Sreyashi Sen is eagerly looking forward to the easing of Covid-19 restrictions to shoot her new feature film, the true story of a Goan man living on the streets of Mumbai who went on to launch a sensational music career in France. An Indian-origin Singaporean producer, Sen (who was born in Kolkata) believes in stories that span borders.
Similarly, Sandrine Brauer is holding on to a script about a French woman looking for her new lover (whom she met online in India) until the situation improves for film production. An award-winning film producer in France, Brauer shares Sen’s philosophy of human stories transcending geographical boundaries.
Besides being well-known film producers, Sen and Brauer also represent a new wave of change taking place in the global film industry, that of ushering in equal opportunities and gender diversity. Both believe in the idea of men and women working together without discrimination and are supporters of the MeToo movement, which exposed rampant sexual abuse two years ago.
“There is an immediate connection between violence against women and lack of opportunities,” says Brauer, who co-founded the hugely influential Collective 50/50 of film and television professionals in 2018. “We want to change the system and improve the way male and female professionals work together in the audio-visual industry,” she adds.
Launched at the 2018 Cannes film festival with a walk on its famous red carpet by 82 international film personalities, including Nandita Das and Cate Blanchett (82 denoted the number of women directors selected in the Cannes competition since its first edition in 1946 against 1,688 men), Collective 50/50 marked its entry in India last week with the signing of an agreement with the embassy of France to promote gender diversity in the audio-visual sector.
“India is the first country where Collective 50/50 has signed an agreement with the French embassy,” says Brauer, who was joined by Sen and The Lunchbox co-producer Guneet Monga (co-founder of cinema collective Indian Women Rising) at a signing ceremony in New Delhi last week, which was also attended by visiting French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. “We hope to sign agreements in more countries in the future,” adds Brauer.
In the middle of the pre-production of her new feature film Slow Joe, Sen is determined to ‘tell more women’s stories’. “I am looking for stories of women, stories with a lot of diversity,” says Sen, a former senior official of UN Women in Singapore. One of her documentary projects is about a girl from the Chhara tribe in Gujarat fighting her community’s ‘criminal tribe’ tag by building a school for its children.
Another documentary project by Sen is about a tribal community in Solapur, Maharashtra, where women farm workers get rid of their wombs to increase their hours in the fields. “Everywhere in the world, women have similar tales to tell,” adds Sen, a Jadavpur University and Tata Institute of Social Sciences-Mumbai alumna, who hails from the family of the legendary Bengali director Bimal Roy.
Slow Joe, which will be shot in Goa, Mumbai and Paris and Lyon in France, boasts of an international cast and crew, including Jackie Shroff who plays the lead role and Narcos web series’ cinematographer Mauricio Vidal. The biopic— in English, French and Konkani and to be directed by Soumik Sen (of Gulaab Gang fame)— will focus on the Goan vagabond, known by the name of Joe, and the chance discovery of his singing talent by a French musician on a visit to Goa. Sixty-four-year-old Joe then travelled to France and his newly-formed band, Slow Joe and the Ginger Accident, opened a famous music festival in Rennes. When he died nine years later in France, Joe was a popular musician in Lyon, revered in a mural at the mayor’s office.
The gender diversity platform shared by Sen, Brauer and Monga— as part of the agreement signed between Collective 50/50 and the French embassy in India— owes its origins to a global initiative called Generation Equality Forum, which was launched in Mexico last month. The forum, co-created by UN Women with governments of France and Mexico to strengthen commitment to equal opportunities in the creative industry, will culminate in Paris in June this year.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer