It’s time to portray women and children with agency in Goa

The impact of what is shown on television lasts forever in the minds of children, and can lead to adverse behaviours in them
Screenwriter Atika Chohan writes strong, empowered and resilient female characters in Bollywood movies.
Screenwriter Atika Chohan writes strong, empowered and resilient female characters in Bollywood movies.Photo: Gomantak Times

MAYA ROSE FERNANDES

Goan art and media needs to be more aware of how they portray women and children.

At the last IFFI in Goa, just gone, I recently had the chance to listen to a women-led panel discussion about the depiction of violence against women and children in the film industry.

Screenwriter Atika Chohan writes strong, empowered and resilient female characters in Bollywood movies.
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While it was one of the better attended panel talks, I wished that more people from Goa would have been able to attend the talk.

The panel had a film producer, a film director, a celebrated actor, a journalist, a ministry-related official and a senior UNICEF representative speaking about how women and children need to be depicted with more agency and in more empowered ways, even as their struggles are shown.

Violence is defined as sexual, emotional and psychological as well as physical, by WHO (World Health Organisation).

The panelists all agreed that the depictions of sexist, patriarchal norms needed to be written out and that it was unhelpful to portray women or children only as victims.

They also agreed that the impact of what was shown on the screen lasted forever in the mind of a child and could lead to indelible adverse behaviours.

Violence is defined as sexual, emotional and psychological as well as physical, by WHO (the World Health Organisation). On-screen depictions of these play out power dynamics that hopeless, helpless or powerless children embed in their developing psyches, playing out later in their lives.

Screenwriter Atika Chohan writes strong, empowered and resilient female characters in Bollywood movies.
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Sure, they’re learning how to treat others through viewing their surroundings, family dynamics, school dynamics, interactions with other children and adults around them as well.

But, one can’t deny that on-screen depictions are also playing a part. Even as film classifications are updating themselves, easy access to screens and viewing platforms is as strong as before.

Depictions of hate and violence against women are extremely detrimental and can leave deep scars on children.

Depictions of hate and violence against women are extremely detrimental and can leave deep scars on children.

In terms of how films depicted children, UNICEF talked about how important it was to shift people’s perceptions of children so that they could see them as beings with more agency than ever imagined before, and they had started working with the film industry to educate and train people to alter these depictions so that children appeared to be more empowered than helpless.

Screenwriter Atika Chohan writes strong, empowered and resilient female characters in Bollywood movies.
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This would also help children watching and relating to the struggles being depicted, feel less victimised and more empowered than they previously could.

Linked to this, they showcased five films featuring children’s issues including human trafficking across borders and children’s needs and voices being dismissed by elders.

While at IFFI 2023, I also had the rare opportunity to talk to screenwriter, Atika Chohan, known for writing strong, empowered and resilient female characters in movies.

Atika Chohan is known for writing strong, empowered and resilient female characters in movies.

She wrote dialogue for Margarita with a Straw (2014), the story of a young woman with cerebral palsy who embarks on a journey of self-discovery, and the more recent Chhapaak (2020) starring Deepika Padukone, which was based on the life of acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal and addressed issues related to acid violence and survivorship.

Screenwriter Atika Chohan writes strong, empowered and resilient female characters in Bollywood movies.
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Even though Chohan came to the industry late with not much money to her credit, she started turning down opportunities that did not match her vision of female-centric storytelling. Over a decade later, she has established her brand as a feminist screenwriter in a very powerful way.

We managed to talk about what it’s like to work in a male-dominated industry and she spoke about the strong dent that the #metoo movement made in India, resulting in a strong collective of women that named, and shamed, a number of industry representatives that had abused the power of their roles in the industry.

The crux here is to realise that there are strong moves towards more empowering depictions of child and female characters in media, including film.

She added that even though many of these people had managed to get their careers back on track, everyone in the industry was more cautious than before and worried about systems of redress.

The movement had fostered more awareness of the need to portray more feminist themes in film and the media, while also creating more space for women to speak up against abuses in the system.

Screenwriter Atika Chohan writes strong, empowered and resilient female characters in Bollywood movies.
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The crux here is to realise that there are strong moves towards more empowering depictions of child and female characters in media, including film. Goan films, theatre, scripts, literature, art forms and, dare I say it, even Insta reels, have a role to play in depicting women and children with more agency.

In that way, they can have a chance of feeling more hopeful and solutions-oriented when they see strong, resilient representations of themselves in media and art.

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