Domestic Violence: Namrata

Transforming Violence Into Hope

By Claudio Munoz

In her latest film (the first one in Canada), director Shazia Javet tackles a very contentious issue. Spousal violence is the topic of "Namrata", a documentary about the struggles of an abused immigrant woman living in the middle of a South Asian community in Edmonton.

Namarata Gill immigrated to Canada because she got married. After her arranged wedding, she flew to Edmonton to start a new life working at the store that her husband owned in Canada's northernmost major city.

Her husband was a traditional man living in a modern country. Canada seemed like a good place to start a new family. She was young – still a teenager – full of hope and felt very much in love.

17 years later, Namrata is in front of a camera putting on her old wedding garments, a red sari skilfully decorated with golden motifs and the traditional Indian jewellery. While dressing, she talks about the dreams of little girls all over the world, about prince charming and weddings. The dress brings back memories.

"Namrata" is not simply a story of a South Asian woman who was abused. One day, she decided to face her fears (she did not know what to do exactly, how to get help and was worried that a call to the police could bring shame to her family). Her father came to Edmonton to help her find assistance and a new life began. The change she underwent is inspirational.

It Had To Be A Documentary

"I was introduced to Namrata by a newcomer settlement councillor I was going to because I was a newcomer myself", Shazia Javed, director of the movie, says. "I was really impressed by her. When I came to know her story I found the transformation she had gone through really fascinating."

A film about a very delicate issue, it received a warm reception during Toronto's Hot Docs film festival this spring, which is not surprising. Both the director and the protagonist told CNMAG that the movie has been well received by different audiences, causing discussion and debate after each screening. It is a non-violent movie about a very violent issue that, through images and Namrata's sweet voice, transforms violence into hope.

Debate is precisely what Javed was looking for when she decided to make Namrata’s story her first film in Canada. "She lived in that abusive marriage for six years. She went through her share of doubt, struggled with the limitations of living in a small, cultural community. Finally she was able to overcome it and make changes to her life. I thought that if I made a story of her life, it would be inspiring to other women in similar situations," the director explains.

Javed felt that the movie could only work if it felt real. So naturally, it had to be a documentary and Namrata had to be in it. But Namrata was hesitant.

"I told her she could use the story," Namrata remembers. "But I did not think that she wanted me to be part of it. I thought she could have somebody else because I wasn't sure if I was comfortable in front of a camera. I never wanted to be the face of victims of domestic violence."

Javed’s response was, "Think of it as a survivor (story) and start thinking about yourself as role model."

"The beautiful thing about the story," Javed explains, "is that women can relate. If you see another woman who went through all these challenges, and overcame them and is now able to talk about it without shame or guilt... I think it can be a powerful thing."

People react strongly to the movie – which is more than you can say about most movies these days. After a screening, one of Javed's friends told her for the first time that she was a victim too. After a second presentation, a younger girl asked Namrata how could she get in the same career as her (Javed asked us to refrain from revealing what Namrata is doing now, which is the end of the movie). Namrata says that one of her best screenings was for the Sikh Student’s Society of Edmonton. It was her first one for an Eastern community exclusively (not only young people attended, but adults and seniors as well) and she was apprehensive about the audience's possible reaction. "It was really interesting that men stood up saying 'my mom went through that'", she says. "That was what I wanted to achieve with this, to open doors in all communities but particularly in the South Asian community where it is such a taboo subject."

Even though the whole process ended up a rewarding experience with the community and personal healing experience, Namrata has not been able to watch the documentary entirely. "When I have my wedding outfit on or when I’m talking about it, I do feel the weight of the abuse. It was in my past, it is in my past, but it becomes very real for that moment. It is in my face, it is right there."

For Javed, the challenge was different. She was a filmmaker in India, but had to start from scratch in Canada. It was all about finding the right producer, to convince people that she could continue making movies, that she could do it well. Originally, the movie was intended as a half hour film but, somewhere in the process, it got cut to 10 minutes. "It was a challenging task, to think how I can [manage] to tell a story in that given time frame. But I think in the end I was able to do it well and I have come to realize, from the feedback I’m getting, that people actually like that. It is short, still good, straight to the point, and it can be used for workshops and to create discussion."

It is certainly time to start discussing certain things.

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You Want To See It?

  • The film can be purchased for educational or personal use at the National Film Board of Canada's website (www.nfb.ca/boutique) or by calling 1-800-267-7710. If you are in Toronto, you can also get your copy in person at the NFB Mediatheque located at 150 John St. (at Richmond St. W., just steps away from Osgoode subway station).
  • "Namrata" can also be rented at the NFB Mediatheque and through libraries that carry the NFB collection.
  • In the near future, a user's guide and Q&A for educational use will be available online. The film will also join the terrific NFB catalogue of movies online that everyone can watch on its website.