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GOOD GIRLS DON’T DANCE…!! A FILM FOR THE MUMBAI FILM FESTIVAL

Oh really? Padmalatha Ravi’s 15-minute documentary presents prejudice at its worst. Rama Sreekant attempts to decipher the ‘good girl’ checklist.

Padmalatha Ravi

16 December 2012 is a black date in Indian history. Angry voices, national outrage, high decibel prime-time debates and a case that set a precedent on how the judiciary responds to cases of rape. It was not the first rape we, as a nation, witnessed; it was not the last either. While most of us engaged in online rants, armchair conversations and dinner-table discussions, Bangalore-based Padmalatha Ravi decided to walk the talk.

GOOD BUT BAD
A journalist, by profession, Padmalatha who has written extensively on gender-related issues, was pushed to the brink after the Delhi rape. That the pen is mightier than the sword may be true but Padmalatha wanted a voice for her words, a voice that would question the stereotypes, the moral policing and the misogynist attitudes. “The debate on whether the victim was right in stepping out at night that too with a man she was not related to, was loud. I had to understand why this was so, hence the film,” she says.

Good Girls Don’t Dance, a 15-minute documentary, is Padmalatha’s first independent crowd-sourced film that questions the notions of society’s reactions to sexual harassment, molestation and rape.

Released earlier this year, the film attempts to understand why victim-blaming is so rampant. It explores how individuals define  ‘good girl’ and ‘bad girl’ through interviews with 45 people from Bangalore, across age groups, social and economic backgrounds.

The list to check off while attempting to be a “good girl” is long. But the don’ts outnumber the dos. “The conversations in the film will tell you that our reactions depend on whether the woman is considered good or bad. Notions of good and bad are ruled by morality and patriarchy, which are so deeply entrenched we don’t even realize it,” says Padmalatha.

THE BLAME GAME
Long after the Delhi and Shakti Mills rapes, questions like ‘Why did she go out so late in the night, what was she wearing?’ are still being asked. And being asked by the fairer sex, as well. In a recent interview, actress Gul Panag had categorically stated, “Women, in India, are their own worst enemy.” But Padmalatha refuses to understand the urgency to blame women for their own plight. Women, she says, are a part of the same society that has confined them to gender stereotypes for several ages. In her opinion, the question to ask is, “When will men realise that women are people too; and that women need not be a means to show off their machismo?”

Just like the hijab has, in France, a special power to inflame public debate, in India too, what women should wear has been a point of argument, for decades. Can clothes  really be a yardstick of virtue? Padmalatha firmly believes that this is the biggest myth that has been perennially recycled. “Sexual violence is never about lust, it is about power and domination. It will happen no matter what clothes women do or do not wear, as long as the man thinks it is normal to subjugate a woman,” she explains. Campaigns such as Pink Chaddi and Sampat Pal’s Gulabi Gang were born of these attitudes.

While both movements garnered an equal amount of brickbats and bouquets, they have often been trivialised by pseudo-moral conformists. More recently, actor Kalki Koechlin and VJ Juhi Pandey hammered home with a satirical online video, Rape, it’s my fault!, which lamented the deep-seated patriarchal belief system wherein women are invariably held responsible for inviting sexual harassment. Sustained campaigning is the need of the hour, according to Padmalatha. Many outspoken traditionalists have openly declared that women should cover themselves, not go out after sunset, be ‘good girls’ and obey other moral bindings.

It’s a matter of perspective, she says. “Many of the dance forms that we are so proud of today were once considered immoral. In the early days, only Devdasis and courtesans performed, not women from ‘decent families’. Today, we respect artists and revere their art forms,” she elaborates.

Good Girls Don’t Dance, was recently nominated to be a part of the Mumbai Women’s International Film Festival. While it didn’t win an award, Padmalatha was moved to see that, “young women took away the fact that you cannot be blamed for what you are wearing.” She now plans to have screenings of the film at various colleges and start a sustained discussion. While a well-known college in Bangalore turned her down, “because the subject was too controversial,” Padmalatha continues to be hopeful.

When will men realize that women are people too and that women need not be a means to show off their machismo? — Padmalatha Ravi

AAA

Henry Sapiecha

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