Documentary channel

Kali for Women gets its own history in the documentary ‘The Books We Made’

Anupama Chandra and Uma Tanuku trace the history of the feminist publishing house that was set up by Ritu Menon and Urvashi Butalia.

Feminist movements are bold, multi-hued manifestations of activism and are extremely tricky to define. Regardless how these campaigns are described, strands of their origins can be traced back to feisty feminist publications. The Books We Made, by Anupama Chandra and Uma Tanuku, documents the work of Kali for Women, one of the feminist publishing houses in India, founded by Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon.

The Public Service Broadcasting Trust production traces the history of Kali for Women, from its inception in 1984 to its eventual dissolution in 2003 into two separate publishing houses, Butalia’s Zubaan and Menon’s Women Unlimited. The film, which is part of the annual Open Frame festival, outlines the evolution and growth of the women associated with the publishing house – founders and authors alike. The Books We Made brings together stories of women from different backgrounds, touched by a beautiful range of experiences, who contributed to the success of Kali for Women.

Chandra and Tanuku allow authors and translators to narrate their stories with as little or as much emotion as they please and therefore wind up with nostalgic accounts that are as vivid and varied as the movement itself. This sense of wistful looking back is pervasive, reinforced by black and white photographs and footage, and contemplative female voices.

‘The Books We Made’.

Books occupy centrestage in the narrative, swallowing up the screen in their many incarnations. They appear laid about in a cluttered room with erudite carelessness, neatly arranged on shelves in book fairs, lovingly paged through by women who wrote them and with their pages magnified so each word can be easily read.

There’s something deliciously rebellious about reading the pages of books on a screen that is not traditionally meant for them. This rule-bending works well for the documentary because it emphasises the subversive roots of Kali for Women, which was formed during the women’s rights movements of the 1980s, and bolsters the idea that the publishing house rode on the waves of important campaigns and created waves of its own. Founders speak about the powerful books they published, such as Shareer Ki Jaankari, a frank account of female bodily processes written by a community of 75 village women, and the iconic anthology Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History, edited by Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid.

The 75 authors of ‘Shareer Ki Jaankari’.
The 75 authors of ‘Shareer Ki Jaankari’.

The documentary gets too preoccupied with nostalgia, and meanders before it hits its stride. But its biggest achievement is arguably its unadorned and matter-of-fact treatment of authorship coupled with the premise that important stories can be told sensitively through all-female voices. Experiences with feminist authors like Nivedita Menon, Qurratulian Haider, Shaheen Akhtar and Baby Halder are narrated with equal gravity and nuance.

This egalitarianism reflects in the visuals, which feature women engaged in a host of different activities, ranging from washing cookers to proofreading copy. Women also appear in different milieus – homes, kitchens, workspaces and conferences.

The film largely eschews music in favor of female voices raised in rhythmic slogans and the hum of printing presses till the last few minutes. The final moments illustrate the deceptive simplicity of Kali for Women’s enormous achievements and the sense of solidarity it espouses in countless women.

Butalia and Menon became Padma Shri awardees in 2011 for their achievements, but their struggles and experiences never ceased to be relatable. In the film, Butalia remarks that several people viewed Kali for Women with a sense of possessiveness that gratified and humbled its founders. Chanda and Tanuku gently but consistently elucidate this sense of collective effort and ownership associated with the books Kali made.

Support our journalism by paying for Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Bringing the glamour back to flying while keeping it affordable

The pleasure of air travel is back, courtesy of an airline in India.

Before dinner, fashionable women would retire to the powder room and suited-up men would indulge in hors d’oeuvres, surrounded by plush upholstery. A gourmet meal would soon follow, served in fine tableware. Flying, back in the day, was like an upscale party 35,000 feet up in the air.

The glamour of flying has been chronicled in Keith Lovegrove’s book titled ‘Airline: Style at 30,000 feet’. In his book, Lovegrove talks about how the mid-50s and 60s were a “fabulously glamorous time to fly in commercial airlines”. Back then, flying was reserved for the privileged and the luxuries played an important role in making travelling by air an exclusive experience.

Fast forward to the present day, where flying has become just another mode of transportation. In Mumbai, every 65 seconds an aircraft lands or takes off at the airport. The condition of today’s air travel is a cumulative result of the growth in the volume of fliers, the accessibility of buying an air ticket and the number of airlines in the industry/market.

Having relegated the romance of flying to the past, air travel today is close to hectic and borderline chaotic thanks to busy airports, packed flights with no leg room and unsatisfactory meals. With the skies dominated by frequent fliers and the experience having turned merely transactional and mundane, is it time to bid goodbye to whatever’s enjoyable in air travel?

With increased resources and better technology, one airline is proving that flying in today’s scenario can be a refreshing, enjoyable and affordable experience at the same time. Vistara offers India’s first and only experience of a three-cabin configuration. At a nominal premium, Vistara’s Premium Economy is also redefining the experience of flying with a host of features such as an exclusive cabin, 20% extra legroom, 4.5-inch recline, dedicated check-in counter and baggage delivery on priority. The best in class inflight dining offers a range of regional dishes, while also incorporating global culinary trends. Other industry-first features include Starbucks coffee on board and special assistance to solo women travellers, including preferred seating.

Vistara’s attempts to reduce the gap between affordability and luxury can also be experienced in the economy class with an above average seat pitch, complimentary selection of food and beverages and a choice of leading newspapers and publications along with an inflight magazine. Hospitality aboard Vistara is, moreover, reminiscent of Singapore Airlines’ famed service with a seal of Tata’s trust, thanks to its cabin crew trained to similarly high standards.

The era of style aboard a ‘flying boat’ seems long gone. However, airlines like Vistara are bringing back the allure of air travel. Continuing their campaign with Deepika Padukone as brand ambassador, the new video delivers a bolder and a more confident version of the same message - making flying feel new again. Watch the new Vistara video below. For your next trip, rekindle the joy of flying and book your tickets here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Vistara and not by the Scroll editorial team.