Kamala and Rajiwatch a preview
by Michael Camerini
co-directed by Cheryl Groff and Shireen Huq
color, 46 min, 1991
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"If we get rid of the fear in our own lives, we can go anywhere without a care..."
Produced and directed by the makers of Dadi's Family, this film is about Kamala and Raji, two women of the working poor who live in Ahmedabad, capital of the west Indian state of Gujarat. They share a common history since both have moved from a background of deprivation and political impotence to a measure of empowerment as representatives of a grass roots organization called SEWA, the Self Employed Women's Association. Founded in Ahmedabad and now spreading elsewhere in Gujarat, SEWA is an organization of women working independently or at piecework wages on the low rungs of India's occupational ladder.
Kamala, now a full time organizer for SEWA, had formerly worked as a maker of bidis, leaf-wrapped Indian cigarettes. Raji is a SEWA representative who is also a vegetable seller in the central city market. The film links the two women together by considering their family, professional, and political lives and the positive effects of the SEWA connection, but it is the differences between them, communicated through their own language and through the film's composition which generate the film's weight and grace. The political, and more particularly feminist, content of the film is direct and unsentimental, caught in the comments and reminiscences of the two women, and en masse in a large and joyful SEWA meeting; here, Kamala reports to the crowd on a wage increase she has gained for a group of bidi makers. The contrasting characters of the two women as well as the intimate scenes of their life at home and their relationships with their husbands is also communicated through the subtle positioning of the camera and the film's use of distance, space, and light.