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Centred on the traditional Tamil puberty ceremony, The Yellow Festival (Manjal Neeraattu Vizha) looks beyond the obvious when it comes to addressing sexism.
When I got my first period, I had a moment of teenage rebellion that involved a lot of screaming at my mother, on my part. I didn’t want a puberty ceremony. And I was angry with my grandmother just for telling her sister that I’d gotten my first period.
Why had nobody ever wanted to proudly celebrate all of my academic achievements? I felt betrayed by the system. I never was and still am not a fan of puberty ceremonies.
However, The Yellow Festival (Manjal Neeraattu Vizha in Tamil) made me look beyond my own narrow perspective and think about why some women may feel differently. It made me reflect on why older women sometimes hold on to practices that I consider sexist. And for that, I am thankful.
Meenakshi (Neha Menon) is the headstrong daughter of Gomathi (Deepa Shankar) – she is the sort of person who wakes up in the morning and worships Kalpana Chawla, pranks all of her family members, and hides the fact that she has started menstruating from everyone. She wants to buy herself an iPad to help her win a competition that will allow her to become the school pupil leader.
Gomathi terrifies everybody in her family, and while Meenakshi’s father seems supportive of Meenakshi, he still listens to his wife. Of course, all hell breaks loose when Gomathi accidentally discovers the truth about Meenakshi’s periods. She wants her daughter to have a traditional ceremony celebrating the arrival of her first period. Meenakshi couldn’t care less.
I could see myself in all of Meenakshi’s angry teenage glory. I sympathised with her feeling trapped by her mother’s insistence that she follow traditions. Why was Gomathi putting her through this? Then Meenakshi learns why. And that changes everything.
Gomathi did not get to have a puberty ceremony due to certain circumstances in her life, and she has been discriminated against, her entire life because of that. So, she wants to ensure that her daughter does not go through any of that. Suddenly, it all makes sense.
Women are often blamed for holding on to sexist traditions. But they often do it because it’s the only way they can survive in the cruel patriarchal system we live in, especially women of older generations including our mothers.
This does not mean that we have submit to all of their sexist demands. It just means we should try to look at them with more kindness when they make those demands of us. Both Meenakshi and Gomathi end up understanding each other’s perspectives but Meenakshi maintains that Gomathi should not always expect her to obey her.
And that is what I would like to aim for, not just with the women in my family, but with women in general. We have to remember that we’re all in this together even when we disagree, because that is the first step towards a more feminist world.
Watch the film here:
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