THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Someone had to document the legacy left behind by the country’s first feminist publishing house, ‘Kali for Women’. However, Anupama Chandra and Uma Tanuku, FTII graduates, were not merely acting out of a historical obligation, while making The Books We Made. The documentary is born out of their love for books, which could not have been produced by any publisher other than ‘Kali for Women’. (That no other publisher would have produced such work is illustrated in the film, when Urvashi Butalia, who co-founded the firm with Ritu Menon, speaks about signing up author Baby Halder. Urvashi says that she was expecting a queue of publishers wanting to bring out a translation of A Life Less Ordinary, by a domestic help. She says she was surprised there weren’t any.)
The two filmmakers had always bought books by ‘Kali for Women’. Anupama Chandra, who was a teenager in the eighties when it was established, even wanted to work with them. She even went to Urvashi after graduation for a job, who told her they wouldn't be able to pay anything. “When Uma came to me saying we should make a film together, this was the first topic I suggested,” says Ms Anupama.
The film covers pathbreaking works including ‘Shareer ki Jankari’, a book on the female body, authored by 75 village women in Rajasthan. The idea was originally rejected, as villagers asked the publishers, “Do you see a naked woman in the village?” The taboo was dealt with by an ingenious idea suggested by women themselves. On the surface, there would be an illustration of a fully dressed woman, but lifting a flap, one could see body parts. The book reached out to rural areas, a market which was mostly untapped by mainstream publishers.
The firm has brought out many such books described by media as bold, and are likely to invite a ban. The conversation inevitably drifts to the ban on the three documentaries. “Other than banning films, what has the government done for independent cinema?” asks Ms Anupama. Ms Tanuku adds on, “It is like a black comedy. They should play the national anthem every day in every street and junctions.”...