Watching movies with the blind

Updated: Apr 14, 2019, 07:56 IST | Meenakshi Shedde

Earlier this week, POV (disclaimer: I'm on their board) organised a special screening of Secret Superstar, produced by Aamir Khan Productions (AKP) and directed by Advait Chandan, for a group of about 20 blind women

Watching movies with the blind
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Meenakshi SheedeI felt a bit ticklish, as the blind women crowded around me, groping my neck and ears. I had specially worn things that they would enjoy — silver jhumkas and a pendant that went cham-cham, and a dash of Amouage perfume. And I specially wore a pink sari with white embroidered flowers, gifted to me by Nidhi Goyal, former programme director at Point of View (POV), a non-profit that amplifies women's voices, who is visually challenged. I had described to the women what I was wearing, and encouraged them to touch it. They giggled, as they shyly groped my neck and ears for the jewellery, exclaiming, "Aiyya, kiti chhan aahe!" [Oh, how lovely it is]. And I shook hands with almost all of them, so that they might remember my touch.

Earlier this week, POV (disclaimer: I'm on their board) organised a special screening of Secret Superstar, produced by Aamir Khan Productions (AKP) and directed by Advait Chandan, for a group of about 20 blind women, aged 22-30 years, at the Smt Kumudben Dwarkadas Vora Industrial Home for Blind Women in Andheri. What? You didn't know? Arre, the blind intensely love movies. Next time, watch a movie with a blind person; later, he/she will tell you scores of details you never noticed. Aapko picture dobara dekhna padega, mere bhai.

POV's Executive Director Bishakha Datta organised the screening and Nikita Patodia facilitated it. Patodia arranged for AKP's audio-described version of the film, which orally describes for the blind, the action in scenes where there is no dialogue.

This exhilarating, radical film had Insia (Zaira Wasim), a 15-year-old Muslim girl from Baroda, not only fulfill her dream of becoming a famous singer in Mumbai, but also initiate divorce proceedings between her parents, as her father kept thrashing her timid mother, Najma. It was part of POV's workshop on sexuality and disability, which had earlier discussed issues of the body, relationships, consent, violence, etc. On the third day, we screened the film and discussed self-confidence, women's dreams, financial independence and domestic violence. Secret Superstar was perfect for this, and its audio description was marvellous.

One of the women said that a blind friend's family treated her badly, but luckily, she managed to get married. We discussed whether getting married guaranteed lifelong happiness, and they all said no. Another woman said marriages could also be traumatic: even when the husband supports his wife, the in-laws complain about a blind daughter-in-law.

Their favourite characters in the film included Insia, because she boldly went to Mumbai and fulfilled her dream, as well as her mother Najma, because she always helped her daughter fulfil her dreams. I asked, if the mother had earned an
independent salary, would she have been thrashed for buying her daughter a laptop? Probably not, they reflected. We discussed why financial independence for women is crucial lifelong, irrespective of marriage, as it reduces the chances of being violated, especially in the family. I shared that nearly 30 years ago, I had been in an abusive relationship, and, when I was slapped and kicked, I had slapped and kicked right back, and quickly ended the relationship. The blind women clapped loud and long. Possibly, this was a fantasy in which they could never imagine themselves.

Later, Anuradha Ayare, who was coordinating, said it was rare to see the blind women talk so animatedly, that they did not even hear the evening bell for chai. We left, grinning from ear to ear.

Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at meenakshishedde@gmail.com

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