Film Review: The Lunchbox (India)

MV5BMjM2ODkxMzA5NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTYwOTYxMDE@._V1_SY317_CR175,0,214,317_Another terrific movie for us to watch, thanks to the generosity of the very talented Sunita Nichani, President of SIETAR India.

The Lunchbox by Ritesh Batra, screened during International Critic’s week at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival

A film set in Mumbai, around the service of the iconic dabbawallahs who ferry thousands of lunchboxes to office-goers in the crowded city without the slightest glitch. The film, however, revolves around one such lunchbox delivered to the wrong person, leading to an epistolary romance between the unintended recipient and the lonely housewife who prepares the gastronomic treats hoping to win her indifferent husband’s heart through his stomach.

What personally facinating me was the contrast between the almost antiquated means of communication showcased in the movie — a basket hanging on a rope to exchange tidbits with the upstairs neighbor, paper notes in the lunchbox instead of the ubiquitous text messages of today—and the modernity of the characters who each broke their cultural shackles to choose freedom and second chances.

Unlike typical Bollywood cinema, the film ends on an ambiguous note, letting the viewer connect the dots as s/he wishes. A wonderful visual resource for exploring some of the facets of contemporary evolving Indian society.

Comment from Dianne: If you are unfamiliar with the dabbawallah system, you owe it to yourself to learn! Please click on this link for a quick intro.

World Epidemic of Domestic Violence & India’s “Abused Goddesses”

Durga: domestic violence goddess

The Hindu goddess Durga in an ad to end domestic violence in India

According to the World Health Organization, violence against women is a worldwide epidemic. Findings from the first extensive research of its kind, published in August 2013 and conducted by the World Health Organization, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the South African Medical Research Council, show that 35% of women worldwide experience either domestic or sexual violence! Globally, as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners. And this, despite a 1993 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This unacceptable reality is not limited to any one region of the world, as you can see in the map below.

Domestic violence by world region

From the report, “Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women,” World Health Organization, London School of Hygience & Tropical Medicine, South African Medical Research Council.

Both men and women are victims of domestic violence, though worldwide statistics show that four-out-of-five victims are women. I know this epidemic first-hand: domestic violence knows no boundaries of ethnicity, socioeconomic level, or education. While physical abuse is against the law in the USA, thankfully for us, mental abuse is not and can be far, far worse.

Save Our Sisters, an initiative of the NGO Save the Children India, recently returned to my attention when they released a dramatic series of ads designed to stem the tide of domestic violence. The ads show three bruised and battered Hindu goddesses (Durga, Saraswati, and Lakshmi), along with important statistics—68% of women in India are victims of domestic violence—and a helpline number. The campaign, blending hand painting in the traditional style with photography, was created by the Mumbai-based advertising agency Taproot, and it has already won several awards. You can see the three ads in the slideshow below, along with another closeup.

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Recent reports show that one Indian woman is killed every hour just in dowry-related crimes! Most people that I have spoken to in India find the “abused goddess” campaign highly effective: it grabs one’s attention, it is culturally appropriate, and it seems to be raising awareness and reporting. In sharing the campaign on social media, however, I especially found one response (from Darshana Davé—who has given me permission to use her name and asked that we link to her email) insightful:

“It’s a good, effective campaign, but why must it be that only goddesses, mothers, sisters and daughters be treated well? Why can’t Indian men treat all women with respect? Those questions remain unanswered… A powerful campaign, but it also is guilty of perpetuating the goddess versus whore stereotype, where the woman is either a goddess, sister, mother or daughter, who should not be abused, or if not those, a whore, who can be abused.”

Darshana also shared this provocative (though challenging to wade through) article, entitled, “No more goddesses, please. Bring in the sluts,” which I feel makes some valid points—and I do love the title.

What do you think? Have you seen culturally appropriate campaigns to eliminate violence against women where you are? If so, please share!

Violence against women is both a major world health issue and a human rights problem, as indicated in the diagram below, from the same WHO report.

Health effects of domestic violence

From the report, “Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women,” World Health Organization, London School of Hygience & Tropical Medicine, South African Medical Research Council.

In Mexico, where I live, we suffer an epidemic of “lost women,” women who just disappear one day, never to be seen again, victims of sexual violence and murder. Violence against women is a systemic problem, a societal and cultural problem. We need to stand up, to speak up, each of us, in our families, with our friends, neighbors and colleagues. We need to use our cross-cultural skills to help people realize, in ways that make sense to them, that violence is never appropriate.

“There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.”

—United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon (2008)

Today as this blog post was published, I happened upon this particularly powerful and discouraging article from the Harvard Gazette. If this topic interests you, be sure to read it and let me know what you think.

Also, do not miss this just-released UNDP study on preventing violence against women in the Asia-Pacific region.

Film Review by Sunita Nichani: “English Vinglish”

Reprint from SIETAR India Newsletter, November 2012
Written by Sunita Nichani

The topic of cultural dimensions (individualism vs. collectivism, monochrone and polychrone) is almost de rigeur in intercultural training workshops. Most of these models remain quite theoretical in the minds of our Indian participants.

As I watched the Bollywood film “English Vinglish,” I saw some great examples of these dimensions being acted out, and am delighted that some of these scenes can be used to illustrate these dimensions in a way that will resonate with Indian audiences. Please note that like with most films that portray another culture through the eyes of a foreigner, some of the situations and characters might seem a bit exaggerated or even culturally inaccurate. However, the film has many select scenes that would be a great resource for intercultural trainers looking for ways to connect theory and application. So read on!

This film by Gauri Shinde is a heart-warming tale of how an Indian housewife, played by Sreedevi, discovers her hidden potential after landing in the US and learning the English language. The film can be used for a variety of training objectives: questioning existing stereotypes, ethnocentrism, or how the film accurately or inaccurately depicts cultural differences.

Being part of a collectivist culture, Sreedevi puts her family’s needs before her own and her individual efforts are often unrecognized or even mocked by her family at home. She is an excellent cook and in India she sells her speciality “ladoos” (an Indian dessert) during weddings and other festivals. During her first English language class in the United States, her English instructor asks her what she does (individualist orientation) and Sreedevi, not used to talking about her individual accomplishments, sheepishly confesses that she sells “ladoos.” Her English instructor provides her with the term “entrepreneur,” and her face lights up at this definition of her individual identity. This theme is quite recurrent in the movie and can be used in discussions on how to leverage the best of both individualism and collectivism. For example, after having discovered the joys of individualism such as “me time,” personal development, and individual accomplishment, Sreedevi does not bail out on collectivism. On the contrary, she explains the core philosophy of collectivism in her speech at the wedding of her niece.

Yet another dimension is beautifully illustrated in the scene where Sreedevi orders a cup of coffee in New York for the first time. To see the differences between monochronic and polychronic attitudes. I encourage you to watch the film!

Thank you for this great review, Sunita, Cultural Detective extraordinaire and current President of SIETAR India.

We would like to encourage all of you to purchase early-bird registration before December 9th for the SIETAR India 2013 conference, “From Internationalization to Intercultural Competence.” It will take place in Mumbai on the 2-3 of February.