Art By Women, Imitates Women’s Life

by | May 25, 2024

I work as an India Fellow with Sakhi Sangini, a community-based organisation working for the empowerment of urban-poor women in Bhuj, Kachchh. It is also an urban women’s federation with over 4000 women as members, through the medium of 153 Self Help Groups. During my first month of working here I had diverse community experiences.

This ranged from attending SHG meetings to team reporting and planning meetings. From Women’s Day celebration with migrant women to leadership and perspective building training with migrant workers. From surveys for our ‘single window system’ program to surveys of ragpickers. My favourite, however, was the film screening organised by Sakhi Sangini for our SHG members.

Read – ‘How Do You Spend Rs. 200 In Your Day-To-Day Life?’ for more about Sakhi Sangini

Laapataa Ladies was chosen as a part of our annual tradition to showcase socially relevant film to the women we work with, to spark conversations about women’s empowerment. This particular film was chosen as it promised content on freedom and safety of women. We began extending them verbal invitations only three days prior to the screening. For me, a person who need at least a week to make any social plans, this was quite short notice. My team however was confident that women would show up in large numbers. Their confidence to plan and prepare something so big in such less time left me awestruck.


During those days, I was spending most of my time with Hansaben, president of Sakhi Sangini. Therefore I was often a witness to her phone calls with SHG members. She would begin the conversation by extending the film screening invitation. She would then inform that at least two SHG members make their presence. In cases where women didn’t seem enthusiastic about the idea, the conversation that followed resembled every back-and-forth that a mother and her child have.

Hansaben would present all the perks of attending i.e., a movie about women, AC hall, snacks and travel expenses. All of this hoping for a positive response. If the person on the other end of the call was convinced, it was a win! If not, the dance would continue. It would only end when Hansaben would whip out her ultimate move: saying that it was mandatory to come.

It was of course not mandatory, but sometimes this is the only way to convince them, Hansaben would tell me. She would share how it is a cumbersome task to urge women to attend events and activities outside their homes and their communities. However, once they manage to step out, they tend to enjoy and appreciate being in a new environment.

Apart from the telephonic invitations, we asked community leaders to take charge of women of their areas. Other invitees included Sakhi Sangini board members, who had to be invited by email. Other arrangements included books for the registration of persons, transport reimbursement slips and snacks.

Screening Day

The day of the screening felt no less than a festival to me. In the morning, we were busy finishing our routine work. I was working on a presentation for the upcoming board meeting of Sakhi Sangini. My goal was to finish the section I was working on before leaving for the theatre. I was more than happy to leave my desk when it was time to leave for Surmandir Cinema. I do not remember anymore if I finished the task I had given myself.

[Our walk to Surmandir cinema]
Our walk to Surmandir cinema for the movie screening arranged by my organization for community members

It is not a day-to-day thing to have the entire cinema hall booked for your viewing experience. But this was no normal day. At the theatre, our first task was to register all the women who had come for the film screening. We found our seats just in time for the film. As the screen flashed with the introduction credits, I remember feeling elated to have about a hundred or so women from the community sitting all around me.

The Film

Laapataa Ladies, directed by Kiran Rao, was a perfect balance of light-hearted humour and thought-provoking moments. The incredible visuals and music added to its feel-good element. The story centres around Phool and Pushpa, two girls married off at a young age. Their journey takes an unexpected turn when they accidently get swapped on the train, all because of their veils. The film uses veils as a metaphor to highlight how women’s identities and their agency get lost.

Phool is an extremely timid, quintessentially innocent young girl who ends up stranded at the train station after she realises her husband has left. Pushpa (later Jaya), is a brave, smart and independent young girl who is the one Phool’s husband mistakenly takes along with him as he deboards the train at his destination. The film juxtaposes the girls’ personalities and their journeys throughout. Yet, their determination to overcome their ordeal was common in both of their attitudes.

[Women taking their seats before the film]
Women taking their seats before the film
[Still from Laapataa Ladies]
Still from Laapataa Ladies

Drawing Parallels

I sat to discuss the film with one of my colleagues, Naushin, as it was her very first cinema experience. Needless to say, she loved watching the film on a big screen. She shared that she could easily could draw parallels between her journey and Phool’s journey. Naushin is 19 years old and joined Sakhi Sangini a year ago, making this her first job. She shared that her life used to be confined to her family and her community. This changed when she started working at Sakhi Sangini.

So was the case for Phool in the film. Getting lost at the train station gave Phool the chance to widened her horizons and begin her journey of self-discovery. Similarly, Naushin noted that the new environment and exposure at Sakhi Sangini have propelled her to become self-reliant.

As Naushin went about detailing the transformation in her life there was a twinkle in her eyes. I could recall a similar twinkle in Phool’s eyes too when she began working at the station’s tea stall. It was very warm to see how much Naushin values the opportunities she experiences at Sakhi Sangini. Yet, I can’t help but think how this is the bare minimum she rightfully deserves.

Women Made Art Will Imitate Women’s Lives

Grounded in reality, Kiran Rao’s film was easy to relate to in terms of women’s lives I see every day. In the depths of India, women continue to be in the clutches of patriarchy, having little to no agency over the trajectory of their lives. To break free from the clutches, they have to go through an immense struggle, which to me is completely unnecessary as men go through no such personal and public struggle due to their gender. Women’s world is restricted to their family and their mohalla or community is a pattern I see all the time in the field.

Several team members of Sakhi Sangini came from this tradition and had to go through the aforementioned struggle to be able to step out, work and experience the world. When they first began working, they had to endure toxic environments regularly in their localities as people would make jibes at them and taunt their family members. All because a woman was going to step out of the house everyday to do (non-traditional) jobs. While this battle they had to fight with society is what has made them formidable, I can’t help but think that they deserve to develop fierce personalities without having to experience the suppression of their voices and desires.

I was glad to have had this informal space of bonding with the team and the community. We laughed together during the movie, discussed scenes in the interval, and had samosas after the movie and to end the sweet day on a sweet note, we had kulfi. It was a day when we put aside all the aspects of life that weighed us down and came together to watch a film in the theatre and spend time together as a community, not unlike a festival.

[A picture with the Sakhi Sangini team]
A picture with the Sakhi Sangini team
Hansaben holding the matka kulfi that we had at the end of the day

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1 Comment

  1. Riya Joshi

    heartwarming read!


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