Sushma Khadepaun’s Anita: The first Gujarati film to play at the Venice Film Festival

Posted on September 11, 2020


A conversation with the director, a Columbia University alum, whose short film is a contender in the Orrizonti (Horizons) Short Films Section.

Anita is a 17-minute short about a visiting NRI couple, specifically the wife after whom the film takes its title. She’s gotten herself an internship. She’s thrilled. She thinks it’s the start of big things. But first, she wants her husband to break the news, casually, to her very conservative parents – so it will seem like he is totally okay with it. He seem supportive initially, but soon things happen that make Anita wonder if life in New York, with an “NRI husband”, is any better than life back home.

“I grew up in a community with the belief that a woman who moves to America lives an exciting, independent life,” director Sushma Khadepaun said in her director’s statement. “Anita is an exploration of this myth of the independent, young, expat wife and the struggle to maintain this façade.” Sushma will graduate from Columbia next month. She is writing a feature, and was excited about getting the visa for Venice when I spoke to her.

One thing that surprised me about the film is that “women wanting to work” isn’t seen as much of an issue in the movies anymore.

It’s something that I know people around me struggle with. I know people in my family who think either way. It’s like someone saying, “My husband is very modern and open minded. He allows me to work.” So that itself is something to think about. I have an outside view because I have been away from India for 15 years. I’m aware that people who move away get stuck in a certain time period when you leave India. But that often happens to people, I think, who don’t go back home often. I spend sometimes half a year in Bombay and in Gujarat, where most of my family is. So while I’m aware that can happen, it’s interesting to see how often people, especially in metros, feel like certain things are no longer an issue or it’s a rural issue. But it’s still so present in our society, I feel.

No, no. It is not because I live in a metro. It’s because people don’t typically take up this subject in cinema. It was a big thing in the 1960s and 70s, of course, with Ray’s Mahanagar being a benchmark. At that point, women were just beginning to step out of home. So it was still a big issue. And I felt it is interesting to see that in a 2020 film.

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