For Maya (Vasudha Joshi, 1997)
The house in the hills opens to the lilting velvet of Shubha Mudgal’s thumri. Ranjan Palit’s camera, suffused with compassion and melancholy, tracks up the stairs of an ancestral mansion, steeped in the past. Maya, the daughter of film-maker Vasudha Joshi, playfully circles a pillar, beginning a new arc, as four generations of women and their stories unfold.
Constructed through conversations, interviews and candid family moments, For Maya (1997), a remarkable film by Vasudha Joshi, revisits the space of the familial. It is a voyage that brings forth not spectacular acts of violence, but the quotidian force fields of female power and resistance, through an autobiographical narrative that draws the viewer into its gentle vortex of memory—memories of subjugation of women over generations. A new kind of feminist ethnography unfolds. For Maya, made as a part of a series of films to mark the 50th anniversary of India’s Independence, marks a shift in the Indian feminist film-making, a shift towards interweaving the personal with the political, through an exploration of middle-class `normality’, a gentle, non-polemical introspection, which foregrounds everyday struggles in women’s lives.
As the sun nudges shadows in the long corridors of memories, Joshi, in a letter to her sister, Meenu, writes about a dream, a premonition about her mother, on her journey back to her maternal home in Almora. As Joshi walks through the chiaroscuro of empty corridors in her natal home, an old mute gramophone, empty vessels, forlorn memorabilia—the detritus of lives gone by—reveal themselves. Leafing through faded photographs, the film-maker stumbles upon the stories of her grandparents.
The viewer learns about Joshi’s unnamed grandmother not through her own words. She is silent and silenced, a shadowy figure, who smiles out of an old photograph, whose story echoes the stories of many women of her era and years to come. Meenu shares memories of their grandmother, who was never allowed to play as a young girl: the beginning of a long haul of denial, subtle subjugation and resistance…