It was a moment of immense pride and joy for India as Guneet Monga brought home the golden trophy at the 91st Academy Awards. Her Netflix film ‘Period. End of Sentence.’, which she co-produced, won the award for Best Documentary (short subject) at the Oscars, making her the sixth Indian to win one, and the first Indian producer to achieve this feat. Exploring the topic of menstruation, the stigma attached to it in India, and the attempt to overcome those barriers, ‘Period’ attempts to broach the subject with sensitivity. Felicitations, as expected, have been pouring in from all everywhere for Monga.
“It’s beyond epic. Our film is a co-production between India and the US, and all the girls who made this picture in LA (USA), the girls from Hapur (India), and who’re attached through Action India — it’s a win for each girl,” says Monga.
Monga in a veteran, having produced films such as ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, ‘The Lunchbox’, and ‘Masaan’ in the past. Seamlessly integrating art house subjects with a hint of mass entertainment is definitely her forte. Back in 2015, when ‘The Lunchbox’ was doing rounds at international film festivals and was nominated at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards, she’d commented that an Indian film selling around the world is the dream. Today, as she stands with the golden statuette, she’s taken that dream one step further.“It started from Oakwood High School (LA) girl students, who decided to donate one pad machine and raised $3,000 for it through bake sales and yogathons. It was then that Melissa Berton, their English teacher, said that enough change wouldn’t come with one pad machine – there’s the issue of raw material through the year, lack of proper electricity etc. So, they decided to raise money by making a movie, and make more pad machines from it and distribute it worldwide,” Monga shares.
WE WON!!! To every girl on this earth… know that you are a goddess… if heavens are listening… look MA we put @sikhya on the map ❤️
— Guneet Monga (@guneetm) February 25, 2019
The girls then met with Gouri Choudhury of Action India – an organisation furthering women’s rights – which eventually drew Monga to this project. “They started a Kickstarter campaign which raised $40,000, and then Mandakini (co-producer) and I produced this film through Sikhya Entertainment (Monga’s production house). As producers, we got the film made in India, Iranian-American director Rayka Zehtabchi came here, and did the post production in America, and then it toured all the festivals.”
A film with a message – this is important to Monga. “You should never take anyone’s time for granted. If you’re coming to see a story that we as filmmakers are choosing to tell, we should feel responsible for your time. As storytellers, as filmmakers, we can force a discussion to happen. With Period winning an Oscar, I want all the boys and men to participate in the conversation. We (women) have talked about periods a lot, but now let’s reverse the conversation and have men and boys talk about it.”
While the main deciding factor in giving the go-ahead to a project remains intuition, women’s issues hold a bigger space in her heart. “Analysing how many women cinematographers are there, how much a stunt woman is fighting for equality, how women directors are paid less than men directors – I can now put my opinion behind this in whatever films I do. The #MeToo movement has also impacted me to have a clearer thought process — we’re so tuned to men functioning their own way that they don’t even realise when they cross the line and hurt people with what they say or expect.” At the same time, she underlines that “it’s very intuitive – looking at the director, at the writer, talking about the subject, seeing their work and commitment to the story, all that impacts the decision.”
For someone who’s seen her mother be a victim of domestic abuse, had her parents pass away within six months of each other, battled and won over depression, Monga remains ever-grateful to life, and one can hear it in her serene voice. Taking life’s learnings forward, Monga is striving to create an impact in the world one film at a time.
All images: Courtesy Getty