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W.O.M.B: Women of My Billion (dir. Ajitesh Sharma, 2021)

“When I started out on my journey I looked upon this big mountain.  This mountain was made up of the molesters, the acid throwers, the abusers. It was scary, and it was breathing fire at me.  But I decided to march towards it with one thought in mind – in order to achieve something you never had, you had to do something you never did.”

In 2016, a mother and her teenaged daughter were gang-raped on National Highway 91, not far from Delhi near the city of Bulandshahr.  This was a horrific story in a series of horrific stories about attacks on Indian women, but the news reached Srishti Bakshi who, at the time, was working abroad in Hong Kong, where, as she describes it, conversations about culture inevitably turned to conversations about how India was unsafe for women.  These conversations, understandably, frustrated the independent and empowered Bakshi.  Her frustration grew alongside news of other attacks on women, rapes or acid attacks, about issues like dowry debt (in which families over-extend themselves to provide a large dowry to try to marry their daughters into a family from a better social class).  Dealing with these issues made Bakshi feel like she just needed to go for a walk to let go of her frustrations, but she didn’t do what I usually do when I feel like this, walk in circles around my neighborhood until the frustration passes.  Instead, Bakshi decided to return to India, to try to “understand the reality on the ground”, to talk with the women of India, and share their stories.  Her goal was to learn if her country was beyond repair, or if, perhaps, there was some kind of hope for the women of India.  Her walk?  3800 kilometres, in 240 days, from Kanyakumari – the southern most tip of India in the state of Tamil Nadu – to Kashmir in the north.  Along the way, she meets with groups of women, school children, and men, doing workshops, listening to their stories, challenging their views with every step she takes on her journey.

Read the rest of this review at Bollyspice, where it is part of coverage of the 2021 edition of the London Indian Film Festival.

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