Thursday, October 24, 2013


Not sure if you remember my earlier blog about a movie we wanted to make on sex trafficking “Durga”. After searching for a producer for months together, we gave up and finally decided to produce it ourselves. Well I understand only ‘fools’ with no business understanding take the risk of staking their own money to make a movie. I don’t know whether we also fit into that category or not…but so high is our conviction on what we embark to do, that till date for the strangest reason we have absolutely no regrets or fear that we have staked everything that we owned to make this movie. And by the way ‘we’ means I and my wonderful filmmaker husband Rajesh Touchriver.

After the initial search for producer and our consequent decision to produce it ourselves we decided to this film in two languages, Malayalam and Telugu. At this stage somehow the name Durga lost its appeal and we moved on first to ‘Prathyayam’ which means trust and finally “Naa Bangaaru Talli” which means ‘my dearest daughter’ in Telugu and “Ente” which means “mine” in Malayalam. Technically and practically it meant making two films as each scene had to be done twice…malayalam and telugu.

Selecting a cast had its own set of trouble. But finally after a lot of search we found Anjali Shinde Patil( Debut-Delhi in a day) and Siddiq( a well known versatile actor from Kerala) to play the lead roles. For some unknown reasons Siddiq gave us some terrible last-minute jitters by pulling out just 10 days before the shoot and coming back 3 days before the first schedule began. His star tanturms(if that is what you call for being difficult) continued throughout the production but ended strangely on the last day of the shoot. But the worst shock treatment was given by the then chosen cinematographer. A guy known to us very closely, who had seen all the locations with Rajesh Touchriver my co-producer and director.  Just a week before the shoot he sent a mail (otherwise calling Rajesh up a million times a day was so common) stating his inability to be part of the venture quoting some financial crises. In any case this was a huge crises as visual medium like cinema requires a talented cinematographer. Simultaneously the editor backed out with a curt sms. It was as if there was a planned move from some quarter to discourage this project(as all the rejections were coming mostly from Kerala). 

The last week before the shoot started was a nightmare to say the least…but somewhere our guardian angels were watching us. Just three days before the shoot we found Ramanthulasi, a brilliant cinematographer and DonMax our fantastic editor. Truly we were blessed.

We were also blessed with a number of people who were conspiring to make things work for us. My father who gave his pension savings for the film…my friend Lalita Iyer who staked all her fixed deposits for us…my sister-in-law, my brother-in law, my brother…everybody pitching in to ensure that this dream we were chasing will come true.  There were also senior police officers from Andhra Police who gave us all support regarding locations and other logistics. Finally we were good to go! In spite of all obstacles we started on time!

The shoot started…everyday ended with…thank God this day passed well…and a prayer…God ensure tomorrow is as smooth…in spite of all that there were days when things didn’t go as planned…money was lost on locations…for a few days all kinds of film based unions landed on the sets to disrupt the shooting. One day it was ‘you have given work to people without union cards’ or ‘how can you shoot for two films without our permission’ etc…etc. There was also constant trouble with junior artistes. The worst part was I could not even go for the shooting in the first schedule in Hyderabad as many junior artistes would recognize me. The junior artistes especially those involved in prostitution walked out of sets the moment they knew that I was the producer. They had seen me in a different contexts of raids etc…what a irony!!!

The paid technicians did their job to at least to some extent…but friends who were contributing on the technical side freely, were tough ones to handle…a core team mate even managed to leave the location for good when he was most required…Many lessons learnt…one of them being, in future take only technicians on payment otherwise goodwill does not ensure accountability. An unforgettable instance was when Rajesh Touchriver my co-producer and director(and also my better half!) had to become the art director and had to construct the sets by himself. Today we can proudly say that each aspect of the movie has a significant contribution from the producers themselves.

Production completed…post-production began. Editing…dubbing…music…and background score. DonMax our editor and Sasi our associate editor were super.

At that time we had asked Shareeth a leading music director in south to do the background score and the songs. The songs I must say did come out very well, but the background score was pathetic to say the least. By this time all our assistants except for Harsha had already dumped us. Now I cannot blame them…as we were paying them modestly. So it was Rajesh and Harsha sitting through the editing, dubbing…music…re-recording etc. And Rajesh single handedly managing the same in Kerala and Chennai as we could not afford for Harsha or anybody else to assist Rajesh there. Bhaskar another of our assistant based in Chennai atleast was available on call.

With the background score practically killing all our significant characters…we were back to a situation of making difficult choices. No matter what, both Rajesh and I could not come in terms with this…it was then Shantanu Moitra, a dear friend came to our rescue. He agreed to do the background score, free of cost(just charging us the studio rents). The movie got delayed by a month…but by God what a wait…it is worth it! The background score done by Shantanu is superlative to say the least. And the super-best thing(I am not sure such adjectives exists…but it sounds good to me), the final climax number by Shantanu…I promise you none of you who will watch the movie will forget the tune for a long time to come. Shreya Goshal with her haunting melody…will surely stir everybody’s soul. My little sister who heard it last month briefly, still hums it…So everything that happens…happens for good only.

Movie done…and now  the greatest challenge is taking it to the theaters. Search for a distributer started in earnest.  The answers ranged from “this film does not fall in our kind of films” or “please show it in festivals”, nut and bolt of it was we cannot distribute it for you. The irony was most distributers who saw the film had tears in their eyes(I am not sure now whether it was real or whether I imagined all of it!!!) and told us all the right emotional answers. For that moment we were on top of the world…and then there would be a meeting in a day or two where their stand would be completely different.  All of them unanimously felt (I am telling you this after showing it to more than 30 big and small distributers) it was a great family-thriller, the background score was brilliant, the songs were great, the story mind-blowing, and the performance powerful…etc…etc  

So where is the movie falling short? No star cast, no item number, no sex…no violence…all in all no masala. Infact one small time distributer told me “you had so much scope for adding so many things in your film…atleast you could have shown some sex ( the film is a true story of sex trafficking)…or atleast one item number in the form of a bar dance!!!

This is where I am really questioning the activist in me….what do people want… and what actually sells? Was it wrong of me to believe that there is still a collective conscious in the society that will accept with open arms a sensitive film made on sensitive subjective with relatively unknown faces. Or sense & sensibilities sells only when a star is there…so what was the attraction the cause or the star.

To that extent I am also questioning all that I demanded of Rajesh. When Rajesh started the script I repeatedly harped on the same thing, it has to be a family film and the treatment should be in such a way that I can sit with my 6yr old nephew and not flinch. I also wanted situational songs that will enhance the viewing. I was not interested in making a film which is dark and gory and will only run in a festival circuit where the audience consists mostly of ‘converts’ who do not really require this sensitization. What I was really interested is showing to people who need to be sensitized both from the ‘class’ and from the ‘mass’….

In any case, by now frustrations was eating me up…First you stake everything…then you do not find a way a to take it to its logical conclusion, suddenly an alien sensation of helplessness seeps in. It is at this stage I went to attend INK Conference at Pune(incidentally INK is being held tomorrow at Cochin). I am not sure how many of you know INK. It is an abbreviation for Innovation & Knowledge, an extraordinary forum in association with TED. This is the brainchild of two brilliant and dynamic women Lakshmi Pratury & Anu Sethuram. A conference for the best of the minds and hearts to meet. It was its third conference.  I went for it…and then it felt like Gods were conspiring to make way for me. I met Anu Agha and Amit Singhal. These two people after hearing me speak at the conference, came forward to support this film for us to distribute it ourselves. What a miracle!!!

With this support in hand we decided to distribute this film ourselves in Kerala in association with Celebrate International. We had no choice but to tie up with a existing distributer to get access to the theaters etc.  “Ente” was released in Kerala early this year. The response from those who saw the film “it was the most transformative experience”.  Like I had hoped, from school children to very old people…everybody felt comfortable in watching the film and went back holding something… A mother from Kohikode called me and said…”the first thing I did after seeing the film was rush and hug my daughter”

Super critical acclaim everywhere….but sadly a commercial disaster.  Inspite of the fact that everybody proclaimed it one of the best films that they have seen…there was hardly any crowd rolling on top of each other at the ticket counter… Where were the hundreds & thousands who wanted good cinema…and write or speak so eloquently on facebook, social media and all forums. Suddenly it appeared as if everybody just disappeared…

But to my utter amusement all of them reappeared once the movie was removed from the theaters…we had demands and demands to show “Ente” in some university festival or other. When asked why they did not see it when it reached theaters in their towns…there were a lot of sheepish response. To test further, when we said please pay a screening fees…the disappearance act was repeated. 

Suddenly I was wondering whether people think, since she is a activist she has no right to recover her money…only the commercial film producers have a right to recover and make a profit. We will only buy tickets and watch films of the commercial film producer… and ensure he/she does not have a loss. Since she is activist…she can bear a loss!!! 

I also started questioning myself? What do people want?  Is this a denial? Or is it a resistance to change?                        

The release of “Ente” was a bitter-sweet experience with the Malayali crowd…Sweet because of the response of the those who saw it…and bitter because we were not able to reach to the desired level through the theaters. One of the most memorable comments was by Shri Oomen Chandy, the Chief Minister of Kerala, who sat through a film after 25years( I believe the last film he saw was around 25yrs back)…and said ‘this will always remind me on how less we are doing” and declared it “tax free”.

Now back to square 1, since the Malayalam version did not make the mullahs rolling…no takers in Andhra Pradesh for the telugu version “Naa Bangaaru Talli”. Just for the heck of it we send it some festivals…and lo and behold “ Naa Bangaaru Talli” as adjudged the best feature film at Trinity International Film Festival, Detroit.
I am sure such things are happening only so that our morale is boosted…(God has his/her own way to take care of souls like us)…

Searching for a distributer in Andhra Pradesh….simultaneously trying to mobilize around 30 lakhs or 50,000 USD to release it ourselves. Reliance Entertainment although not willing to invest has committed to support us distribute it if we mobilize the money…even here we need the help of a player in the market who can get us the theaters. So looking for fifty thousands and one hundred thousand to finally make it three hundred thousand rupees to take this film to the theaters. Now you will ask why theaters, why can’t you release it online…my only answer is I want the poorest person in the remotest village in Andhra Pradesh to watch this film…I want to reach where the problem begins.

Will I succeed in Andhra Pradesh…time will say…

And by the way…I hope nobody is saying right now after reading all this…who told her to make a movie…she should just do things that she knows…

My answer…”We have only one life Boss!’’

Watch the trailer…

I am not sure whether there has been an audio launch on a blog…if not let me be the first. Launching the title song of my film “Naa Bangaaru Talli”

Song (singer- Shreya Goshal, music director- Shantanu Moitra)

If you want to share it please feel free to do so… make the song your ringtone…this is your chance to support the cause…can you do it?

Vodafone Users
To Set Caller Tunes SMS Song Name Or Album Name to 57979 or Just Dial 57979

For Mobile Downloads SMS "NBT" to 56060

Available on Nokia Music at

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Recently while addressing a group of fellows of “Teach for India” I faced an interesting question, “when we as individuals are ill equipped to address the issue of sexual offence, should we report at all? Will it end up harming the child more, than helping?”

I was taken aback for a moment, as these are thoughts that are plaguing me for the last few weeks consistently.

A few weeks back I was caught in between a case of child sexual abuse in Gunupur, a small town in Odisha. The father of the child an assistant professor had recently moved to this place. After a lot of scouting the parents had found this school which was well reputed for its educational standards.
For this 3 yr old it was the first day in school. Like any other children, the child went to school in bright spirits. But when the child came home, she was crying and profusely bleeding. Went the mother checked up, the child’s vagina was torn. The parents rushed the child to a private hospital, where the doctor told them that it was a case of sexual assault and the child required a surgical process.
In an interesting manner the matter came to my notice the next day. When I spoke to the parents they did express their willingness to report.  I spoke to Shri Rajesh Pundit, Superintendent Of Police, Raygada, who turned out to be an extremely child friendly person.  The case was booked under POSCO. Then the challenge began, every step of the legal procedure the parents started resisting. Their contention was, that it will re-traumatize the child.

For any legal procedure, apart from the statement of the victim which will then form the First Information Report(FIR), followed by a medical examination in a government hospital and the consequent identification of the accused is more or less mandatory. But the parents who were caring for this little one and were witnessing the various levels of trauma the child was going through, found all this too much to handle.  In spite of the fact that the police was making it as child friendly as possible(most of the time the lady police went in mufti to their house, instead of calling to the police station and tried to make it comfortable for the child), the parents were vocally quite resistant.

I was caught between the police and the parents. Every time the parents would resist, the police would call me and I had to spend long hours counseling the family on the importance and need of that step. The matter became even more complicated, when the medical report revealed penetration of a blunt object (maybe fingers or fist, there is was no smears of sperms which could be taken as an evidence). The parents had already disposed of the child’s blood soaked under-wear out of ignorance. As usual all the alleged accused maintained their stand of innocence.  The only way to make an arrest was identification by the child. An effort was made, by showing pictures of alleged accused on a laptop to the child, with no clear results. Finally the only option left was physical identification. 

The family was in no mood to entertain any such thing. Both the parents were upset, angry and frustrated as the child was now showing signs of fever and was slowly withdrawing herself from others.

After resisting for more than a day finally the family relented and the child was taken for an identification parade. It was done in the most child friendly manner, with the child sitting in a room and through an outlet looking at all alleged accused. In all her innocence, although the child pointed to one person conclusively as the “bad man”, she also pointed out casually at three more persons.  Arrest was made of the one person, who till date denies having done that in spite of rigorous questioning of the police.  The fact remains however that the child was sexually assaulted.

Was it a worthwhile effort to subject the child through all this? After a few days of traumatic churning I have come to the conclusion “yes it was”.  Firstly from a child’s perspective, in a few years from now when the child remembers this traumatic episode, apart from the abuse, she will also remember how her parents stood by her, encouraging her to stand up against any violation and mostly that she did not do any “wrong” but she was wronged. This is a precious understanding very few victims all over the world have the privilege to experience, for in their silence they not only carry the shame but also a repeated reinforced message of being guilty of the crime committed on them.

Further her images of the police will not be that which evokes fear but that of support and safety. More than anything, she will grow up with the security of being heard and trusted.

From a social perspective, I am not sure who was the real culprit or whether the real culprit was actually caught, but whoever is the real culprit he will know people are not going to keep quite. The message is not only going to culprit in this case, but also to sex offenders living in that area and all potential offenders.  If everyone breaks their silence on this issue…and enforcement mechanism plays a proactive role in dealing with such cases with sensitivity and care, what we are creating is a great wall of deterrence.  Maybe there are temporary inconveniences for the victim, but it is worth it, as it will help the person look back at her fight against such violation with pride and view herself as a person of courage.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


From Dec 16th 2012, after the Delhi gang rape case that shook the conscience of the country, I have been very deeply disturbed. As much for the sexual violence that is happening but more for the repeated reiteration of the hypocrisy prevalent among us. As the nation shook…and the international media had a hay day, all and sundry were compelled to act. Corporate offices had special seminars on women’s safety…schools/colleges lead candle lights…billions danced for safety…awards were given dime to dozen for all Tom, Dick & Harry who could spell sexual assault correctly and were capable of speaking at a stretch for 30 minutes on this issue!!!

All this was happening in a way that it was highlighted adequately in the media…so practically the nation was eating, sleeping and breathing sexual assault. Not even a month had passed three sisters all between 6-11yrs went missing in Maharashtra. The police refused to file a missing case…and very condescendingly told the family to search( as if they had not already!)….no family will rush to police without doing their own enquiry. Three days later, the decomposed bodies of these three children was found in a nearby pond.

 The Madhya Pradesh Police were even more creative, they went ahead and kept a 5 yr old rape victim in the lock up!!!

Delhi Police inspite of all the attention they were getting were still not ready to wake up. A 5 yr old was abducted…imprisoned in the third floor of the same building that the parents stayed. The police refused to file the missing complaint. On the third day when the same police rose from their slumber they were able to trace the child…gang raped… sadistically violated in the same building.

To me what was interesting was, when the first Delhi gang rape case was reported, Chief Minister of Delhi announced a cash compensation of 10 lakhs and the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister 15 lakhs. 

Somehow none of the other cases received any offer of any compensation!!!

Just two months back, I was dealing with the rape of a 5 yr old. The Child Welfare Committee was handing this child to me for further care. What was shocking to me, all the stakeholders involved Dept of Women & Child, CWC were talking of the rape case and its details, but not a single one was interested in getting a case booked. The villagers had handed over the raped orphan child to the local anganwadi and they just handed to their superior officers!

So what is the great impact of all this visibility…and such extraordinary media attention either on the general public or the state or the stakeholders such as police or dept of women & child. Is our basic attitude and perception changing because of this attention? Are victims getting the care and compensation they deserve as a matter of right.

Do any of the following happen:
-Police book the case as their basic duty…without any pressure from the media or public
-Dept of Women & Child or the relevant departments provide compensation as their non-negotiable departmental mandate.
-Victim have access to support in a dignified environment.
-Government evolves victim friendly policies as a matter of primary duty…not because it is nearing election time.
-Public react…no matter what…as they believe this will not be tolerated.

Finally the fundamental question is ARE WE WILLING TO ACT TO MAKE THIS SOCIETY FREE OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE? Not because media is making a lot of noise…not because it is in fashion these days…not because something pricks you momentarily….but because we believe no child…no woman…no human being deserves to be violated.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


For the last few days I am receiving hundreds of calls/mails requesting my gracious presence for International Women’s Day. There is a sudden radical spurt in activities in organizing women’s programs. And of course ‘so called’ inspirational women like me are in great demand. Some of the calls came through this morning ie 7th March….and I was wondering whether I was part of a back up plan, inspiration1-not available….Insp2-not available….Insp3- Not available….so okay lets try Insp10!!! What is Women’s Day for all these people? Is it a day when we remember lost souls…or a day to honor so called women leaders…or a day to remind us all about gender-related crimes/violence…or day to look back on how we have progressed…or a day to acknowledge women are still part of humanity..or a day to organize an event. Having done that for one day…for the next 365 days you can forget half the humanity…continue the violence…the discrimination…the violations….and marginalization in our minds and souls. Across the world, year after year International Women’s Day is CELEBRATED!...and across the world young ones as young as 3yrs old are raped and sold…interestingly year after year the numbers are only increasing….Two days back a little one who was sleeping with her mother on the footpath in Kerala, was dragged away…raped and thrown….on valentine’s day when one billion people rose to protest sexual violence….three little ones…all sisters 6yr, 8yrs and 11yrs were raped and murdered in Bhandara, Maharshtra…during the same time a 7yr old was raped in Municipal School in the national Capital New Delhi. In many African countries, rape is used as a weapon of war…in many others genital mutilation is followed…young activist are gunned at close range for they chose to speak for girl child education…every country in the world can boast about the increasing gender-based violence in their communities… I wonder where is the change? Can things change because of events/TV shows or programs on a particular day? Can things change because we went and lit a candle? Can things change because we acknowledged a powerful woman? Can things change because we participated in a public event? To me “NO”…nothing can change for women and children till it is symbolic gesture…nothing can change if we consider it as women’s rights…nothing can change till our basic attitude and perception does not undergo sea change. It is gives me great amusement whenever there is a national uproar about sexual violence, I get thousands of mails/calls asking “what can I do”? That is the attitude I am talking about…so long as you think it happens to them and not us…you will keep asking what to do? The day each one of us realize that this can happen to anyone including us…or to somebody dear to us, then each one of us will know what to do… I feel this question is asked so that one can actually avoid doing anything and yet not feel guilty(you will keep quite till somebody tells/guides you on what to do, will that be the same attitude if somebody dear to you is violated). If one wants to respond…there is no need for anybody’s guidance… For me until and unless women’s right’s is not accepted as basic human rights nothing can change. And then the fight is not just for a few women to come together…but for every person who is human. It is not about a few hundred women coming together on Women’s Day(while all the men go about doing their work!!!). The fight is not just for a day…but it for 365 days till these basic human rights are realized. The fight is not about women…it also about men…how can half the humanity survive if the other half is mutilated and violated. Tomorrow as we observe Women’s Day…I hope we will remember people like Irom Sharmila who are consistently fighting without a break for the last 4380 days(12yrs)….and all the activists fighting a spectrum of issues across the world for whom every day is a day to fight for human rights...thanking them for their perseverance…thanking them for having faith in change.