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TIFF Women Directors: Meet Megha Ramaswamy – ‘Newborns’

TIFF Women Directors: Meet Megha Ramaswamy - 'Newborns'

Megha
Ramaswamy is a Mumbai-based screenwriter and director. She wrote the screenplay
for the feature film Shaitan, and wrote
and directed the fictional short Bunny. (TIFF official site)

Her 8-minute documentary short
Newborns, which follows female
survivors of acid attacks in India, will play at TIFF on September 13.

WaH: Please give us your description
of the film playing.

MR: Newborns is an exploration of a world imagined and enacted by
survivors of acid violence. The film attempts to provide a lens for the
survivors of acid violence, to look forward and gaze back. They take us through
the ennui of their domestic and public spaces in a nameless dystopian city, its
factories, houses and motels, and its promises, never honored.

WaH: What drew you to this story?

MR: In early 2013, I came across a
newspaper story about Priti Rathi, a young woman working as a nurse in Mumbai,
who was attacked with acid in broad daylight. Passersby looked on, leaving her
old father to bring medical help. Priti died less than a month later. I was
determined not to “move on” this time.

I started researching the history
of acid violence in India — the multitudes of cases, the myriad forms this crime
took, and the many, many women affected by it, most of them dead. I was filled with rage, grief, and even a desolate
helplessness. I got in touch with Stop Acid Attacks — a Delhi-based NGO (and the
only functioning campaign in India) that spearheads the cause. I had to find
out how I could get more informed and involved. I started off as a volunteer
with SAA, which led to the weaving of Newborns.

WaH: What was the biggest challenge
in making the film?

MR: I was aware of the invasive
voyeurism that a film camera comes with. I did not yet know the shape the film
would take, but there was something I was certain about at the outset — I did
not want to exercise the power of “the gaze,” and place myself in the safe
bubble of “the observer.” I did not want to view the survivors as “the
other,” thus perpetuating the cycle of pity and victim-isolation.

As we began
reflecting together, they seemed to be constantly rebuilding, putting pieces
together, and chasing half-forgotten demons, through photographs, letters and
memories. Somehow, the interactions seemed aimlessly suspended. We were looking
for voices to speak to each other in.

I wanted to know what mattered to them,
what irked or ailed them, and how they chose to express it. I wanted them to
share with me that which is not apparent — their stories of desire, loss, and
fear; their worldview, the expression of their selves; their threshold of
acceptance; their aspirations and drives. To do this, I realized, I would have
to facilitate a space and a language for its articulation. Finding this
language and form was definitely the biggest challenge, as we weren’t aiming for stories that were journalistic, observational, or sensationalist.

WaH: What do you want people to
think about when they are leaving the theater? 

MR: About the brutal patriarchy of
the crime; about contributing towards spreading awareness; about urging the government
to undertake more responsibilities towards such heinous crimes; about the
dignity and nobility with which acid-violence survivors are putting the pieces
back together.

WaH: What advice do you have for
other female directors?

MR: To always tell personal stories.
Only women bleed! 

WaH: How did you get your film
funded?

MR: The film was funded by Sohum Shah and Anand Gandhi of
Recyclewala Films. My producer Ruchi Bhimani and I actively participated in
various outreach programs that our team of young filmmakers and artists
designed. We also received a generous grant from Mrs. Mrudula Parekh that
helped us finish the postproduction of the film.

WaH: Name your favorite women-directed
film and why.

Salaam Bombay!
by Mira Nair, for its nuanced storytelling and its delicate handling of
characters. So poetic and brave!

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