We don’t always need expensive equipment to make art and tell a story. As Nandita Das proves through her short film, Listen to Her, shot on her phone, the beauty of a film lies in its intention and purpose.
Over the last couple of months, the COVID-19 Pandemic has changed the course of our lives, leaving the future with a certain uncertainty. But, in between the blaring noise of COVID-19, there lies the unheard echoes of another pandemic altogether; domestic violence. It’s no secret that, during the state of quarantine and a nationwide lockdown, the number of domestic violence cases has surged. In an attempt to stay indoors and ‘stay safe’, several women have been forced to be locked inside with their abusive partners. Listen to Her is a short film by filmmaker and actor, Nandita Das, which attempts to push this unheard voice to the front lines. Backed by foundations like UNESCO, UNFPA, UN Women, UNICEF, and the South Asia Foundation (Madanjeet Singh Foundation), this film not only brings out the plight of women facing domestic violence, but also the reinforcement of stereotypical gender roles and micro-aggressions faced by women on a daily basis.
The film, made during the lockdown, begins with a woman, played by Das, managing the roles of a working woman, mother, and wife. As her attention is divided between a work call, taking care of her son, and fulfilling the incessant needs of her husband, she receives a phone call from a woman in distress being physically abused by her husband. In a short seven minutes, the film decodes the layered meanings behind ‘abuse’ and ‘violence’ against women. The statistics surrounding domestic violence, globally, has been alarming to say the least. But often, it becomes a low buzz in the background. Listen to Her helps us understand the horrific circumstances of physical violence that women are subject to, and in doing so, the film gives a voice to women who haven’t been able to speak up against their perpetrators or whose voices have gone unheard.
But, what this film also points out is that abuse and violence goes beyond the physical. The everyday micro-aggressions like, for instance, expecting women to do all the household work, making unreasonable demands, and paying little heed to her job, also count as abuse.
Through the predicaments of two women, from different intersections of society, be it socio-economic backgrounds, class, or caste, Das shows that violence against women presents itself in different forms. Some more obvious and physical, and others more subtle and verbal.
The power of this film is in its intricacies. It brings about a sense of normalcy, especially in relation to the emotional and psychological abuse, that women have been conditioned to accept. And this itself shows the terrifying reflection of how society is towards its treatment of women. As the film ends with the words ‘Whisper, Speak, Shout’, there’s an understanding that it’s time to break this conditioning, end the silence against what we’ve accepted as ‘normal’, and speak up against forced gender roles. Perhaps, the title of the film reveals more than what we see at first glance. Just seeing the reports of the domestic violence surge or hearing the plight of women going through these circumstances are not enough. If we are to break the silence, take action, speak, and shout out against domestic violence, it is time we start listening, too.