Women Called Rosy

Published: Sep 15, 2019, 05:43 IST | Paromita Vohra

They symbolise women who do not conform to expectations of modesty, or modest expectations; who do not care to fit the paradigm, but create new ones, constantly expanding the limits on freedom. Unlimited girls, I call them

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Paromita VohraSome 20 years ago, for no reason I can properly explain, I became fascinated by the motif of the rose. It appeared in my films. It became my company logo and my hair ornament of choice. My Instagram handle became Bombay.Rosie, and for a while, its display picture was the actor Helen, because she often played women called Rosie, who danced like a dream, aimed for the stars, and had the courage to break their hearts by desiring something more. In my head the rose, and a Rosie, stand for a quintessentially romantic view of life—by which I mean a philosophical search for meaning, for yourself. They symbolise women who do not conform to expectations of modesty, or modest expectations; who do not care to fit the paradigm, but create new ones, constantly expanding the limits on freedom. Unlimited girls, I call them.

Then, last week I got a thrilling message about the launch of a new platform named for a woman called Rosy—the PK Rosy Film Society. PK Rosy was the first woman actor of Malayalam cinema, appearing in a 1928 silent short, 'Vigathakumaran'. She had to flee Kerala, persecuted by dominant castes because she portrayed a Nair woman, when she was Dalit.

There is something so eloquent about naming a film society thus. It immediately makes us consider other histories than the ones we are taught, and other futures than the ones people tell us to aspire for. There is something very potent too about the film society itself, because it has been started by the Women in Cinema Collective, an organisation begun when, the Association of Malyalam Movie Artists (AMMA) refused to take serious action against an actor who had his woman colleague abducted and raped.

Bollywood responses to #MeToo are cosmetic at best. But in the Kerala and Andhra film industries, women artistes and technicians have been organising and unionizing and questioning misogyny at work. A friend in the WCC said to me, "Kerala is so famous for its film society movement, but it was always a very masculine space. It created no real space for women as participants at any level. And that's the value system that has determined who is important and what is important in the industry." The PK Rosy Film Society, committed to a celebration of feminist ideas and aesthetics is therefore also committed to intersectional politics—its panel has both cis and trans women and from the get-go they present gender and caste in an intertwined, or intersectional, manner.

Mainstream perspectives on film in India, with notable exceptions, consistently disappoint because they conform so closely to the status quo. The same big film festivals and their definition of great films, the same canons, the same powerful men determine what films get noted and promoted, as also how they get written about. The approach to gender is bureaucratic—women are 'included' when they achieve something in the way of successful men (which often means feature films, hits, awards). A new and exciting cinema, locally relevant and a new feminist culture which does not lead to #MeToo, cannot be created without a new imagination and paradigm, which seeks new forms of art and expression from diverse spaces, and has the confidence to celebrate them. That's how we get a garden of new cinematic delights full of Rosies.

Let's go.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at paromita.vora@mid-day.com

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