‘Vaibhavi’, a short film (2017) based on true events is written and directed by Mumbai based Neha Sharma. This film tells the story of Vibha and Bharat, a couple living in a small town in Uttar Pradesh, India. Vibha’s dream is to reach the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi with the hope that he will name her child. The innocent desire of Vibha also addresses an important social message that filmmaker Neha Sharma beautifully captured: That it is important to cherish every girl child and give her the equal right to be in this world.
Why was it important for Vibha that PM Modi would name her baby girl?
Sometimes, we all must dare to dream big and leave everything to the universe. This short film is such an example. The character of the film Vibha holds the Indian Prime Minister Modi in high esteem and looks at him with a certain sense of awe. In the Indian tradition, the job of naming a child and the person chosen to name the baby is of great importance.
Vibha strikes the unheard chord by choosing the PM himself for this job. During her pregnancy – a period of intense physical and emotional transformation, as her deep respect towards the Indian PM surfaces, she does the unthinkable by not just hoping to approach him, but making substantial efforts in doing so, proving her husband and all other non-believers wrong with the power of her desire.
From the very beginning, it is only Vibha’s desire to reach the PM while her husband, who is usually supportive of her opinions, prompts her to take a quintessential reality check at this whim!
Little do we realize that a seemingly insignificant person can sometimes achieve in his/her innocence what others cannot in their expertise. Vibha’s journey is a fine example of that. Vaibhavi, is indeed a celebration of innocence!
“There was no sign of aggression in her that we associate modern day feminists with but a quiet, calm resolve with which she is inching further in her life.”
What was your motivation as a filmmaker to make this short film?
I read about this incident one fine morning on a portal. To begin with, the news felt heartwarming, brought a smile to my face, something nice to begin one’s day with. But the news lingered in my mind for days altogether. Curiosity led me places and I decided to speak to the couple in question.
Once I had a conversation with Vibha, I felt there was more to her than what met the eye! Her innocence and naivety were interestingly the driving factors that I thought must be captured in the form of a film. During our conversations, I realized she has struck a fine balance between staying content with what life has to offer and strive for more – reviving her professional aspirations when the time is more appropriate. There was no sign of aggression in her that we associate modern day feminists with but a quiet, calm resolve with which she is inching further in her life.
Here was someone who decided to fulfill her heartfelt desire and truly went by her instinct oblivious to the ‘realities’ of the world which would have filled her mind with doubts and uncertainties about approaching the PM of the country. I was instantly propelled to capture her aspirations in the form of a film.
Can you elaborate on the female feticide/gendercide issue in India?
While this stagnating mentality has subsided manifolds now, India is still a country where a majority of the States suffer from patriarchy, fueling the citizens’ desire for male child over the female offspring especially in States such as Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Bihar and the capital city, Delhi. This has also led to dwindling sex ratio in the country.
According to National Institution for Transforming India, also known as NITI Aayog, the percentage of the female population is 48.04 percent compared to 51.96 percent male population. It is believed that if the trend of sex-selective abortion continues, by this year, in Madhya Pradesh, the number of girls will drop below 900 per 1000 boys. The matter is of great concern and with timely introduction of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) in 2015, one can hope for healthier statistics in the coming future.
“The prime focus of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao initiative is to allow women to arrive in this world with no fear but equal dignity, which is often reserved only for a male child.”
Tell us more about the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ scheme…
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship scheme, spearheaded by Ministry of Women and Child Development, Sakshi Malik (Olympics 2016, bronze medalist ) is the proud brand ambassador of BBBP. The prime focus of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao initiative is to allow women to arrive in this world with no fear but equal dignity, which is often reserved only for a male child. BBBP focuses on providing welfare services to women in the following segments: right to safe birth, equal educational rights, providing a conducive environment for girls to continue studying in schools. For example, making sure there are sanitation facilities and adolescent care in government schools. Most importantly, providing girls and women sufficient support to empower themselves socially and financially to lead a life of dignity without disparity.
What are the results so far of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme?
We see a slight result post the launch of this initiative, as per the data released by Haryana government depleting sex ratio at birth due to female infanticide, is now on the path to recovery. At the end of 2019, the sex ratio at birth in Haryana has increased 52 points since its last alarming figures in 2014.
Similarly, parts of Punjab have also reported increased enrollment of girls in different government schools, owing to encouraging gestures by the State government in a cascading effect at the Centre.
“Every filmmaker should continue to address at least one social vice which helps people dig deeper into their conscience.”
What are your own thoughts about female infanticide?
Female infanticide would remain a matter of alarming concern till the time every girl child in the country is allowed to be born and made to feel safe from her very childhood. It is a tall order for a country as densely populated as ours, plagued with a strongly demarcated bias against the girl-child. However, with aggressive initiatives from the Government, help and guidance offered from the social activists, educators and NGOs working in this direction, the future looks optimistic.
There is a positive change in the mindsets of people in the villages/small towns over the years. There are certain elements posing obstacles in the way:
- people who still live in the bias,
- corrupt medical personnel who reveal the sex of the fetus and assist in illegal abortions to make quick money,
- even corrupt officials who ignore the malpractice in the garb of respecting the locals’ cultural values.
Thankfully, BBBP has struck a chord with the rural populace all over the country as the PM addressed this initiative several times in his radio program Mann Ki Baat, making this campaign a household name in Indian cities and villages alike.
As a final word, it is the people whose ideologies regarding the girl-child have to undergo a sea change so that the crime and such criminal mindsets get dissolved on their own. At a grassroot level, the process is as good as one candle lighting the other in this new found understanding!
How can a social issue like female feticide be tackled according to you as a filmmaker?
Cinema and its power to influence the masses can never be undermined. In the recent years, plenty of films have been made chiseling the images of women from small towns successfully breaking all socio-cultural barriers and giving a befitting reply to inherent Patriarchy prevalent in our culture. I feel this is an immensely positive change.
It triggers the audience into re-thinking their orthodox views regarding the position of women in our society while getting entertained in the process. Rightful representation of facts and figures and realistic portrayals of characters can go a long way in sensitizing people towards this malpractice.
Every filmmaker should continue to address at least one social vice which helps people dig deeper into their conscience, hoping it would bring out positive changes in the society’s collective thinking fabric, be it towards female infanticide or other areas of concern.
The film Vaibhavi received many deserved awards:
- Special Mention by Jury – Kolkata International Film Fest 2017
- Won People’s Choice Award, Salem Short FF 2017
- Official Selection – Indian Peacock 2017
- Special Selection – Abuja International FF 2017
- Official Selection at Indian FF at Cincinnati,Ohio 201