Session 8: Is this just a story? Celebrating the Yugantar Collective

Watch the films: the films in this programme can be viewed anytime between 25 March and 3 April via the Essay Film Festival online screening room. LINK HERE.

Live event: Deepa Dhanraj and Nicole Wolf will be in discussion about the films on the 31st of March. 31 March 2021, 15:00 — 16:30. BOOK HERE.

This programme features three recently restored prints of films made in the 1980s by the India’s first feminist film collective, founded in Bangalore in 1980 by Deepa Dhanraj, Abha Bhaiya, Navroze Contractor and Meera Rao. Between 1980 and 1983, during a time of radical political transformation in India, Yugantar created four pioneering films together with existing or emerging women’s groups.

Showing these films is part of a broader curatorial conversation about feminist collectives and collaborative film practice in relation to the essay film. Not only does each film give representation to disenfranchised working women, traditionally deprived of rights or social privilege. But the manner in which the Yugantar Collective creates a documentary practice giving representative voice to those women speaking to power also turns collective testimony into political affiliations and consciousness-raising in film. In turn, these films have been used, then and now, in activist work to initiate conversations about the conditions of women’s lives, labour relations and trade-union activism. 

“Now when I look back at it, in every aspect of that process, it was really working on a position of creating political affiliations… How do we present our project to the people we want to film with? What we had to create every time was where you are politically and where they are and what is our meeting ground. Is there trust? Is there political trust?… That had to be negotiated. Which way could they use the film, or not? Did they want their situation recorded or not? So, it was developing a documentary practice, and it was creating theory about those politics while we did the practice. How do you frame women as workers?” (Deepa Dhanraj, 19 December 2009)

Alongside the screenings, the Essay Film Festival will host a cluster of conversations about women’s voices from a non-mainstream positionality, focusing on how the Yugantar Collective developed its thinking and filmmaking practice in dialogue with the emerging women’s movement in India. Furthermore, we also wish to find out how these films are able to reactivate meaningful and current forms of participating, organising, and solidarity and be used as a form of consciousness raising and how one makes the other possible. 

Watch the films: the films in this programme can be viewed anytime between 25 March and 3 April via the Essay Film Festival online screening room. Click here to access the screening room.

With the support of CHASE Doctoral Training Programme, Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, Arsenal Institute for Film and Video Art (Berlin), and Goethe-Institut London.

Film information:

Maid Servant [Molkarin], Yugantar Film Collective, India, 1981, digital [16mm], 25 minutes, Marathi with English subtitles

The film depicts maidservants in Pune, who work ‘purdah style’ in the isolation of home. It looks at piece work home labour, with long hours and low wages, and how the women organise to fight for their rights.

Tobacco Embers [Tambaku Chaakila Oob Ali], Yugantar Film Collective, India, 1982, digital [16mm], 25 minutes, Marathi with English subtitles 

The film follows 3000 female tobacco factory workers in Nipani, Karnataka. Made in collaboration with the workforce, Tobacco Embers gives voice to experiences of work and labour relations as it charts the efforts of the women to unionise.

Is This Just a Story? [Idhi Katha Matramena], Yugantar Film Collective, India, 1983, digital [16mm], 25 minutes, Telugu with English subtitles 
Made in collaboration with women’s activist and research collective Stree Shakti Sanghatana, the film is a fictional reconstruction of domestic violence, finding solidarity in female friendship.


Abha Bhaiya is one of the founder members of Jagori, a feminist organization set up in 1984 in Delhi. She has been active in women’s movements in India for more than 40 years. Her major contribution has been in the field of feminist training methodologies. She has conducted extensive workshops in Asia, Europe and African countries. One of the unique features of her work has been the creation of linkages between the community and the international arenas. Through her work, she has also created a fresh idiom for feminist expression in terms of language and spaces. FULL BIO

Navroze Contractor is a photographer, cinematographer and author. He is one of the important contributors to the documentary scene worldwide, with his name attached to such films as La Ballade de Pabuji (George Luneau, 1976), Dreams of the Dragon’s Children (Pierre Hoffmann, 1985) shot entirely in China, Are You Listening (Martha Stewart) and The Last House in Bombay (Luke Jennings). His major Indian films are All in the Family (Ketan Mehta, 1992), as well as What Has Happened to this City (Deepa Dhanraj, 1986), Something Like a War (Deepa Dhanraj, 1991), The Legacy of Malthus (Deepa Dhanraj, 1994), and Famine 87 (Sanjiv Shah). The Advocate, that looks into the history of Human Rights, and most recent Invoking Justice (Deepa Dhanraj), a film about a Muslim Women’s Jamaat. He has had 9 one man shows of his photographs. His first book, Dreams of the Dragon’s Children, published by Penguin Books in 2003, is about his filmmaking experience in China in 1984. FULL BIO

Deepa Dhanraj has been actively involved with the women’s movement since 1980.  Over the last few years, she have participated in workshops, seminars and discussion groups on various issues related to women’s status – political participation, health and education.  She has taught video to women activists from South-East Asia. She has an interest in media theory and have given numerous lectures in various forums; including colleges all over the country. She was one of the lead researchers on a multi centered research study, ‘Minority Women Negotiating Citizenship’. She is also interested in issues related to education, particularly problems faced by children who are first generation learners. FULL BIO

Nicole Wolf (Berlin/ London) is Senior Lecturer in Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research, writing, pedagogical and curatorial projects have concentrated on political cinemas in South Asia and anti-colonial struggles, the co-constitutive processes and poetics of artistic, activist and movement narratives and more recently on agri/cultural practices and a Cinématics of the Soil. FULL BIO


Wolf, Nicole. 2018. Is this just a story? Friendships and fictions for speculative alliances. The Yugantar film collective (1980-83). Moving Image Review & Art Journal, 7(2), pp. 252-266. 

Field of Vision: Radical Potential – Devika Girish in conversation with Deepa Dhanraj

Something Curated: Yugantar – Reflecting on Bangalore’s Radical Feminist Film Collective of the 80s