The Unmaking of a Women’s Show: Guest post by executive producer Shital Morjaria

When we started Naveena, a women’s show (daily) in 2006 on TV9, a 24 hour Telugu news channel in Hyderabad in the state of Andhra Pradesh (South India), we were flooded with ideas from various quarters for producing makeovers and for introducing cooking and diet concepts. As we struggled to put across our vision and wriggled our way out of the suggestions being offered, people around found us strange and difficult. It was because through our show we chose career over make-up, women’s news over fashion and ordinary women’s inspirational stories over sensational coverage. Of course it took us a little while to be able to effectively package our show. But we did succeed against all odds and Naveena evolved into a daily program in the afternoon band focused on empowering women with information on their rights and questioning the discriminatory norms against women. What motivated us towards developing this kind of show was our disappointment and anger with the stereotypical portrayals of women in Indian films, television soaps, and news coverage in the mainstream media as a whole. Women in soaps were being portrayed both as victims and wrong doers, home makers and home breakers! In films they were sex objects conscious about their looks, but also vulnerable, sentimental and easy to tears. There was a clear gap between women’s everyday lives and the exaggerated representations of them.

Still from the show "Naveena"

Still from the show “Naveena”

Regional television in Andhra Pradesh had already defined the women’s show as a “homemakers” show. The shows were, and still are, about makeup, lifestyle products, and about how to be perfect housewives. What was interesting was that some chat shows also focused either on women’s traditional domestic roles or showcased them as achievers. Then there were also the weekly chat shows on current issues. Through their treatment of the subject matter, the broadcast media seemed to reconfirm traditional gender roles and promoted unrealistic ideals of chastity, passivity and dependence by women in a way that reinforced a patriarchal outlook.

TV9 “Naveena Song”

 

The “everydayness” of women’s emotions and aspirations as they went through their personal and professional lives were missing from these programmes. And this is where Naveena stepped in to fill the critical gap. For example, Naveena focused on gynecological problems that many women face on a routine basis but for which they do not seek help. When it came to economic independence, we informed our audience about how to execute simple things like opening a bank account, getting a driver’s license or a PAN card. We aired episodes on the legal rights of women whether it was maintenance, property rights or the effective procedures through which domestic violence could be tackled. Naveena took up various campaigns like “Eve Teasing”, “Dark is Beautiful,” “NRI fraud marriages,” “Unknown Faces in Sports,” and “Marital Rape.”

“Illegal Hysterectomies” episode of Naveena:


While the first year was dedicated to the campaign mode, in the second year we moved to a magazine format where we introduced the viewers to women’s news and careers, discussed nutrition for girls and women, and also included a segment on cooking that was addressed to men. In the third year we got into a more interactive mode where women (either by being present in the studio or through phone-in’s) shared diverse kinds of problems in their personal or professional lives, and through Naveena, we tried finding solutions to their problem. We also brought in experts to directly talk to our viewers on breast cancer, career counseling, and mental health. Apart from these segments, we incorporated investigative stories focused variously on women prisoners, joginis (servants of Gods driven into prostitution) and hijras (the third gender), and also on issues such as security concerns women face in the public domain during nights.

Naveena managed to distinguish itself from other women’s shows not only in terms of its content but also through its packaging. Where most women’s shows opted for a softer look through their use of pastel shades, Naveena’s look was bold, making no concession to received wisdom about what women’s show should comprise. The music used for the show was strong and made even more so through the use of hard-hitting bites. The promos for the show provided telling statistics on the subject that was being discussed and the Anchor of the programme was portrayed as a strong and modern woman. The idea was to create a new image of the contemporary woman who was self-sufficient, confident and bold about voicing her opinion. We also included toll free numbers of different help lines on our show. When women approached us for help we directed them to our regular panelists of guests who were lawyers, activists, feminists, counselors and doctors. I am proud that Naveena took up issues that no other programme had done, whether at the regional or national level in India. For instance, we did a series on breasts: right from the correct bra size to campaigns on breast cancer. On air, we talked about marital rape. We did episodes on problems women have if their partners suffer from premature ejaculation. And in a lighter vein we also had a cookery show for men, which was called “Superman!” I wish to emphasize here that the range of issues we tackled and the impact we were able to make would not have happened without the regular inputs from every member of the team  All the persons associated with the making of Naveena owned the programme completely and worked as a team right through.

“Domestic Violence Act” episode of Naveena:

 

On January 2006, Naveena introduced its own contest — the Naveena Mahila Contest. Fed up with beauty contests in the country we decided to honor women from the grassroots level who had shown extraordinary courage. The Mahila Contest was an effort to showcase the struggles of these women and also to share with the public their inspiring stories. The awards were instituted for three categories: i) fighting for one’s right; ii) fighting against a social evil and iii) showing courage in any situation of their life. Beginning with 2006, the contest has honored women on March 8th on the occasion of International Women’s Day every year.

Still from the show "Naveena"

Still from the show “Naveena”

In the context of mainstream television where stereotyping of women and sensational journalism, sans ethics, easily takes over, I strongly believe that a program like Naveena is important. And while I accept the criticism on behalf of my news channel for perhaps being a part of the breaking news genre, I would also like to say that no other channel could have sustained Naveena every day for three years. It occurs to me that a show such as Naveena was only to have been expected from a channel like TV9 that has the line ‘For a Better Society’ as its motto. In fact, this tagline was my inspiration when I joined TV9 as a reporter. It continues to motivate my work with the organization.

Thinking back on the journey that Naveena has been, I have also realized that when one breaks norms, does something bold, unmakes or redefines something, there are many hurdles. For instance, we were branded feminists when we talked about domestic violence, as men haters when we spoke about marital rape and lesbians when we spoke of same sex love. We however continued to take up topics that mainstream society would find uncomfortable but that would eventually help vulnerable women navigate their lives better.

Winning the Ramnath Goenka award (the highest award for journalism in India) was hugely encouraging because the fight can get lonely at times. However, when the same work gets recognition, its worth is reconfirmed. Such recognition is especially important for us within the broadcast media because of the immense pressure exerted by the system of TRP’s [Television Rating Points]. The awards become that much more significant because unfortunately we in the mainstream media have not developed a method of measuring the impact of a show focused on social change in ways that can counter the pressure of TRP’s. Naveena is a show about our lives, our struggles and our aspirations as women. Though social change in a patriarchal society is slow it is sure to happen. I believe that this fight of ours for social change will succeed when it takes place in diverse spheres. The mainstream medium of television is one such critical domain and my location here enables me to contribute to the many efforts that seek to redefine the world.

Learn more about Shital Morjaria and her work at:

Naveena: tv9naveena.com
Banayenge Films: banayengefilms.com

_______________________

Guestpost-Morjaria-bioShital Morjaria has done her Masters in Mass Communication from the University of Hyderabad. Shital started her career in media with creative writing and television reporting and has made many documentaries on social issues. Presently she is working as the Executive Producer for TV9 a television channel which is based in Hyderabad. In 2008 Shital won the Goenka, the highest award in journalism in India for her show Naveena, based on women’s issues from a gender and rights perspective.

About Naveena:

Launched on 8th March 2006, Naveena started as a daily show on contemporary women’s issues. After being on air for three years every day Naveena’s format has recently changed to a weekly chat show.

Naveena takes up subjects that are taboo in the society and often dismissed as controversial issues. Naveena believes in questioning discriminatory norms for women through many debates and campaigns. For many a woman’s show has meant a make over show, a beauty contest, a recipe-based program however these are the very definitions that Naveena has tried to keep away from. Priority has been given to career over make up, women news over fashion and women inspirations over recipes.

Naveena’s goal has been to initiate a small revolution through mainstream television on women issues from a gender and rights perspective. Naveena has also tried to create a network with activists, lawyers and NGOs for women who have approached it for help.

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Her.Stories: Uma Thurman on sexualization of women in film, women in Hollywood (we don’t look like men), filmmaker Maryam Keshavarz, Venice film festival

Women’s Film and Stage Roles! Are Any Good, Dramatic Parts Being Written?
at Technorati

Women directors take front row at Venice film festival
at The Express Tribune

Women Can’t Gain Influence in Hollywood Because Women Don’t Look like Men
at Forbes

Zimbabwe: LIFF 2012 to Laud Successful Women
(International Images Film Festival)
at All Africa

Filmmaker teaches movie magic to Chile’s slum kids
at NBC 29

Every Woman’s Story Counts — Including Yours                                                        (Thanks to Marian Evans for tweeting this story!)
at The Huffington Post

A Feminist Look at The Women of ‘Arrested Development’
at Bitch Flicks

Maryam Keshavarz, interview: ‘Iran’s women like to kick up the dirt a little’
at The Telegraph

Women of Bhakti film screening
at The Washington  Times

Uma Thurman on the Sexualisation of Women in Film: ‘It Felt Paralysing’
at Grazia 

All-female broadcast crew that strives to keep it reel
at This Is Scunthorpe

Women’s Stories Weekly

Side by Side: To Siberia, With Love

“Lynch Mob Like Tactics From Homophobic Youths and Inadequate Police Protection Force Side by Side LGBT Film Festival to Cancel the Third and Final Day of the Event in Novosibirsk.”

Read the full post over at Wellywood Woman.

Producing Legend Kathleen Kennedy Named Co-chair of LucasFilm

Read the full story at Variety.

Janet Jackson to Produce Documentary About Transgender Lives

Read the full story at the Huffington Post.

Women-Centric Films Opening Friday, June 8

Check out this awesome list over at Bitch Flicks.

Hollywood Reporter Drama Showrunner Panel — Four White Guys and Two Women of Color

Post from Melissa Silverstein of Women and Hollywood.

A Scandalous Portrayal? Black Women in the Media

Excellent piece over at Left Out.

Women’s stories this week

The first annual Adrienne Shelly Foundation Woman of Vision Salute was held at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City on November 2 to honor the achievements of filmmaker Nicole Holofcener.  The event included a talk with Holofcener hosted by Catherine Keener. On November 1, the Foundation launched an ebay auction with a host of big names in entertainment (Rosario Dawson, Jon Hamm and others) to help raise money for the work of the Foundation.  The Adrienne Shelly Foundation supports many organizations in their funding of women filmmakers and women in film.  An excerpt from the ASF’s mission statement reads:  “The Adrienne Shelly Foundation supports the artistic achievements of female actors, writers and directors through a series of scholarships and grants…”

The ASF was set up in 2006 by Andy Ostroy in remembrance of his late wife’s work as an actress and filmmaker as a way to support the work of women filmmakers.  Adrienne Shelly was murdered in 2006 while she was writing in her downtown New York office.  Her death affected me greatly, having been a long-time admirer of hers and inspired in many, many ways by the first film I saw her in, Hal Hartley’s 1990 film Trust.  November 1 marks the date of her death.  Adrienne Shelly was 40 years old.

After years of working as an actress, she went on to write and direct, most famously the huge success Waitress, starring Keri Russell, Cheryl Hines, Andy Griffith, Jeremy Sisto and Nathan Fillion. (Cheryl Hines later directed Serious Moonlight written by Adrienne Shelly.)  Andy Ostroy wrote an article in the Huffington Post earlier this week in honor of the five year anniversary of Adrienne Shelly’s death.  Also, take a look at a video below of Shelly talking about her inspiration for the film Waitress.


“The War We Are Living,” the fourth film in the five-part PBS documentary series Women, War and Peace aired on Tuesday.  This film focused on Afro-Colombian women in a resource-rich area of Colombia whose land was under threat from internal and foreign corporations and miners.  Colombia’s history of paramilitary groups fighting with guerrilla groups devastated the country and residual effects are still being felt.  Many people within the community of Toma were threatened by terrorist groups in order to force them to leave so the land could be taken over.  These groups also killed many community members in an attempt to scare them away from their communities.

Two women, Clemencia Carabali and Francia Marquez, were strong and vociferous leaders in the community who opposed the terrorism.  They helped to organize their fellow community members to oppose the government’s deferral of responsibility when it came to revoking mining rights given to Hector Sarria under the false pretenses of there not being any Afro-Colombian community in the area (Toma) with whom he should confer to receive the community’s approval.  By saying on paper that there was no Black community in Toma, the government helped to make these Afro-Colombian communities invisible and allowed people with no authority to mine in the area.  Under Colombian law, Afro-Colombians have legal protections.  But the community stood up and said “No,” and the government was forced to back down.

If you missed this episode, you can watch it online at PBS.  The fifth and final film (“War Redefined”)  in the Women, War and Peace series will air on Tuesday, November 8.  You can tweet along during the show by labeling your tweets with #wwplive and follow the series on twitter @WomenWarPeace and Abigail Disney, Executive Producer of the series @AbigailDisney.


Wellywood Woman: For women who make movies.                                                      And for the people who love them.

Marian Evans, author of the blog, Wellywood Woman, penned a gorgeous piece last week about the Mumbai International Film Festival and the seeming increase in support for women filmmakers.  She explores this topic with a journalist as well as explores the films and lives of various women filmmakers to try to find some answers as to why.  In 2010, the Mumbai International Film Festival (MAMI for short) had an all-female jury headed by renowned filmmaker, Jane Campion, and the 2011 festival had a large number of films made by women.

Read Marian’s article, “Going Global via MAMI” and follow her on twitter @devt and on Facebook at Development the Movie.


It was announced recently that there will not be a Birds Eye View Film Festival in 2012.  Last year, the UK Film Council closed and as a result, BEV is unable to continue with its plans for a 2012 festival.  From the BEV website: “Over the past few years, the UK Film Council supported the Birds Eye View Film Festival through their Film Festivals Fund and Diversity Grant in Aid. Since the closure of the Film Council, funds have transferred to the BFI. As yet, there is no provision for either Festivals or Diversity, leaving BEV with a 90% drop in public funds.”

This is a huge loss, but I have no doubt that BEV will be back in 2013.  There is a great informative FAQ-type page on the BEV website you can read here which talks about their plans and how the public can help.  This story isn’t getting nearly enough attention, if you ask me, especially because this is just one of the effects of the closure of the UK Film Council which was predicted.  The closure was a move opposed by many in the industry, including Mike Leigh, one of England’s leading filmmakers (and admired around the world) whose films have depended on the Council.  You can read some mentions in the press below and follow BEV on twitter @BirdsEyeViewFF.

“We can’t run our film festival next year — but we’ll be back” (2 Nov 2011, The Guardian)

“Birds Eye View Festival 2012 cancelled due to funding cuts” (27 Oct 2011, Screen Daily)

Shattering the glass ceiling (on Danish television)

 

“Borgen” is a Danish television series that is currently being broadcast on LinkTV in the United States (found on DirecTV channel 375 and Dish Network channel 9410). It had its east coast premiere on Saturday, October 29 and west coast premiere the following day.  The series is about a woman politician who through a series of scandals (of other politicans) as well as through her own tenacity and clarity of vision she displays at a huge debate a couple of days before the election, becomes Prime Minister of Denmark!  The character is “Birgitte Nyborg Christensen” and is played by Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen.  “Borgen” runs for 10 episodes in season one, four of which were directed by Annette K. Olesen and two by Louise Friedberg.

Its intrigue is certainly as high as the smash hit “West Wing” which ran on NBC in the States for several years, and gives you a good insight into the behind the scenes dealings within Danish politics. It’s also the first series I’ve heard of with a woman leader of the government since Geena Davis’ “Commander in Chief” series in which she played “President MacKenzie Allen.”  It ran on ABC during the 2005-2006 television season.  “Borgen” (“Castle” in Danish) also sold at MIPCOM in Cannes recently to South America (including Brazil, specifically), Europe, Asia and Australia, plus, the show is being turned into a board game!

Check out LinkTV (the best channel in existence, if you ask me, and I’m a six+ year faithful viewer!) to catch the next episodes of “Borgen” which will air on Saturdays at 9:30pm (Eastern) and Sundays at 9:30pm (Pacific), or you can watch online at www.linktv.com/borgen.  I tweeted about the show a few times last week in the run-up to its Saturday premiere since I’ve seen it advertised on LinkTV since September and couldn’t wait to watch.  The American media seems to not be paying much attention to the show — yet, and I hope this changes, but there are a handful of reviews out there if you’re the kind of person who wants to read about it before seeing it!

TV Review: Borgen – “Decency in the Middle” (Blogcritics Video)

Politics at Play in ‘Borgen’ (Community Voices blog of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Borgen Premieres Saturday Night on LinkTV (Women and Hollywood)