“I felt like no one had ever really shown what it’s like to experience street harassment, more or less,” Bliss told The Huffington Post. “No one has — from a third-party perspective, on the outside looking in, been able to step back and look at it and watch it happen in front of them.”
Rob Bliss of Rob Bliss Creative teamed up with actress Shoshana B. Roberts and Hollaback(a non-profit movement against street harassment), to make the ‘10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman’ that’s been making some serious rounds in the world wide web lately. The video of the woman in a black crew-neck and jeans walking around New York for 10 hours, to lewd offers and suggestive gestures really brought to the forefront (yet again) how there are so many issues affecting people around the world that are intrinsically the same, albeit in different packages. Closer home, in Mumbai, a lot of us probably had the same reaction that aspiring filmmaker Aditi Mody did.
“The New York cat-calling video made me feel like ‘This woman should come and walk around Bombay for 10 hours and see what violation feels like!’ I think, for me, the eyeballing you get when you walk around the city, even when you’re sitting in the confines of your own car, has become so ‘ordinary’, its actually becoming funnier. I tried the whole yelling back technique coupled with some disgusted looks, but they just keep leering - and hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, laugh at ‘em. This is my justification for why I have treated this serious video in a lighter, more humorous way.”
That’s right, wading through the bandwagon of videos that have attempted to replicate the exercise in their own parts of the world, and capturing the experience of a woman walking through the streets in the city – we unearthed Aditi Mody’s, shot in the streets of Bombay. ‘Molfa’ meaning ‘magical’ in Ukrainian is the true essence of the production house behind the video. Cognizant of the high speed at which information today is processed, Molfa creates engaging content a cinematic and interesting touch.
Conceptualised and executed with her friend, Dar Gai, the video features her walking, while Dar Gai dressed up in a burkha, with a go-pro strapped onto her chest (also covered with the burkha) with a hole cut out for the lens. The DOP, Kartik Kelkar, walked with and around them and helped them catch interesting shots and led them to more populated areas. In total, they shot around four hours of walking footage (which - as it turned out later - was redundant), shooting all the way from Goregaon to Babulnath. Their rather brilliant edit was done by Mothership Production, which really helped highlight the stares in a comical, fun and engaging way.
This video is actually her second time making a guerilla-style video. “I had shot a video some time back, sort of similar to this one; it was Pharrell’s famous ‘Happy’ video that had erupted all over the world. We were trying to show the ‘real people’ of Mumbai; the beggar that knocks at your car window, the crazy gangster in Colaba (who gave us a stellar performance, by the way!) and even a cop, all of them forgetting their plights and worries for a bit, just dancing and being happy! It just felt like a different treatment of the same sensational video.”
When asked about the major parallels that she could draw between the Hollaback catcalling video and the one that she was a part of in Mumbai, her answer is a deadpan, “None.”
To begin with, while there were a 100 instances of cat-calling and general lewd gestures reported in a compilation footage of 10 hours of walking around the streets of New York, as documented in the video, Aditi tells us that this one in Mumbai was shot in under an hour. “Well, at first we decided to copy the format and do 10 hours,” she explains. “On our first day, we shot for about four hours around South Bombay, but found that we got everything we needed in just an hour of walking around my house! We went a second day to shoot in Goregaon, Juhu and Bandra, but all we needed was that first hour of golden footage.”
Well, that’s not good news, but it’s not particularly a surprise. It’s interesting that at one point in the video, the amusement on her face at a certain man’s behaviour is quite evident, and one might think that’s an unusual reaction to a potentially frustrating or dangerous situation. What was that about?
“I have treated this video in an extremely different light,” Aditi tells us. “You would most certainly laugh at the characters we have managed to capture in our video. This one guy that started following me really cracked me up, and I couldn’t help but laugh! Of course, I could have edited it out, I could have made it look like I was serious. But for me, it’s extremely funny that I was walking near my home, just in the neighbourhood in stark daylight and this guy just started walking alongside me! I think it’s a justified reaction.”
The element of humour in their approach is evident in their choice of soundtrack for the video as well, which is spot on.
“It’s pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it?” Aditi says. “The number of creeps on the road are mind-boggling!”
She confesses that she has lost count of how many men made her feel uncomfortable during the shoot, noticing that she didn’t catch half the looks until she watched the footage. “If you watch the video, you can see that there’s a man who is literally stalking me. He disappears and then comes back minutes later! That really frightened me, because now I know - you never really know what’s going on right behind you!”
“I honestly didn’t want people to look at the video and pass it off as me wearing something ‘skimpy’ because I’ve walked on the road in tracks and a high neck t-shirt and have elicited the same response from men on the street,” she elaborates on her choice of outfit in the video. “I chose a green dress so I would stand out from the usual greys, whites and blacks that make up Mumbai’s general road tapestry. But, it was more for video/visual aesthetics. I naturally chose to cover my entire body and not wear anything to provoke men. Turns out, it didn’t make a difference.”
One stark difference you do notice is that in Mumbai, men don’t actually say things out loud the way they do in the Hollaback video, but they do an equally competent job of making you uncomfortable and invading your personal space with just their gaze alone.
”So that’s the main difference, really,” Aditi agrees. “Here, men don’t find the need to cat-call, but they don’t feel any shame in staring at you until it’s frustrating and just too much! Sometimes, a glimpse or a leer can make you feel way more violated than any harassing words a man could say. Even though they weren’t invading my space, you can tell when a man is just looking at you and when he’s looking at you. Its a very evident shift in contact, especially for a woman to feel and notice. The main reason we think our video would stand out is - we didn’t even need 10 hours for enough material, you can always count on these guys!”
Digressing slightly from the issue, we couldn’t help but ask about her take on the class issue that becomes rather apparent in this video - would she have felt less uncomfortable had it been a foreigner checking her out, for example, or someone of a similar socio-economic background as hers?
”Absolutely not. If any man looked at me the way these guys in the video did, I would have reacted the exact same way. Perverse is perverse, the way it is packaged doesn’t make it less perverse.”
Aditi confesses that even though the men didn’t physically speak to her and make her feel uncomfortable, they did make up fully for this by staring her down and stalking her around town.
”I think its really sad but I don’t know what a viable solution for this would be. I feel like I get irritated thinking about it, but then I realize that this won’t amount to anything, so now I urge women to turn around at a man who won’t break eye contact with her ass, and be like ‘Hey buddy, NO CHANCE.’ You have to make them feel ashamed to get any sort of response, in my opinion.”
The whole exercise is, in itself, demoralising in the sense that - if you are an Indian woman, this is probably something you have experienced before. The fact is, this video - a point-blank insight into a couple of minutes in a woman’s life - isn’t something that would really surprise anybody in our country.
“Watch your back, ladies,” Aditi signs off. “There are a lot of creeps out there.”