to the burden. No one talks about this fatigue and their work is taken for granted as the woman’s responsibility. The unequal care burden is a reality women face across class, where they juggle between work and home chores. It leads to both mental and physical exhaustion. It has been the case in the past, but during the lockdown it has increased two-folds.

What were the challenges in making this film during the lockdown?

There were more challenges than I had imagined. Since this film was conceived as a response to these trying times, and because I wanted to produce something spontaneously, I decided to shoot the film in lockdown. This meant that I used my iPhone’s camera to record myself as I acted, used my old phone to record the sound separately and coordinated with two members of my team on Zoom who used software to be able to view the footage while I was shooting it. The scenes were shot in my living room as it is the best lit place in my home. However, we had to shoot over three days once we realised that the light would dramatically change by noon, becoming visibly warmer and more yellow. Once I found a steady perch for the phone to capture the perfect composition, I requested my cook Bharat [Sahu] to help me. I would then run to my position, give my son [Vihaan Das Maskara] instructions as he was a part of the frame, turn the audio recorder on my other phone, ask Bharat to start recording, clap to ensure that the sound and video were in sync and begin to act. Amidst all this chaos, I realised that it was difficult to remember the dialogues I had written word for word, and so I found myself improvising, which was not very challenging because I knew the crux of what was being said. This ordeal reminded me once again that filmmaking was after all a collaborative process. The easiest part of the process was reaching out to other professionals, some of the best in the industry, who readily agreed to contribute to this film remotely in the post production stage.

Although there are many agencies (on paper) to help women, many cases seem to go nowhere and that could be why many women are afraid or reluctant to speak up? In your view, how can they be helped to overcome such doubts and fears?

There are many organisations and NGOs that are fighting the stigma around victims speaking up. Most women are not even aware of their rights, and protection that they are entitled to. As a society we rely too heavily on the legal route and not enough on changing regressive social norms that reinforce discrimination and violence against women. While it is essential that the services that respond to survivors of violence must be strengthened, we, as a society, must work harder to challenge inequality, and stop victim blaming. When we will listen, more and more women will speak up. Bringing domestic violence, so called ‘private matter’, into the public space is an important step in this direction. As women, we need to create a greater sense of sisterhood so that we can share our struggles and help each other.

You have consistently, through your films, roles and theatre, become the voice of many women and encouraged them to speak up: against gender discrimination, discrimination on the basis of colour, domestic violence and so on. When you look back, is there one role or film that has given you the most satisfaction?

It is difficult for me to select one role from the 40 films I have done in ten different languages. For different reasons they are important to me, both as a person and as an actor. It is tough to compare the village woman in Mrinal Sen’s Amar Bhuvan with the Tamil Sri Lankan ‘freedom fighter’ in Mani Ratnam’s Kannathil Muthamittal. Or to portray a real-life survivor of gangrape in Bawandar or the women in Fire and Earth by Deepa Mehta. Each of them gave me personally something to feel and think about and I am grateful for those stories I could be part of and the characters I could portray.

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Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 2:50:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/nandita-sen-has-directed-a-short-film-listen-to-her-on-domestic-violence-which-was-completely-shot-at-her-house-during-the-lockdown/article31702349.ece

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