Chaikhana:A World Apart

Nishtha Jain, director of Gulabi Gang, talks about the psyche of a village, the effect of power, and also the needs of a nation that is in the throes of upheaval

<b>Chaikhana</b>:A World Apart
Most of us live in self-contained bubbles. We have routines and habits. We rarely venture out of our comfort zones. When award-winning director, Nishtha Jain decided to follow Sampat Pal, founder of the Gulabi Gang, she entered a different world where the most obvious truths were veiled carelessly and basic human rights were violated easily.

In this interview, she talks about the psyche of a village, the effect of power, and also the needs of nation that is in the throes of upheaval.

Q. The film opens with a gruesome image of violence. What challenges did you face?

It was very disturbing. Though I was born in this area and it wasn’t completely alien, most of us were taken aback by what we were witnessing. There was a lack of consciousness and no one seemed to feel the pressure to change. It felt like we were centuries back in time. The complicity of the entire village to cover up the murder and the alliance across the communities and the law was shocking. It was also a wake up call as to how little we know about our rural places. Since we worked closely with Sampat Pal, we were accepted even though we were outsiders.

Q. It was interesting to see how many women in the Gulabi Gang were actually elders.

A lot of the women who were older joined the movement instead of spending time praying in a temple. The policewoman in the film told me that she wanted to join the gang when she retired. Of course, the younger women had their work cut out with household chores, taking care of their young children as well as working in the fields.

These women also have physically difficult lives. As the women get older, you also find that they become matriarchs and their husbands have less power over them.

Q. How did filming the Gulabi Gang change you?

Sampat Pal is a dynamic character. She is resilient and not looking for peer approval. Quite intriguing as we urban women despite our so-called freedoms still want approval. We look emancipated and feel emancipated but there is still a lot of fear within and a need for acceptance. I found Sampat very brave. Such women which the courage to take difficult decisions are very rare. When you see these village women, some old and frail, on the road since 4 am, you realise how soft we have become and how our own psychological barriers are just as difficult to overcome.

They don’t crumble under their own tragedy and are much more hardy in terms of being able to move on. Of course, a lot of women do commit suicide when faced with systemic violence. Husna’s story is fascinating as she is a widow, she was part of the Gulabi Gang and yet she is arrayed in complexity. She is brutally honest, very hardworking, loyal but stuck to an archaic sense of honour and will let her brothers punish her sister for falling in love. Urban Husna would never be so honest. She would do the wrong things but say the right things. Much of the dialogue was so raw and unpolished.

Q. I would like to talk about the effect of power.

The issue of power and our susceptibility to it is a very important question of our times. We see it all around us. We see people falling prey to it. In India, you expect Sampat to fall into a certain predetermined path. You can almost predict this going by the experiences of other leaders. That power corrupts is so true. This village is so immersed in a corrupt environment that they don’t even recognise it. The lack of shame over the lies didn’t surprise me. But it concerns me deeply.

We are also constantly negotiating around power and ethics. My personal take is that political ideology is increasingly taking a backseat. I feel we have to look beyond good and evil and good and bad. Everything lies in the middle and it is about how we achieve a state of grace here.

Q. What’s next for you?

I am working on a fiction script right now. It is from a personal incident in my life. It does look at gender violence and it is about a family caught in a situation where the girl has been abused. It is about relationships and I want it to go beyond a social issue and become something deeper and something more. Even Gulabi Gang is not about a social issue but more about human behaviour.

Q. India is in the middle of elections. What is your hope regarding this?

Actually there is only hope. There is a reality that is overpowering. We hope that there will not be a dictatorship at hand. So there is fear. But we are also aware that India is diverse and the fact that we are so diverse has helped us to be resilient for all these years. So much of the stories out there circulating through the media is propaganda. Which is why it is so important that the other stories come out. We have to work tirelessly to bring the other stories out.

(Shaku Selvakumar is a US-based marketing and digital communications expert; and founder of Coeuredge, a digital experience company)


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