It’s not entirely right: ‘Natkhat’ director on blaming films for misogyny

It's not entirely right: 'Natkhat' director on blaming films for misogyny
Short film "Natkhat" highlights gender bias.

New Delhi: Hindi films have often been blamed for spreading misogyny and toxic masculinity, a recent example being “Kabir Singh”. Director Shaan Vyas, whose new short film “Natkhat” revolves around the concept of gender inequality and patriarchy, says its not entirely right to blame only movies for spreading negativity.

“It’s not entirely right to blame only films because belief systems are not formed in isolation. But as filmmakers, we need to acknowledge that the misogyny and machismo that we celebrate in our films do make an impression on young minds, and we need to take responsibility for that,” Vyas told IANS.

He added: “Moreover films, and what we show in films, also reflect society somewhere, so it is not just an influence, but also a mirror at times.”

Vyas’s latest release “Natkhat” was made together by a gender-equal crew with names like Vidya Balan, child actress Sanika Patel, and writer Annukampa Harsh in its cast and crew.

Films today are focussing in telling tales with female actors in the lead, unlike in the past when Bollywood usually ran high on masculinity.

“It is important and it highlights the change happening in society. Traditionally, the reason our films ran high on masculinity was that our ticket-paying audiences were predominantly male and spectacle-driven. Increasingly, the audience now wants better stories, more substance, and less spectacle. I think the shift is due to that,” he said.

“Natkhat” revolves around a mother educating her son about gender equality. The film is co-produced by Vidya Balan along with Ronnie Screwvala.

How can toxic masculinity be handled and does he think movies can help? “Any form of change will always take time. The starting point for any change is generating conversations around issues and making people acknowledge their own biases and mistakes. Films and stories help us see our inherent behaviours and talk about them,” he said.

Talking about how the idea of making a film like “Natkhat” come up, Vyas shared that in 2018 there was a spate of cases of female oppression, and one such case triggered his thought process on “many levels” and led him to the pursuit of causes and remedies for this problem.

“When I explored the causes of any kind of violence and abuse, I realised that a large part of it stems from a superiority in the belief system — from a perception of power inequality. When I looked at the remedies available, none of them were preventive and each of them addressed post-abuse measures. The topic sprang from this,” he told IANS.

It was a burst of anger that led Vyas to explore and eventually come up with a very skeletal draft of the story, which he tags as “a germ of an idea”.

“But what I had written was a story about masculinity written by a man. It was incomplete and impulsive. Annukampa Harsh, my co-creator (co-writer, creative producer, casting director and acting coach) then came on board and transformed it. She got the empathy and compassion into the script, and imbued it with a life and a heartbeat,” Vyas recalled.

He credits Harsh for getting the feminine energy into the film and its making.

“Natkhat” is 33 minutes long. “In India, our short film average between 15 to 25 minutes, and so we were very apprehensive when our film timed at 33 mins. But eventually, if a film hooks you, time does not seem to matter.”

He added: “As first-time filmmakers, we obviously had a lot to say and we tried cramming it all into 33 minutes, but with the conscious knowledge that maybe all of it won’t be comprehensible. It also helped that there is a story within the story for audiences to follow and hold their attention.”

“Natkhat” gives out a strong message regarding gender equality. The film premiered on YouTube as part of the ‘We Are One: A Global Film Festival’ on June 2.