In 1998, a South Asian film project (Let’s Talk Men) was launched with the support of the UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia and Save the Children (UK) under which four films on masculinities were made in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. The first collaborative regional project of its kind, it catalysed the discussion on masculinities and kick started a wide spread engagement on the importance of developing interventions masculinities.
The project was conceived from the position that masculinities is probably the most under examined aspect of men’s lives but yet has a significant influence on choices, decisions and relationships that men forge in the their lives. The project thus set itself the task of breaking this invisibility by telling stories that challenge the idea that masculinity is some kind of an essence that all men carry and by doing so provide an opportunity to reflect upon relationships, power, violence, self and behaviour through which men go about the task of becoming ‘men’.
The project had some innovative ideas at the heart of it, including the approach that all five filmmakers involved in the project would go through a process of analysing their own gendering process before undertaking the film. The films had to be informed by the filmmakers own experience of gender and its impact on their lives. The filmmakers thus came into the project not as gender-neutral subjects but as men who were consciously attempting to analyse their own growing up experiences of violence, privileging and gendered relations with other men and women in their lives. The process was facilitated by Dr. Shekhar Sheshadri, a well known psychiatrist from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Bangalore, India. Dr. Sheshadri has been writing and conducting workshops on masculinities for more than a decade. The project was conceived and coordinated by Aakar, a Trust based in Delhi, India.
Since their release in 2000, the films have been screened extensively in South Asia and across the globe. To date, they remain the basic starting point for any training, discussion or workshop on masculinities in the region. Although the films are now more than a decade old, they are in continuous demand. The films have also been acquired by several universities in the US, South Asia and Europe to be used as teaching aids on gender and masculinities.
The films in the first series were designed to be windows that would allow entry for a moment of reflection and thereby create a sense of discomfort or a re-visioning or an affirmation of how those in the audience, especially boys and men, have dealt with similar situations of conflict in personal relationships or in the public sphere with regard to issues of gender, violence and sexuality. The films attempted to create moments of emotional questioning which could then become vehicles for reflection and change. The emphasis was not on painting a bleak picture but to explore those everyday decisions, indecisions, the world of thoughts and dreams, vulnerabilities and actions that create a sense of caring and of confusions, relationships of inequalities as well as love and compassion, situations of violence and of discomfort. This is what makes up most boy’s and men’s lives and the films were windows into this world, not travels into voyeurism but journeys that revealed ever so gently the compulsions behind the choices that men make – and also a gentle reminder of how things could be very different if they made an alternative set of choices, and, most importantly, that men always have a choice of being different.
The four films made under the project are:
Now That’s More Like A Man (Yeh hui Na Mardon Wali Baat) / dir. Farjad Nabi & Mazhar Zaidi / Pakistan / 30 mins .The film relies upon popular clichés real and imagined. A series of women give form to men through words. A group of children play endlessly – the game of life, of gender.
Listen to the Wind / dirs.Tsering Rhitar and Kesang Tseten / Nepal / 30 mins. This is a fictional story about an old nomad with deteriorating eyesight who wishes to see a rare flower before he dies and his friendship with a quiet boy as he faces obstacles at his new school. In the face of mounting obstacles at his new school – bullying classmates, diminishing chances of securing a much-needed scholarship and the threat of expulsion from school, can he realise his friend’s advice to Listen to the Wind to find his own answer?
Our Boys (Amader Chhelera) / dir. Manzare Hassin Murad / Bangladesh / 45 mins. Winds of change are sweeping through the country. The West is irresistible, and the East refuses to disappear. In these confusing times boys from a pop group and a young artist, all from the newly emerging middle class families of Dhaka, open their lives to the director. Duties and obligations, women and desire, confusion and contradictions, the boys can feel the wind but do not really know which way it blows.
When four friends meet…(dir. Rahul Roy / India / 44 mins) they share with the camera their secrets… sex and girls; youthful dreams and failures; frustrations and triumphs. Bunty, Kamal, Sanjay and Sanju, best of friends and residents of Jehangirpuri, a working class colony on the outskirts of Delhi are young and trying to make their lives in an environment which is changing rapidly… girls seem to be very bold… stable jobs are not easy to come by… sex is a strange mix of guilt and pleasure… families are claustrophobic… and the blur of television the only sounding board…