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The steely charm of Feminists

Updated on: 04 February,2024 06:45 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Paromita Vohra |

Then they say, “Accha anyway”, yaniki ignore your moaning and somehow you find yourself embroiled in their endeavours, complaining bhi, loving it bhi

The steely charm of Feminists

Illustration/Uday Mohite

Paromita VohraSteely charm is this thing feminist friends or colleagues do, where they call you up and say, “Listen, I know you are terribly busy.” You mournfully concur ki yes, very. They make some cursory sympathetic sounds. You can no more believe these than you can a Bengali mom who says, “Ok baba, don’t eat if you are not hungry.” Then they say, “Accha anyway”, yaniki ignore your moaning and somehow you find yourself embroiled in their endeavours, complaining bhi, loving it bhi.

So I found myself helping to organise and moderate a panel at the Network of Women in Media in India’s annual meet.  NWMI is a voluntary collective of women journalists and the gathering is supported through personal contributions, relentless work and well, steely charm. Journalists from metropolises to remotes, many who report against incredible adversity, gathered together.

Featuring actors Ratna Pathak Shah and Rajshri Deshpande, director Kiran Rao and screen writer Ishita Moitra, the panel discussed through their work, whether representation on screen was enough or if the dream and demand was for a lot more identities and experiences (Yes, the right answer is yes).

A discussion emerged about the role of film writing, including film criticism. Was film journalism (or maybe most journalism) simply pressed into being the PR department of film producers? The writer Anna Vetticad pointed out how producers won’t show films to critics sufficiently in advance, and writers are expected to produce pieces within hours of seeing a new film. What possibilities, then, for excellence and for critique to be as meaningful a part of the entertainment ecosystem as the box office? 

Media systems where journalism and campaigns—PR or otherwise—become conflated, devalues both, journalist and subject. Ratna Pathak Shah put it simply: we are unable to talk to each other. Every thought that does not fit into a predetermined definition, whatever cannot be limited to a tweet or soundbyte, is rendered superfluous. If the system already marginalises you by virtue of whatever identity, political opinion or cultural tastes you carry, it is even harder to be heard, through the cyclical din of unchanging questions.

On the one hand, with its unnatural focus on numbers, the system tells us in so many ways that we don’t matter. On the other, it fools us into thinking we matter by promoting a culture of “personal stories” where we constantly recount our journeys as cycles of suffering and overcoming, hamsters on an emotional wheel. Life between denial and triumph—poetic insights, sharp wisdom, pleasurable wit—the ongoing and expansive expression of our personhood, that thing which changes social imagination, struggle to find fertile ground. Speaking constantly of ourselves, believing we are heard, we become oddly alone.

Sandeep Reddy Vanga was not in the room, so the spirited arguments were full of give and take. The panellists had been surrounded by fans before we began. The fans were full of hard questions in the discussion. No one saw this as contradictory. The panellists were game for it, not offended by questions, with some tough ones of their own. We need rooms made of collective energies, full of belief in and curiosity about each other’s strengths to see these mutual challenges as commitment, even comradeship, not threats. There is much connection to be rebuilt in the world. Thoda steely charm toh banta hai.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

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