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Bombaywaali Summit Brings Mumbai’s Leading Ladies Closer

The second edition of the event amplified the voices of many inspiring women of the city

Utsav Kotrial Nov 01, 2018

(From left) Sharin Bhatti Nair, Anuya Jakatdar, Mae Thomas, Sakshi Juneja and Prajakta Koli.

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The feminist digital platform She The People organized the second edition of the Bombaywaali Summit recently, celebrating women that contribute to Mumbai with a wide range of vocations, from food to literature. Kiran Manral, Editor, She The People, explained that the idea behind the event is to “have more conversations with women, about women, for women.”

The summit kicked off with a brief opening note from award-winning journalist and She The People founder Shaili Chopra, about the way current events have necessitated interactions like these, promising a stimulating night ahead.

Women in Food

Food and wine critic Antoine Lewis spoke to women driving the food scene in Mumbai: Restaurateur Gauri Devidayal, La Folie founder and chef Sanjana Patel and Goya Media CEO and food writer Anisha Rachel Oomen. They touched upon the current culinary zeitgeist in Mumbai, and how unique pop-ups and new cuisines are being explored. The accessibility to food writing has also increased thanks to social media bloggers and influencers. The panellists dissected why women are great cooks but still a minority among chefs, and confronted hotels and institutions that aren’t concerned with innovation. Patel stressed on the importance of having a culinary vision that’s not just strong, but also sustainable. Devidayal brought up the importance of having a solid support system, since Indian women are required to juggle many roles and food is an all-consuming profession. Addressing the current climate, they asserted the responsibility of employers to provide equal opportunity and safe working conditions for women, including a no-tolerance policy towards harassment.

Women in music

(From left) Nirmika Singh, Vidya Vox, Lily Ahluwalia and Priyanka Khimani

The panel on leading ladies of music was presented by Rolling Stone India Executive Editor Nirmika Singh, and featured YouTube sensation Vidya Vox, renowned talent manager Lily Ahluwalia and intellectual property lawyer Priyanka Khimani. Singh opened the panel with a bang, asking the audience to name five female composers in India. She lamented the lack of women in technical and managerial fields within music, backing it up with some startling statistics. Khimani spoke about how she’s learned to tackle the stereotypes assigned to female lawyers while Ahluwalia asserted her strength by being a ‘gunda’ and carving her own path. The talk offered different perspectives on misogyny in the music industry, from pitting female artists against each other to a fundamental lack of faith in women producers, lawyers, and journalists, despite their achievements. A bevy of solutions was discussed, including gender sensitivity sessions for the music world, a need for both male and female champions of equality, and encouraging women to take up managerial positions — as they have greater empathy for female-specific issues.

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Turning passion into content

Some of the city’s leading young creatives came together for this exciting panel hosted by Books on Toast co-founders Sharin Bhatti Nair and Anuya Jakatdar. The speakers were Mae Mariam Thomas (host of Maed In India podcast), Gaysi Family founder Sakshi Juneja and YouTuber Prajakta Koli, who goes by the moniker MostlySane. The conversation revolved around the liberating power of social media and people’s perceptions of Internet creators. It gave way to hilarious anecdotes about explaining being a YouTuber to conservative family members. Thomas spoke about supporting independent music and encouraging content that isn’t available on the radio. Koli gave the audience priceless tips on creating engaging content by being consistent and finding humour in relatability. Juneja enlightened the room by demonstrating how mainstream queer content has become repetitive and superficial, failing to bring out real conversations that are happening behind closed doors. Her recommendation was that tragic queer narratives must be balanced with happy ones and the queer community should be assimilated into to everyday discourse instead of having special segments only when they’re in the news.

”˜Aur Suno’ performance

The three panels were followed by a short poetry performance by Singh. As part of her Aur Suno collection, the passionate, ”˜snack-sized’ poems explored women empowerment: diving into the restrained anger of women, independence, fears, and the #MeToo movement.

Breaking barriers on screen

Moderated by Manral, the panel on TV and film featured producer Ashvini Yardi, writer Jaya Misra and filmmaker/writer Shikha Makan. They discussed how the television industry is populated by women, which makes it ripe for change. However, cinema is a different story since the inner-workings subdue female creators, and there is a lack of systems that enforce women’s safety. They spoke at length about the ways in which ”˜hero culture’ can encourage negative mindsets and a lack of accountability. Misra’s insights on writing for TV were invaluable, highlighting the archaic good woman/bad woman binary, the social responsibility of writing for different classes, and obstacles faced when trying to incorporate mild feminism into the landscape. They offered solutions, such as hiring sensitive men in positions of power, confronting the attitude of exclusion and objectification, equal pay and relying on the digital space for bringing important topics to the forefront.

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Where To From #MeToo?

(From left) Shaili Chopra, Saloni Chopra, Janice Sequiera, Sushant Singh and Vinta Nanda

Addressing the elephant in the room, the final interaction was an emotional, introspective journey. Moderated by Chopra, the speakers included actor Saloni Chopra, journalist Janice Sequeira, actor and CINTAA spokesperson Sushant Singh and writer-director Vinta Nanda. The panellists talked about being driven to action despite the abusive backlash, and it came from a need to do the right thing. The rampant misogyny in the industry meant that the actual job was rarely as exhausting as the mind games, and they mentioned the dangers of the Bollywood ”˜boys club’ that continues to exclude women from decision-making, and has yet to even acknowledge their concerns. Instead, through media influence and legal intimidation, the boys club has tried to neuter the movement, with harassment being treated as gossip instead of a punishable offence. For the movement to get stronger, the panellists recommended that there should be more women behind-the-camera, and a call for stronger institutional framework to deal with sexual impropriety, starting with an industry helpline.

The closing statement from Manral encouraged us to look forward. By the time the event came to a close, an optimistic atmosphere permeated the room. Everybody in attendance believed that they were a part of something bigger: a positive force with the ability to alter Indian pop culture forever.

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