'Asanghadithar', the film directed by Kunjila Mascillamani in Jeo Baby’s anthology, 'Freedom Fight', fictionalises a real fight for rights.

A bunch of women are in an office space, some sitting in front a table, the others standing behind themStill from 'Asanghadithar'
Flix Interview Sunday, February 13, 2022 - 15:18

When she received a call from Jeo Baby, director of The Great Indian Kitchen, Kunjila Mascillamani had a half shot documentary with her. Jeo was putting together an anthology of short films and asked Kunjila if she’d like to join. She would, she said. The documentary was stuck midway, being crowdfunded. If she could fictionalise it, reshoot it and make it part of a film anthology, it’d get a wider reach. The story of Penkootu, which she had begun to tell, would reach many more. Kunjila called her film Asanghadithar (The Unroganised), and made it a part of Jeo’s anthology Freedom Fight, which released on February 11 on streaming platform SonyLIV.

“There was a long interview of Viji chechi in the documentary, which I recreated and took parts from for the film,” Kunjila says on a phone call. Viji is the face of Penkootu – the association that fought to bring several basic rights to women workers. It began with a street in Kozhikode – SM Street, popularly known as the Mittayitheruvu. Women working in shops along the street didn’t have toilet access. They would work for 10 to 12 hours a day and not be able to go to a toilet because none of the shops had one. There was no public toilet there at the time -- about 10 years ago.

In Kunjila’s film, a group of women depend on the local restaurant for relieving themselves, going there for evening tea only to be able to use the toilet there. Srindaa, leading the gang, puts forth a delightful performance, first sweetly asking the boss for a toilet and when left without an option, gathering the women and fighting for it. It is not a filmy fight, but a very realistic one, where the women show their fear, helplessness and willingness to learn. Viji plays herself in the film.

Read: P Viji from Kozhikode, who came on BBC's 100 Women list, tells her story

“I have worked with Viji chechi before – she acted in one of my short films. So she was quite game to be part of Asanghadithar. She said, “what’s to act, it is my life,”” says Kunjila, who was a student of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute and has made short films as Nunakkathakal, Gi , Pattu and Gruhapravesham before.

Srindaa was the first actor Kunjila contacted for Asanghadhithar and she immediately came on board. A lot of the other actors were chosen after an audition. Some were non-actors too, women playing themselves like Viji.

“There are changes in the SM Street now, compared to 10 years ago. The first e-toilet came to Kerala as a result of the strike of Penkootu. More toilets came but some of the shopping complexes still don’t have one,” Kunjila says.

The film also touches upon the hardships transgender people face to get jobs. “There has been some change in Kerala; the problems of gender minorities get discussed at least. And some job opportunities have been created [for transgender persons] like in Kochi metro. But their problem doesn’t end with jobs. What about their accommodation? There are still more areas to be addressed,” Kunjila adds.

She hopes the film will rekindle discussions on this front.

Also read: Hope Freedom Fight starts discussions the way The Great Indian Kitchen did: Jeo Baby

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