Lakshmi and Me: Filming an invisible superwoman

Seen but never noticed?

Seen but never noticed?

It’s so clichéd to say that behind every successful man stands a woman. With so many women being successful in so many spheres of activity on their own terms, this assertion is not particularly relevant or sensitive any longer.

But who stands behind some of these successful women? Writing in her regular Sunday column in The Hindu newspaper, my friend Kalpana Sharma suggests an answer: the unsung, unappreciated and often poorly paid housemaids or domestic workers.

Here’s how Kalpana opens her column, aptly titled ‘Invisible women’:

“They flit in and out of our homes like ghosts in the night. They sweep and swab, wash and cook, look after our children, care for the elderly. Yet we know little about them. Most of us just about know their first names. We don’t know where they ’re from, where they live, whether they are married, how many children they have, how many other homes they work in, what they earn — how they survive. They are virtually invisible.

“We usually wake up to their existence when they don’t turn up for work. And the first response is annoyance, because of the inconvenience caused to us. Many professional women don the title of being superwomen because they manage jobs and homes — work life balance. But in fact the real superwomen are these silent workers, without whom few professional women in India would be able to function. Yet, while those in formal employment get sick leave, casual leave, privileged leave and weekends, our domestic help is not entitled to any of this. If she rests too long, she’s lazy. If she doesn’t turn up for work, she’s a shirker. It would appear that these women don’t have the right to relax, to fall sick, to have some fun. And of course, no one acknowledges that when they’re done with our homes, they still have their own homes where they have to do the very same jobs, sweep and swab, wash clothes, cook and take care of children and elderly.

With this, Kalpana introduces a recently made Indian documentary, Lakshmi and Me (Nishtha Jain 59′, India, USA, Finland, Denmark, 2007), where the middle class film maker turns her camera on her 21-year-old part-time maid Lakshmi.

Superwoman at work...but who can see her?

Superwoman at work...but who can see her?

As Kalpana says: “Nishtha Jain, a Mumbai-based documentary filmmaker has done what all of us need to do. She has not just acknowledged that this silent worker in her home has a name, but she’s followed her life so that we see the person behind the name — a person just like any of us. And instead of viewing the woman from a distance, the filmmaker has bravely placed herself in the frame, honestly dissecting her own relationship as an employer. “Lakshmi and Me” is a remarkably honest documentary about 21-year-old Lakshmi and the filmmaker, Nishtha.”

I haven’t yet seen the film, and after reading Kalpana’s review, I quite look forward to catching it. I hope it goes beyond the clichéd approach of offering glimpses of how the other half lives, which afflicts many documentaries of this kind made by well-meaning middle class film-makers who can’t quite break free from their own social framework.

Watch the trailer for Lakshmi and Me on IDFA festival website

About the film-makers: Nishtha Jain and Smriti Nevatia

Kalpana Sharma Column in The Hindu: 30 December 2007: Invisible Women

Director’s Note by Nishtha Jain, writer and director of Lakshmi and Me

Lakshmi and Me film website

Kalpana Sharma blog

Photos courtesy Lakshmi and Me film

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5 Responses to “Lakshmi and Me: Filming an invisible superwoman”

  1. kalpana sharma Says:

    Thanks Nalaka. I’ve forwarded your mail to Nishtha and Smriti, the producer. I’m sure they’ll appreciate this.

  2. Nishtha Jain Says:

    Dear Nalakha,

    I’m Nishtha, the director of ‘Lakshmi and Me’. Kalpana forwarded me your post. I really appreciate your interest in the subject and taking out time to write about the film. Do you live in Bombay? We are planning to screen the film soon, so I’ll let you know about the screening. I think I understand your fears about how such such films made by middle class filmmakers can turn out. And I hope I am able to pass the test!

    warm regards,

    Nishtha

  3. Nalaka Gunawardene Says:

    Hi Nishtha – thanks for comment and good to make contact.
    I actually live a few degrees south of Bombay (latitudinally speaking) – in Colombo. So I won’t be able to turn up for the next screening, but I hope I get to see your film soon. If Kalpana wrote highly of your film, I have no doubt that it must be a good film.

  4. colette kartheuser Says:

    hello,
    For our 21st Paris international feminist film festival I am tring to get in touch with Mrs Jain Nishta, as we would like to show her film . Please can you put us in touch? Hoping to hear from you, with best regards,
    colette k. for cineffable

  5. Nalaka Gunawardene Says:

    Colette k.,
    I’m very glad to facilitate this contact between you and Nishtha Jain. I’ve sent her an email forwarding your request. Meanwhile, you can also reach her via website http://www.raintreefilm.net


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