Every year, VISAFF brings a power packed collection of films and documentaries from the South Asian region that discuss social issues intertwined into compelling lives and impactful characters from the real world. VISAFF’s 2016 season was no different. Apart from featured films, Moe Sihota: Feared and Desired, Sold, Moor, Jagjit Singh: Kagaaz Ki Kasti, Badman and Mah E Mir, there was an excellent collection of short films that extended the depth and flow of the festival. A personal favourite was Bachelor Girls that talks about housing discrimination experienced by independent women in Mumbai.
In India's bustling metropolis, independently working and living women suffer a major disadvantage if they are a bachelor- they face housing discrimination and endure continuous breach of privacy by housing societies and landlords. 'Unmarried,' 'Single,' 'Bachelor,' 'Divorced,' and 'Independent' females may be flourishing in their careers and studies but that does not resolve their crisis of securing a rental apartment or house without any hassle. Testimonies of women interviewed in the film reveals stringent rules and regulations imposed by landlords and housing committees – no male visitors, no late nights, no meat cooking, no parties and much more.
Believe it not, there is a rigorous interview process to land yourself in a likable apartment, and most of them rely on character certificates and reference letters. Filmmaker Shikha Makan interviewed brokers and real estate agents who disclosed that at times they have to encourage females to lie about their singlehood status or even bring older individuals to pose as fathers and mothers in front of landlords or society's secretaries. It’s the only way to make authorities believe that you succumb to traditional values and culture and would use your independence wisely in the absence of your parents and family.
Under these circumstances, a woman’s independent lifestyle commands a morality examination from those around her and uninvitingly tosses parental rules and regulations on her routine. Although the issue has been in the news for almost a decade, Makan’s film inspired by her personal house hunting experience strings together major elements of this issue– brokers, landlords, housing committees, secretaries, activists and most importantly women. At one point, an activist in the housing rights domain states that the existing laws in this direction are “toothless,” there are no strict laws or bylaws governing the rights of tenants therefore liberating those in power to dictate their own terms and conditions.
Overall, the film was impactful but it made me curious to know if the situation differs for a bachelor male apartment seeker – if yes, then to what extent and if not, then why aren’t there any laws or regulations in place to safeguard these requirements for women.