‘But what was she wearing?’: Chennai filmmaker’s crowdfunded project on workplace harassment

Vaishnavi's film is focused on the sexual harassment at workplace that women who live in the south experience.
‘But what was she wearing?’: Chennai filmmaker’s crowdfunded project on workplace harassment
‘But what was she wearing?’: Chennai filmmaker’s crowdfunded project on workplace harassment
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Chennai-based Vaishnavi Sundar defines herself as an independent filmmaker, writer, theatre actor and social justice activist.

She has been making films for the past five years, with a focus on gender issues. She's also the founder of Lime Soda Films, which makes grassroots films on social issues and documentaries.

Currently, Vaishnavi is crowdfunding a documentary on sexual harassment at the workplace, a complex issue that has gained media and public attention after certain high profile cases made it to the headlines.

Titled But what was she wearing?, the documentary, Vaishnavi says, will look at sexual harassment at the workplace that women who live in south India experience.

"This doesn't mean that all the women will be south Indians. For example, I want to look at how North Eastern women are targeted when they travel to other states and work there. I don't have to shoot in the North East for this...it makes more sense to talk to those who work here," points out Vaishnavi.

She has previously crowdfunded two other films. However, she says, this particular film has evinced even more interest and the money has been rolling in.

Recently, a video with Taapsee Pannu speaking at an East India Comedy panel went viral. While Taapsee spoke about the objectification of women in the film industry, she also laughed for a rape joke that one of the panelists made with reference to domestic workers.

However, while her comments on objectification were lauded, barely anyone criticised her acquiescence in passing off the sexual exploitation of domestic workers as "humour".

Too often, the workplace of the unorganised sector is not accorded the same seriousness that white collar workers assign for their own professional spaces. If privileged women have it bad in their industries, those who come from disadvantaged sections have it unimaginably worse.

But what was she wearing?, Vaishnavi says, will place equal emphasis on the unorganised sector as it will on formal industries.

"There's no point in doing this if I don't look at intersections," notes the filmmaker.

When she started working on the film and word got around, Vaishnavi recalls that many women just wanted to call her and speak.

"They told me that they didn't want to speak in the film or be part of it. But they just wanted to talk to me and tell me what had happened to them. I listened to their stories...and they would affect me quite a bit. Some of the stories were so nightmarish that I'd even question why I was doing this, if it was worth it at all," she shares.

As can only be expected, not many women wanted to speak on record in the film.

However, Vaishnavi says that the point of the film is in any case not to focus on the survivors alone but to look at the issue beyond the crime - to look at the systems and structures which embolden perpetrators and seem so keen to let them off the hook, and to spread awareness on what can be done in such a situation. Vaishnavi plans to speak to women who are in leadership positions in their respective workspaces for the film, too. 

"I'd also like to feature men who have experienced harassment. The genuine cases...but nobody has come forward so far," she adds.

The film has an all women international crew and Vaishnavi is thrilled to share that Miriam Mayer, a music composer who has worked on films like Saving Private Ryan and the Jurassic Park films among others, has agreed to come on board. But What Was She Wearing? is expected to be completed by December. If you wish to contribute to the project, you can do so here.


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