DER Documentary

A Zenana: Scenes and Recollections


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by Roger Sandall and Jayasinhji Jhala
color, 36 min, 1981



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In India, the most secluded section of the palace was the zenana, or women's quarters. Here, until recently, palace women lived behind protective walls and brass doors firmly shut at night.

This film is an account of women's life in the Dhrangadra, in northern India, the seat of power of the Jhala Rajputs from the 11th century A.D. until 1947. The film unfolds through songs, dances, and stories of several palace women, including the Maharani (wife of the Maharaja), who is the mother of one of the filmmakers. She and others reflect upon traditional women's roles, the strictness of their former seclusion, and the ideals of women's purity and inner strength.

"Of particular interest is the Maharani's account of how she left PURDAH (seclusion) in 1967 to help her husband, H.H. Sriraj Meghrajji III, contest state election, and how she too was persuaded to run for office in 1971. One notices how in a photograph of her on that occasion the tail of her SARI passes over the left shoulder in the popular fashion, rather than over the right shoulder in the parochial manner of the Zenana..." — Paul Hockings, American Anthropologist

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