My Journey

Vaishnavi Sundar
Posted December 8, 2016 from India
Vaishnavi Sundar

My mother tells me, she was this close to losing me when I was born, and she had already started mourning for my loss.

There were complications, so I got put away in an incubator for weeks. Thanks to this complication, I had a perennial case of breathing disorders and other ailments that kept me in and out of hospitals. I was born and raised in an army neighbourhood of a small suburban town called Avadi. With a strong grip on sports, I beat my ailments, physiological as well as emotional. Sports was also my way of fathoming that the man whom the society calls my father, was the first man who I hated with all my heart, and have no trepidation about admitting it. I have succumbed to sexual and emotional abuse over the years and when I was young. I would long for one night where somebody was not bruised or bleeding, making aimless promises to a deaf god.

My horrifying childhood made me a recluse and my first contact with city life was expectedly traumatising. Add that with the endless harassments in public transport, roads and bus stops. It would be appropriate to check my privilege here - I think it is this awareness about everyone’s collective life struggle which makes me empathise with women all over the world. If this hadn’t done enough in making me an activist, six years of gaslighting relationship pushing me to the brink of suicide did the rest. I survived it - I still do not know how, but I think with every blow that life kicked me down with, I have come back up stronger and fiercer. I do not remember a time when “everything has worked out just fine” for me. It is as if I am always on my armour, waiting for something to attack, and I need to fight it. I have gotten used to this combat life so much, that it doesn’t surprise me when something goes wrong - I just elegantly pick up the pieces and keep moving on.

As my first initiative as a filmmaker, I built a community for women from all over the world who share a common interest in the audiovisual medium. We hear so much about Hollywood and Europe being obstinate in their means to achieve equal opportunities. And though it is solacing, it begs the question of whether a focused endeavour in every country could do better in closing the gender gap. A major part of my entire work speaks of the persecution faced by female filmmakers, as well as those belonging to the other minorities. There have been very few cases where a woman has managed to be funded for her project, on its face value, as it is written, verbatim. WMF is not an idea but a result of a lot of angst, disappointment and frustration.

Of all the progress it has achieved in just one year, the part I am very pleased about is the “Children Outreach Programme”. There is an inordinate amount of intellectual exchange that can happen via cinema but in most cases, we underestimate the emotional age of children and presume their ignorance on the subject matter. As a filmmaker, I have learnt that kids understand so much more than we imagine them to. This is the conclusion I drew from setting theatre workshops for children and making films with them. Cinema opens up opportunities for dialogues and discussions on topics they may otherwise be unfamiliar with. These includes topics like racism, sexism, casteism and gender violence, and it is not an easy job to involve young minds into such discussions, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way. So, I take films made for children (and by children) to schools, slums and other congregations - I mentor them by having post-screening discussions, try to bust myths surrounding filmmaking/arts as a career and engage with them about social justice and feminism, in general.

Along with this, my endeavour to break the man-made borders and unite women from all over the world remains adamant. I have been working on organising cross-cultural film festivals across borders which merge the many colours we possess but are separated by barbwires and walls. There are sisters in Pakistan and the US who have already come on board for such collaborations.

Life of an activist is a life of surprises. You never know when you will be sucked into an issue and you work tirelessly for it hoping that your efforts will help the future generations. Like the one that brought down an edition of magazine that slut shamed women for their clothes, called out the filmmakers who glorify stalking in cinema fully knowing that it would backfire on me, being from the same industry and recently, I was able to initiate a turnaround of a ten-year-old unofficial ban on emergency contraceptives in the state of Tamilnadu, India. I make films that fearlessly condemn patriarchy and its many evils - I am in the process of making a series of films and documentaries on topics of rape, domestic abuse, caste system’s impact on women, religion’s impact on women, gender binaries’ impact on children, and the list is quite long. I research extensively about the accomplishments of women in the film industry and archive it in the form of interviews, blogs, videos and numerous other forms. No, I am not paid for undertaking any of these projects but there is some inexplicable satisfaction in uniting women and bringing their stories to fore.

Yes, it is not an easy task to work on so much without a support system, other than a handful of friends who stand by me and encourage my ideas. This wider, global network would not only help me enrich knowledge, but also bestow me the emotional support and motivation, I so need in order to do everything I mentioned. I am a firm believer of the fact that women can uplift women, and owe it to themselves and to other women. World Pulse, to me, is that space where women can encourage each other. No matter where we are in the world at a given time, our challenges against misogyny, patriarchy and violence remain the same. We may be of any religion, any nationality, any linguistic and political affiliation - but patriarchy makes it a level playing ground (oh, the irony!) in treating us all as creatures deserving of violence and discrimination. We can change that only by coming together.

Comments 4

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allie shep
Dec 10, 2016
Dec 10, 2016

A VERY good piece Vaishnavi. Yes, ironically (as you say) patriarchy brings us together around the world. But I wish it didn't!!! The great thing nowadays, with sites like this, we all realise that patriarchy is the common enemy, and we can ensure that our daughters and neices are raised knowing an alternative. Allie x

Vaishnavi Sundar
Jan 10, 2017
Jan 10, 2017

Thank you, Allie - yes that is so true!

More power to you :)

Alexandra Fercak
Jan 04, 2017
Jan 04, 2017

Vaishnavi, you are truly inspiring! I will always remember this line from your post: 

I just elegantly pick up the pieces and keep moving on.

Thank you and all the best on your journey,

Vaishnavi Sundar
Jan 10, 2017
Jan 10, 2017

Alexandra, thank you - you will remember it because, you know it only too well - all women do. Hugs and solidarity! :)