Despite monumental progress in women’s rights, we still live in a world where rape victims are blamed and silenced into shame. One filmmaker, Ram Devineni, decided to embark on an artistic intervention.
Ram participated in street protests after the brutal gang rape of a student in Delhi, India. He realised that the prevalence of rape was not just a crime-and-justice issue, but a matter of social attitudes. He recalls how a policeman insinuated that the victim perpetrated the attack by walking home alone late at night, evidence of a victim blaming culture pervasive even among the authorities.
Hoping to change the status quo, Ram assembled a team to launch a mixed media campaign advocating for rape victims in India.
The first product of his endeavour was a short film remixed from devotional films of the 70s, but re-energised with a new storyline of female empowerment.
It all begins when the Lord Shiva, enraged at the prevalence of rape on Earth, bans the human race from having sex. With no outlet for lust, a war breaks out on Earth. Goddess Parvati, companion of Lord Shiva, goes down to Earth with a mission to emancipate women and save humankind from destroying itself.
Ram’s film was featured on NBC and VICE’s The Creators’ Project, and was a Vimeo Staff Pick.
Viddsee BUZZ spoke to Ram about his film:
We’re interested to know more about the creative process behind the script-writing. Did the footage inspire your storyline, or did you already have the story in mind and just had to find the corresponding footage?
Ram: The idea of the remix film was influence by DJ Spooky’s remix version of D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” which compelled audiences to address races in the America.
I had a very rudimentary story outlined, but the footage really guided the development of the script. I re-edited the film to closely align with the comic book using a dozen different Hindu mythological films from the 1970s and we added a new soundtrack by Rene Veron and voice over by Shubhra Prakash.
I understand that you grew up with these devotional films and comic books based on these stories like Amar Chitra Katha. How did it feel to be taking liberties to remix these texts? Was there any tension between respecting the source material and creating new meaning?
Ram: Actually, one requirement we set for ourselves when we started this entire project was to respect Hindu mythology and not to create something that will offend or degrade these ancient stories. I think we achieved this. Although the story is made up, we kept closely to the philosophy and sentiment.
We read in an earlier interview that you focused on the goddess Parvati specifically because she “challenges Shiva, the other gods and humans to open their eyes to sensitivity and struggles of others”. But at the same time, at the part of the film where Shiva abruptly abandons her, she becomes helpless. Do you feel that the use of Parvati as a feminist figure becomes limiting in this way?
Ram: In Hindu philosophy, Shiva’s eyes are shut because he is removed from the fears of others. For Shiva, the easiest solution is the most direct one – stop the humans from procreating. But, Parvati will not allow that.
In Devdutt Pattanaik’s book, “The Seven Secrets of Shiva,” he writes: That is why the goddess stands in opposition of Shiva as both the radiant Gauri (producing light), and as the dark Kali (consuming light). She hopes to change Shiva the insensitive angry god into Shankara, the god who empathizes and is patient.
There is an enormous challenge when using ancient stories and trying to update them and especially interpreting with contemporary views. Although, Parvati seems to have vanished in the second act, she eventually returns to correct all of the misfortunes and problems resulting from the catastrophic war. She is the guiding light.
What are your future plans for the comic book released after the film, Priya’s Shakti?
Ram: We are working on the next chapter of the comic book and plan to introduce an arch-villain born from acid. Priya will confront the problem of acid-attacks, which also have similar cultural stigmas surrounding rape.
Above: Screenshots of the comic Priya’s Shakti. Find out more about the series and related events here.