SchspIN

An Actress's Thoughts

Brown People Matter

South Asia and a German Film – Brown People Matter

Today‘s text is about the media coverage of the floods in USA and South Asia, the German film MONSOON BABY, fake news and two projects – one dance and one documentary – that are being crowdfunded at the moment.

Floods

2. Sept. 17
It is Saturday morning, I turn on the radio and listen to a feature on Texas / USA, the effects of tropical hurricane „Harvey“, floodings, destroyed houses, nearly 60 dead, evacuated people, individual fates in short interviews.
At the full hour there‘s the news, again featuring Texas, and twenty minutes later the next report on it, this time announcing that US president Donald Trump will visit the disaster area again.
The media in Germany started reporting on the disaster even bevor the hurricane reached Texas and have been doing so since then, daily, sometimes every hour and more.
It took much longer for the media to pick up on the floodings in South Asia. In India, but also in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan this year‘s monsoon caused extreme floodings, more than 1,500 people did in the last three weeks (different sources mention figures between 1,300 and 2,100 dead), it ruined harvests, and is leading to hunger and diseases.
But news are sparse, in Germany and also in other countries, daily extensive background information, donation appeals (e.g. in public TV and radio) are missing.
It is evident that I don‘t want to play down the sufferings of the people in Texas. But just listening to the figures of those who died there and there makes me catch my breath. From Texas we more or less heard daily updates concerning the numbers, 30, 32, 35, 41, 47, 50, 55, 57 dead; the figures for South Asia are estimations, rounded numbers. But not 30, 50 or 100 persons, but more than 1,000, maybe 1,500 or 1,700 people, who drowned or were buried in landslides or killed by electric shocks. 45 M people, 16 M of these being children, are directly affected by this disaster.

Fill the Gaps!

A lot of people keep saying „yes, but the USA are closer to us“ – maybe, yes. When I look at my Twitter bubble, e.g. the international film industry contacts and the networks of my contacts, then it is understandable that I read more tweets on US topics in my timeline – whether important or completely banal, more tweets than on most other countries and regions. But even the fact that I try to follow „responsible media“ etc. does not really lead to a true globalisation of the information available to me, just as listening to and watching to public radio and TV programmes. But I do need these other, different news. Isn‘t that one of the tasks of public news programmes?
I don‘t want to have to listen to endless reports and speculations all the time on how and if and when US president Trup is visiting Texas and if he will have photos taken together with disaster victims as his predecessors did – as long as I don‘t even know (because it is never mentioned) who are the heads of government in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. I know more about the shoes Melania Trump wore at her last visit to Texas than about German relief organisations that are active in South Asia at the moment and that collect donations. The German media often report on racism of whites against blacks in the USA – and are silent when the lives and deaths of brown people are concerned, in South Asia.
I don‘t worry so much about fake news (which have always existed), but about topics that are being ignored. About which issues are rated as important and which as unimportant information.

Information

A fews days ago Will Worley wrote in an article called South Asia flooding: How you can help the millions of victims (The Independent 30. Aug.): “Writing to your MP or donating to charities are among the ways you can help.“ and: “Write to your MP and ask them to raise the issue in Parliament when it reconvenes. Ask them to ask for the UK to commit funding to the relief effort.“ He included a link to a website where you can find your MP. As helpful charities he recommended Unicef and Oxfam.

In the German version of this text I included information about German relief organizations and also about German MPs and candidates (with our next general elections coming up on Sept. 24). Here I can at least add the heads of government for the four mentioned South Asian countries:

  • India: Mr. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister since 26 May 2014. Bharatiya Janata Party.
  • Pakistan: Mr Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Prime Minister since 1 Aug. 2017. Pakistan Muslim League.
  • Bangladesh: Ms. Hasina Wajed, Prime Minister since 6 Jan. 2009. Bangladesh Awami League.
  • Nepal: Mr. Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Prime Minister since 3 Aug. 2016, Communist Party of Nepal.

A Special Film

1 Sept.
Friday Night. I just finished watching MONSOON BABY (2014) on the ARD media player (in German: here) directed by Andreas Kleinert, written by Florian Hanig, Sandra Nettelbeck, Andreas Kleinert, which I had missed the first time round when it premiered on German TV on 17.9.14. The film is a co-production betwee Roxy Film and BR Bayrischer Rundfunk (Bavarian public broadcasting).

For many years Nina and Mark have been trying to have a child, including many unsuccessful attempts with IVF treatment. Adoption is not an option for them. They long for their own child, brought to life by their love for one another. Their seemingly last resort, still illegal in Germany, is a surrogate mother. For financial reasons, they choose India. Nina’s fertilised ova are implanted in the womb of a young Indian woman. Everything goes well and Nina and Mark are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their baby when, out of the blue, they receive harrowing news. The surrogate mother has vanished. The German couple, against all odds, starts out on a search for the woman with their child in her belly.
from IMBD

This summary is not quite accurate and it doesn’t mention the doubts about the ethical side of this deal and the struggle of Nina, who returns to India on her own to work in the hospital to be near the surrogate mother Shanti, but it also appears like this on the website of production company Roxy Film, maybe it is from an earlier version of the script.
In the article on German Wikipedia (there is no English version) Indian surrogate mother Shanti (full name unknown) is mentioned several times – underlined in blue – but she does not appear in the short cast list. Neither does the Indian doctor Kamalika (full name unknown).

German Wikipedia article on MONSONN BABY. Screenshot. Blue underlinings by me.

Shanti is played by Indian actress Tillotama Shome, whom you may have seen as Alice in MONSOON WEDDING (director Mira Nair), and who kindly made this photograph (by Ishaan Nair) available for this blog.

Tillotama Shome. Foto: Ishaan Nair

Tillotama Shome. Photo: Ishaan Nair

Shanti, the surrogate mother, is a very important character in this film, performed by Tillotma Shoma impressively and with much expression, without German or English language – in contrast he doctor, Kamalika (Swaroopa Gosh), speaks both languages since according to the plot she spent a few years in Germany (Heidelberg). Both are main characters, alongside Mark (Robert Kuchenbuch)  and Nina (Julia Jentsch), who is at the centre of the story and has the most scenes. This is also the order of the ending titles of the film: Nina, Mark, Shanti, Kamalika.
As mentioned before, some sources don‘t list Shanti and Kamalika at all or only at the very end, as you can see in the following table. I use the order of the end titles as a reference:

MONSOON BABY: order of roles acc. to different sources. IMDB lists alphabetically, crew united defines the first three roles as leads.

Crew United defines three roles as leads: Nina, Mark and Dora, Nina‘s colleague from work, who appears in two scenes, one without words. Most supporting roles, including two little children – Loretta and Lucas – appear before Shanti / Tillotama Shome (who is misspelt Tilotama Shoma in the end titles). Co-producing TV channel BR also puts Shanti and Kamalika at the end of the list. They don‘t appear at all at Filmportal or Roxy Film (which only names Nina and Mark). On IMDB you find the whole list in alphabetical order (according to the names of the actors and actresses) which leads to the strange short version with 3 names, all 3 minor parts, Shanti‘s husband (nameless) and the two young children of Mark‘s brother, Loretta and Lucas.

WHY? And did really nobody notice this?
Who is copying from whom, and why does the list from co-producer BR differ so much from the end titles?

There is a certain irony in one of the last scenes of the film. Nina and Mark visit the German consulate to get a passport for their newborn child, and the consulate employee says: “I bet you don‘t even know the name of the surrogate mother!“. (Nina answers “Shanti“. She knows the first name, at least that).
I will contact the data bases and producers and hope they will change the lists.

Update Sept. 13

My thanks go to Crew United and Filmportal, who reacted in a really friendly way to my request and corrected their cast lists for MONSOON BABY, promoting the important Indian characters Shanti (Tillotama Shome) and Kamalika (Swaroopa Gosh) to positions 3 and 4.
Data bases are only as good as the information available to their makers. Someone at Crew United told me that they usually get the information on casts from press releases, and that participants in the productions also add data. Someone at Filmportal related that they use various sources like press releases and film productions‘ websites, it is not possible for people from the industry to add data themselves.
I was able to sort the cast of MONSOON WEDDING in the IMDB database, and did so according to the end titles. In the short version you now see Julia Jentsch, Robert Kuchenbuch and Tillotama Shome as the three leads. And now (Sept. 25) also the wikipedia article has been changed and the India actresses and actor added to the cast. Thanks to whoever did this!)

Dance and Documentary

I‘d like to end today‘s text mentioning two very interesting and important projects that are just being crowdfunded at the moment, and that are led by Indian female artists, currently living in the USA.

SHYAMALI: GREEN GRASS, WOMEN & DISSENT

My friend Ananya Chatterjea, dancer, choreographer and teacher at University, orginally from Mumbai but living in the USA for a while now, is planning her project 2017 with her company, the Ananya Dance Theatre:

“Shyamali” is an evening length dance inspired by the courage of women around the world, The word “shyamali” means “dark green” in Bengali, and invokes the resilience of grass, which springs up when trod upon.
This fundraising campaign supports “Shyamali,” our 2017 production that explores how dissent fuels life force and growth, recognizes the courage of women who speak up and talk back to sustain communities against injustice, and celebrates women who refuse to be broken.
Ananya Dance Theatre is a professional dance company of primarily women artists of color who create “People Powered Dances of Transformation.” We are cultural activists, working through dance and artistic processes to engage audiences, build community, and move toward social justice and beauty.

You can read more information on the project on razoo.com. And  you can find Ananya on twitter.

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BUT WHAT WAS SHE WEARING?

Director and producer Vaishnavi Sundar is from Chennai in Southeastern India. Marian Evans (of Wellywood Woman) introduced us on twitter. Vaishnavi founded Women Making Films India and is currently planning a documentary on workplace sexual harassment, together with executive producer Hannah Latimer Snell and editor Lisa Friedhofen.

Vaishnavi says about her filmmaking:

Most of my work is an interplay of gender issues and social justice. I dream that one day I can walk down the road, alone at midnight, without a speck of fear in my mind. I am a firm believer of community and sisterhood, so apart from my production company, Lime Soda Films, I have also created Women Making Films, an online global community, which serves as a feminist space that fearlessly questions, condemns sexism and gender inequality.

This is the official description of the project:

Our documentary will critically examine the nature of workplace sexual harassment by speaking to both the lawmakers as well as the people for whom such laws are made. What constitutes a workplace? What happens if the harasser is your employer? What are the policies and rights of women, and how are the governing bodies responding? The film intends to tackle the juxtaposition of policies vs. the reality and hopes to tell the tales of crimes that have gone unpunished and/or unreported.

You can read more information on the project on this page (indiegogo). You can find Vaishnavi on twitter or via the website of Women Making Films. The deadline for funding BUT WHAT WAS SHE WEARING? is coming up soon, if you want to support the project beyond that date get in touch with Vaishnavi via indiegogo or twitter.

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