“Talking gender”: Madhuri Shekar writes about the scriptwriting workshop

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Workshop participant Madhuri Shekar has an article in today’s Hindu about the scriptwriting workshop organized by Prajnya and the InKo Centre as part of the Samsung Women’s International Film Festival this month.

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Madhuri Shekar, Talking Gender, NxG, The Hindu, July 21, 2011. 

Cinema is a highly influential medium; and when that very medium portrays women in poor light, some ideological changes are in order…
Recently, the Prajnya and InKo Centre hosted a two-day scriptwriting workshop — “Writing Gender, Talking Ideas”, as a part of the Fourth Samsung Women’s International Film Festival. Workshop participants took part in a unique opportunity to not only understand the basics of scriptwriting, and what it takes to convert a story from a basic idea to a full-fledged script, but also on how to do so while being sensitive to issues of gender, inequality and power.
Poor portrayal
Indian cinema has often been criticised for its poor handling of gender issues.
Women in films are often relegated to second tier status, with poor characterisation, and tend to function as no more than one-dimensional catalysts for the hero’s journey.
It’s common to see heroes bullying or harassing the heroines as a form of courtship, and issues such as sexual assault and rape being treated in a cavalier manner, or portrayed gratuitously on screen. This is to say nothing of the frequently insensitive and ignorant depictions of transgenders and homosexuals.
The workshop co-ordinators Dr. Uma Vangal and Naga, both stalwarts in the Tamil film and TV industries, first held a discussion on gender issues, and illustrated examples of inappropriate portrayals of female characters from popular Tamil and Hindi movies. The participants discussed and provided ideas on how these issues and characters could have been better depicted on screen.
On the second day, the participants brought in story ideas that they wished to convert into a short-film script. The stories were diverse in nature and reflected the overall themes of the workshop- an educational film about sexual education for young girls, a spoof of modern day arranged marriages, a supernatural story about loss and acceptance, a man’s complicated relationship with cricket and how it affects his family, and a full-length historical feature about the ‘other’ Coleridge, Samuel Coleridge’s brother, who served in the British army in India.
Each of these story ideas was developed, challenged and enhanced through group discussion to the point where the participants would be ready to start crafting their scripts.
Taking it forward
Two of these scriptwriters, selected by the workshop leaders, will get a chance to pitch their script to an expert panel at the Samsung Women’s International Film Festival at the end of July.
This panel will consist of prominent film-makers, directors and scriptwriters of Indian cinema. The panellists will share feedback, advice and suggestions on marketing, production and ways to translate the script onto the screen.
Niharika Mallimadugula, one of the participants, said of her experience, “The workshop gave us an insight into the treatment of gender in cinema and the politics of representation. It combined the nuances of scriptwriting with a larger, deeply contested issue and that made it unique.”
Moushumi Ghosh saw the workshop as a great starting point to future sessions and projects. “‘What I liked most about the workshop was that it pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me think about the characters and situations. I would have liked a few more cinematic concepts discussed and substantiated with examples from World cinema. That could be a great excuse to have another workshop.”
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