Morality TV and Loving Jehad

In the winter of 2005, Indians switched on their TV sets to watch yet another “breaking news” story, but one which shocked them. In the town of Meerut, police officers, mostly women, swooped down on lovers in a park and began to beat them up. Along with them they took photographers and news cameramen with the promise of an exclusive sting operation.

What is the story of this news story? The film looks outside the frames that weave the frenetic tapestry of Breaking News on India’s news channels to uncover a town’s complex dynamics – the fear of love, the constant scrutiny and control of women’s mobility and sexuality, a history of communal violence, caste brutalization and feudal equations. Assuming the tone of pulp fiction and tabloid features it examines the legacy of this kind of story telling, from the relishing accounts of true crime magazines like Manohar Kahaniyan to the double morality of pulp detective fiction to the tabloid news on Indian TV, to unfold a thrilling but disturbing tale of it’s own.

As the salacious media frenzy around violent events takes on ever more unscrupulous forms, the story of the film becomes all the more relevant today.

About the Director
Paromita Vohra is a filmmaker, writer and curator whose work has focuses on urban life, popular culture, gender, politics and art. Her films have been widely screened in festivals, galleries and popular screening spaces, besides being included in university syllabi around the world.

Her films as director are  Partners in Crime (2011), a documentary on culture, markets and the arts;  Morality TV and the Loving Jehad: A Thrilling Tale (2007), a documentary on tabloid TV news and moral policing (Best Short Documentary, Int.Video Fest, Trivandrum);  Q2P (2006), a film on toilets and the city (Best Documentary IFFLA and Bollywood and Beyond, Stuttgart);  Where’s Sandra? (2005), a playful exploration of stereotypes of Catholic girls from a Bombay suburb;  Work in Progress (2004), an impressionistic portrait of the World Social Forum held in Mumbai;  Cosmopolis: Two Tales of a City (2004), a short film which explores Bombay’s cosmopolitan self image through land and food politics, which won an award for mixing fiction and non-fiction at the Digital Film Festival;  Un-limited Girls (2002), a personal take on engagements with feminism in urban India (Feminist News Award, Women’s Film Festival in Seoul; Best Film Award, Aaina Film Festival, India);  A Short Film About Time (2000), a fiction short about the funny-sad relationship between a young woman with a broken heart, her psychotherapist and his watch; A Woman’s Place (1999), an hour-length documentary for PBS looking at how women in India, South Africa and the USA negotiate the space between law and custom; and Annapurna (1995), about a women food worker’s cooperative in Bombay’s textile mill area.

Retrospectives of her work have been held at the Lille 3000 (2006) festival and Persistence/Resistance (2007), a festival of political documentary in India. Her films have also been screened at the Tate Modern and will feature in an upcoming exhibition at the Wellcome Art Gallery in London.

Her films as a writer are the internationally released feature  Khamosh Pani/Silent Watersdirected by Sabiha Sumar (Golden Leopard, Locarno Film Festival, 2003, Best Screenplay, Kara Film Festival, 2003),  A Few Things I Know About Her (Silver Conch, Mumbai International Film Festival 2002),  If You Pause: In a Museum of Craft, The Stuntmen of Bollywood and the faux-documentary Skin Deep (Dir: Reena Mohan).

Her writing, fiction and non-fiction have been included in various anthologies. Among them are Bombay Meri Jaan: Writings on Mumbai, Electric Feather: the Tranquebar Book of Erotica, Recess: The Penguin Book of Schooldays, Dreaming Different: New Feminist Writings from Around the World, Signs (Spring 209) and First Proof: Penguin New Writing from India. She contributes to several publications including Outlook, India Today, Tehelka, Time Out, Mumbai and currently writes a popularcolumn in Sunday Mid-day, a Mumbai newspaper.

She was principal mentor of the British Council – Saregama India Screenwriting Workshop 2008 and teaches writing for film as visiting faculty at numerous universities in India and abroad.

As part of A Woman’s Place project – a collective of women using media for social change- she has worked extensively with young people through workshops focusing on creativity, politics and media, especially the Girls Media Group, a media exchange project between teen girls in New York and Mumbai. As part of the artist’s collective @Culture she has been engaged with making culture an important political part of the World Social Forum process.

In the past few years she has been curating documentary and alternative film programmes from time to time, among them a program on films about the city for the National Gallery of Modern Art (2002) and a program of films from Films Division, the government documentary producer, at the International Video Festival of Trivandrum (2010) as well as a program on the history of the Indian Music video for the Film South Asia festival in Kathmandu (2007).

Director’s Note
Ever since I began making documentary films, I have had a troubled relationship with the idea of the expose, the investigation that will reveal and fix the culprits quite finally. It seemed to me that although the self aggrandizement and easy understanding inherent in that position was problematic, it also was a potentially violent idea, one that needed to be enacted with considered seriousness, with some complexity and with an acceptance that we do not in reality inhabit a space of pure justice and democracy. And that in speaking this language one would also speak a language heavy with morality, rather than ethics.

From Tehelka to India TV’s Shakti Kapoor story, the sting operation has become the accepted language of television news. When I saw the Operation Majnoo story I felt as if this language had come to a culminative moment – one that justifies violence in the name of righteous indignation. I also wondered how, in this atmosphere of heavy moralising – whether political or personal – a young person was to find a true, meaningful, relevant articulation of personal relationships and their intimate journey in the world.

Morality TV aur Loving Jehad: Ek Manohar Kahani(A Thrilling Tale) therefore became a film that responded not just to the practice of television around me, but also to my ongoing concerns about the language of the political film. The film excavates the language of pulp investigative/detective, fiction and non-fiction to make a comment about how thin the line between the two is, because in the end language and aesthetics are what creates the final, visceral impact from which conclusions also emerge -through the world of implication, not information. For me it was an effort to make a film that suggested these things associatively, rather than instructively, winding in and out of different windows onto the commonly understood version – and to take a different turn half way through the narrative to propose a different sort of speech, a different sort of feeling, a different sort of story.