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“Religion Needs to be Separated from Law” – New Film Takes Up the Uniform Civil Code

A new short film by Oorvazi Irani brings up the question of the female identity at the intersection of religion, law and patriarchy.

By Neha Kirpal

Anahita’s Law is a short film directed, produced and performed by Oorvazi Irani. The film is an attempt to redefine a woman’s identity in the 21st century by questioning certain patriarchal beliefs and perceptions in Indian society.

A monologue in which a single actor portrays the ancient Persian Avestan Goddess of the Waters and Parsi Zoroastrian characters from the past and today, it tells the stories of three Parsi women who lived through suffering and overcome the prejudices of biased tradition. The stories are told as recollection and action in a minimalist cinema tradition.

Film educationalist, an acting coach and the director of SBI Impresario, Oorvazi Irani speaks to eShe about the idea behind the film, the relevant questions it raises and the experience of playing the roles of women belonging to three different age groups.

How did you come up with the idea for the film?

A discussion about the Uniform Civil Code in a news article over a morning cup of coffee is where it all began. The germ of the idea was propelled by the public discussion on the Uniform Civil Code, which for me brought into focus two very important issues – one being gender and the other religion. Then followed the critical collaboration with me as a director and Farrukh Dhondy as the writer of the film.

With his years of wisdom and technical brilliance, Farrukh brought the film to life, its ideas and concepts through human stories and poetic symbolism. All of us being Parsi thought it would be a good idea to look at the woman of the 21st century through the prism of this dwindling community and raise universal questions that are relevant to every woman in all parts of the world, specifically India.

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What are the questions that Anahita’s Law raises on caste and gender-based stereotyping in the 21st century?

The film with its unique form of minimalism, close-up and monologue, seeks to question how you perceive a woman. The lens and the gaze in the film, including the camera and the text, help you to reflect on that very identity that you create in your mind as an active audience.

The film presents the woman as different characters and in different avatars – the goddess, the victim, the adulteress, the rebel. Through these various perspectives and journeys, it takes you into the past and the present where women were and are still grappling with issues revolving around motherhood, interfaith marriage and how being a woman has been the cause for gender injustice and discrimination. Does the womb empower or limit the woman in the 21st century? Is our country still ruled by religious law, which is gender-biased? These are some of the questions the film seeks to raise in its unfolding.

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Are the stories based on real women and true events?

Yes, the stories are inspired from the real-life growing up years in Pune of the writer Farrukh Dhondy. The lawyer’s story in the film is something many women from the Parsi community have faced after their interfaith marriages.

What are some of the injustices of the Indian Uniform Civil Code that need to be put right?

The film takes a basic stand that religion needs to be separated from law, and law has to be equal on all grounds including gender. The Uniform Civil Code offers an opportunity where religion does not override the law of the country and that is an important point to make for me as a filmmaker. I realise that the implementation makes the law complex and that needs to be debated.

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Oorvazi Irani

What was it like to play the role of three different age groups?

At first, it seemed daunting because I not only had to play someone half my age and someone more than double my age but I had to convincingly play someone who is ageless and timeless. As an artist, I trusted my intuition and some sincere advice from my dear friend and the much-loved actor, Tom Alter, came handy.

For me, playing the part is an extension of being the creator of the work and it is fascinating to be the very substance that you are creating. However, I could not have achieved the age shifts without my makeup artist, Shifa Khan, and cinematographer, Ranabir Das, who helped make the transition effortless and sincere. The impact would not be complete without the final nuances to the voice and mix with Sarath Mohan, who has been the associate sound recording mixer for big budget and artistic films like Padmaavat.

Anahita’s Law will premiere at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai, on 31 May 2019. It will subsequently release on the Humaramovie YouTube channel on 3 June 2019.

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