Los Angeles filmmaker, producer and founder of Icchi The Cat Studios, Kajri Akhtar has a passion for telling stories that celebrate women’s successes. One of Akhtar’s most poignant and powerful films pays tribute to Indian social scientist, feminist activist, author and poet, Kamla Bhasin, who died on 25 September.
Kamla Bhasin worked unconditionally for uplifting the women in the society using non-literary means like plays, songs and art. She has been a prominent voice of the women’s movement in India as well as other South Asian countries for about 5 decades. In 2002, she founded the feminist network ‘Sangat’, which works with underprivileged women from rural and tribal communities. Her books on understanding feminism and patriarchy have shown ways to thousands of women, who had lost hope in their life. Many of her books have been translated into more than 30 languages. When she realized that for common women there is a lot to be done in society, she resigned from her job at the UN in 2002 and started working with the social forum ‘Sangat’. She was a founder member and adviser to this group. She believed in a form of advocacy that combines feminist theory and community action. She had always maintained that in order to usher effective change, sloganeering must be in tandem with community mobilization.
“I was immensely inspired by her life and today, I am deeply affected by her demise. Meeting Kamla Bhasin was a turning point for me,” said Akhtar. “Interaction with her made me realize that there’s a world outside prescribed societal norms. Conversations with her played a big role in shaping my career. She told us girls to dream and dream big.”
Through Icchi The Cat Studios, Akhtar has earned a reputation for engaging films and creative content. Akhtar’s documentary, “A Woman, By Choice” went deep into Bhasin’s personal life to chronicle the love, loss and heartbreak of a woman and mother.
In Akhtar’s powerful documentary, Bhasin talked about the loss of her daughter who developed clinical depression and died by suicide in 2006. Bhasin also spoke candidly of her son, who had a bad reaction to a vaccine as a child that left him with a permanent disability.
The social scientist voiced her heartbreak at not knowing who would care for her son after her death and generational impact of losing children. Bhasin shared how she worked through her grief and helped others by songwriting and activities in the feminist network Sangat, of which she was a founding member. In her demise, millions of women have lost their torch-bearer and motivator, who always stood beside them in the torrid times. Now that she is no more in the physical world, her contribution and struggle would keep in inspiring the women fraternity undoubtedly forever.
Akhtar’s emotional film gives a rare glimpse into Kamla’s personal life. Akhtar was an established producer in her native India before coming to the U.S., working in the Bollywood film and TV industry. Filmmaking is the vehicle for her to express her creative drive. Always eager to advance her professional knowledge, Akhtar studied Film and TV Producing at UCLA, enabling her to add screenwriting and script development to her extensive range of skills.
Each of the projects by Icchi The Cat Studio has had more than 70 percent of women on the team. Committed to featuring the successes of women around the world, Akhtar supports talented women, providing them with a platform for their talents. Her film about Bhasin is just one of the ways that she’s accomplishing that goal.