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Mumbai producer highlights violent ancient tradition
The recent spate of violence against women in India has provoked huge protests and anger.


But instead of taking to the streets some Indians have chosen to speak up about the issue in different ways.

A director from Mumbai has just won a short film competition in Melbourne for his portrayal of the ancient Indian tradition of sacrificing widows, known as sati.

Kate Arnott reports.
Transcript
KESHA WEST, PRESENTER: The recent spate of violence against women in India has provoked huge protests and anger.

But instead of taking to the streets some Indians have chosen to speak up about the issue in different ways.

A director from Mumbai has just won a short film competition in Melbourne for his portrayal of the ancient Indian tradition of sacrificing widows, known as sati.

Kate Arnott reports.

(Footage from Sati plays)

NILESH DESAI, DIRECTOR, ‘SATI’: Sati is basically burning. Women are burning in a different form. I can't imagine a woman is dragged into a fire. It’s such a horrifying thing.

KATE ARNOTT, REPORTER: It was a shocking and brutal practice; women sacrificing themselves on their husband's funeral pyre. Sometimes they did it willingly out of respect for their husband; others were made to do it by force.

The practice dates back thousands of years, and the term Sati originates from the goddess Sati who sacrificed herself by fire because she was unable to bear her father's humiliation of her husband.

The practice was banned by the British in 1829 but there are small pockets of India where it still continues.

Last year, director Nilesh Desai and his producer and wife Vinita Desai spent four days in a Mumbai studio filming their own representation of Sati.

NILESH DESAI: It’s about nightmare of the mother. Horrified dream of a mother, being haunted by the fear of the god of death, Yama.

VINITA DESAI, PRODUCER, ‘SATI’: These are some things we tried to portray for the audience to understand how deep an impact evils like this can be. You know it could be your mother, your daughter or anybody around you.

KATE ARNOTT: There's no dialogue in the short film. Instead, it uses powerful music and imagery to portray the suppression of women. And it is the evils of Sati and the evils of violence against women in India in general that the filmmakers want the audience to think about.

At the end of the movie, they pose a number of confronting questions.

(Question panel from Sati is shown)

SATI (subtitles): Sati. A dreadful Act, abolished in 1829.

Today, a woman may not be a victim to sati, but is she free from other evils?

Do her nightmares still exist?

NILESH DESAI: Still we're facing the same problem, like in India, child abuse, child rape, sexual harassment, the problems are still there. Definitely somewhere down the line women are still burning.

KABIR KHAN, DIRECTOR AND COMPETITION JUDGE: I think it is very relevant, especially in today's context when India is going through a bit of an upheaval. Especially in the past sort of year where we've seen absolutely bizarre cases of violence against women happening, and a large civil unrest or a large participation by the common man who has taken to the streets to protest against violence against women.

KATE ARNOTT: Drawing on the theme of freedom, Nilesh Desai entered this year's short film competition at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne and won.

KABIR KHAN: Sati was definitely a film that makes you sit up and take notice. And I think a combination of the fact that the issue that the film was talking about and the way it was presented is what attracted me to the film.

KATE ARNOTT: Such is the power of the film, that everyone on the set was deeply affected during the filming.

VINITA DESAI: One of the actresses who was actually trying to go close to the fire, came back and she was in tears because she said it was horrifying to go near the fire and if I could do it as an act how would be if I had to do it in reality.

KABIR KHAN: Sati is very relevant because it is talking about the fact that ultimately the way we are looking at women in our society, the role they're playing, that has to change. So there can be rules and laws that can come into effect, but nothing is going to change unless the mindset changes. And that is what those are the questions that the film provokes.
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