(This letter has been put up by activist Kamayanibali Mahabal on her blog)
I am a Mysore based woman filmmaker who was chosen by you to be part of the Royal Stag Mega Movies project 12.12.12 executed by Showhouse Entertainment’s Large Short Films Wing. I am writing this open letter because I think public discourse is important given that over the years you have come to occupy such an important space within what you call ‘independent cinema’.
Also no one from the company that you endorse, as well as you, thinks it is important to have a dialogue with me about unpaid wages, disrespect and unfair dismissal which has caused me tremendous amount of financial, emotional stress. There is also a much touted save indie cinema doing the rounds and what it fails to add to the discourse (not surprising going by the kind of signatories it claims) is what I want to talk about. Changing the look of how you produce cinema and being backed by big studio capital isn’t really independent. I think it is important to bring this into the public domain as the silences around working practices result in the perpetuation of exploitative systems and weed out filmmakers based on their class, caste, gender, religion and language.
It was absolutely no surprise when I saw that the list of 12 directors included no woman. So apparently out of 600 entries only I, the sole woman, made it to the shortlist and because I decided to speak up and not be quiet about how my film was going to tortured and beaten into becoming the kind of objects that you seem to grant your blessings to, 12.12.12 is now officially an all male production.
I bring your notice to this because the tone of the company with regard to objections I raised has been patronising, condescending and dismissive. Well meaning friends and critics will tell me that’s how it works, that’s the industry, the industry that works on free labour, meant for those who have the money to afford the time to chase dreams. It’s not meant for women like me who have no big daddies or brothers or husbands supporting them. It isn’t meant for women like me who choose to work in a language other than Hindi and it definitely isn’t meant for women like me who don’t know how to waddle along consenting to practices that make people like you and the companies you endorse just richer on the back of such exploitative practices.
You sent me an email stipulating that I would not be in touch with any of the other 11 directors (an effective way I must say to curb dissent and this goes by the name of being collaborative!) The contract also stipulated that I would be paid once I handed over the film contrary to what the rules on the contest page initially stated wherein I was supposed to have been given the money before Ivmade the film. This I was informed after having worked a full month on the project. I did sign it and I take full responsibility for that sign because you were the carrot dangled to me, the one ruling the roost in the film festival circuit and of course the Indian public funding circuit, what seemed like the only way to make one’s film. And since you must have been paid handsomely to be the carrot, I only ask that you own up to the full responsibility of it and be accountable to the carrot desirers you create.
After insisting that I get paid at least half I went ahead, after funds were released, and borrowed money to complete it. I hand over the film and fulfil my contractual obligations and then am bullied into changing and reshooting it for a mistake made by Asmit Pathare (Project director not the 12th discovery – check the shortlist!) and Abhijit Das (the godfather of short films in the making). So I naturally said no. You must understand how difficult it is for a director to hurt their stories? It’s kind of like being okay with Abhijit Das (Creative head of Largeshortfilms) adding on a scene where Manoj Bajpai spouts Feminist Marxist dialogues in Gangs of Wasseypur and without telling you! Wouldn’t really fit with the ethos of the film no? Your company even told me that since I do not have the resources I cannot be involved in the reshoot. At such a juncture I asked you not to use my film if I was not being reimbursed and no, you go ahead and use it. The matchbox still from my film is still up on the company’s website.
In a country with absolutely zilch funding for independent films you exploit the hopes of thousands of aspirants. You reiterate a certain way of working which accommodates only a certain type of filmmaker. This in my world is called cheating, it’s called immoral and it’s called unfair. In your world all this is grey, this hijacking that you do of a space that has seen so much struggle and such amazing cinema, this hijacking of language – calling it collaborative when it’s more dictatorial, this hijacking of image, of new film waves, of new ways of working. One of the most exciting things about globalised capitalism’s current avatar (as Hardt and Negri will tell you) is that even though it creates systems like you it also provides for ruptures like me.
Before you come back with a reply to this I ask you to re‐look at emails that you sent me and words you relayed to me through the company about my filmmaking. Everything that I have said is backed by evidence (I know too well how important that is) I know this open dissent will cost me. I’m not naïve not to understand as to how you rule visibilities around distribution and production but I will walk away knowing that I have spoken and that this is just the beginning not the end of the road for me. For those of you reading this I understand that within the larger framework of what we call injustice in this country this is nothing but when we start to look at continuums everything does matter and support for this would really help not just me but for all those who are engaged in changing the way images speak.
From the 12th director who so mysteriously disappeared Shilpa Munikempanna firstname.lastname@example.org