Emma Macey-Storch: I want my film ‘Geeta’ to start conversation on family violence

By Anu Jose

I am waiting for my zoom interview with director, Emma Macey-Storch and can’t hide my surprise and delight when Neetu Mahor appears on screen. Neetu is an acid victim survivor and the star of the documentary Geeta, written and directed by Macey-Storch with Agra as the backdrop. The film takes its name from Neetu’s mother, a strong and feisty woman. It is a story of hope, survival and how you can bring about change. Geeta and her 3 young daughters (Neetu 3 at the time) were attacked in the middle of the night when their father Inderjeet poured acid on them, punishment for not providing a son. Geeta was badly injured, Neetu lost both eyes in the attack and one baby girl died. I’m incensed, being a mother of three girls is the ultimate blessing in my life. Perhaps the desire for a boy isn’t limited to developing countries as I recall my third pregnancy and constantly asked if I was trying for a boy (not at all, just a third child to complete my family).

Emma wants this film to give a voice to gender violence and start vital conversations. She is very proud, after a 7-year journey having completed this film in the face of many challenges. For her it is an important message and a sensitive take on family violence.

The attacks forced Geeta and Neetu to take a stand against what happened. Neetu joined the ‘stop acid attack’ movement and their involvement in activism was born. ‘Activism isn’t what you see on the news, it is the day-to-day struggle, overcoming violence’, says Emma. She goes on to talk about the change in the community they wanted to create and how real activism gives real hope. The film shows that everyone can affect change and our conversation turns to SHEROES hangout; a café run by acid attack survivors.

SHEROES is where Emma met Geeta and Neetu and knew their story was worth pursuing. The cafe started with 5 people and now employs 30 full time staff and supports another 100 survivors. They are helping people in India understand the motivations behind these acts of violence. Neetu tells me through a translator that people wouldn’t sit near them but now they do. Campaigning against violence has given her satisfaction. She is proof attitudes can be changed. Everyone is welcome at SHEROES. They encourage discussion and women’s empowerment is high on that list. There are no set prices, you pay as you wish. India is not set up to support minority groups and this is where SHEROES comes into its own, lobbying and protesting for what they believe in.

Geeta is not in Australia with Neetu and for such a close mother and daughter, time apart must be tough. We meet Geeta in the film at the premiere screening in Melbourne at the Astor theatre and she is nothing short of inspiring. She has fought for her daughter to live as normally and independently as possible.  Geeta is exactly who you want in your corner, a lioness protecting her cubs.

Neetu is at the screening and is even more beautiful and confident than when I spoke to her over a screen. The same warmth is evident and her big smile is infectious. How can someone who has suffered so much be so happy? She’s at ease on the stage, talking to the crowd and entertains us with her melodious singing. Singing is her specialty as well as talking, no surprises there! ‘I loved singing always and interacting with new people and connecting’.

When researching the film, I read that Inderjeet and the family continue to live together and he appears in the documentary. The feminist in me is outraged but talking to Emma and Neetu it is not black and white. India 30 years ago would not be supportive of a single mother. A society built to always side with the male. Meeting the perpetrator in the film is confronting but Emma deliberately included him as he was willing to tell the truth. Emma goes on to say ‘thinking about violence and doing it is very different. He was supported by his family to perpetrate this and it is a warning to people to get help early. He doesn’t escape it in his conscious’

I ask Neetu about her father. For the first time she is lost for words. This is a difficult for her, what he did was unforgivable, and their relationship is complex. She tells me every daughter wants support from their father and she wants to do something in the world and create a better place. Emma cuts in ‘she’s moved on from the acid attack at 3 years old, you can’t hold hate your whole life. Her life has evolved. He recognises all the things he has done. Her father supports all their work, makes breakfast has the fire ready when they get home. See the film and watch it unfold and evolve. You can’t undo the past’. I do see the film and I can’t help but feel Inderjeet is a bit pathetic and useless, not half as capable as or strong as the women in his life he attacked. The irony isn’t lost on me, Geeta and Neetu combined are not women you want to mess with. Would having sons have provided anything more? However. after all that has happened, the love he has for them is undeniable.

Neetu is enjoying her time in Australia, no one judges her appearance here ‘nobody makes comments on my face, it is a good thing and people are nice’. Out of the blue she says she is very happy to be here and talking to me is fun. She acknowledges India has come a long way but there is so much more to be done on acceptance. Neetu is wise beyond her years. I tell her I am writing for the Indian Downunder newspaper, so she goes on to say what she wants Indians in Australia to take out of the film – it isn’t the time to stay quiet or inactive. Neetu is a firm believer in free thinking, and she contributes this to her mother Geeta whose courage taught her to think differently. Particularly in India she says we need to think above customs and traditions that lead to gender inequality and not blindly accept them. Young people are the key to change. ‘Adopt one thing in life to create change. Change doesn’t require the whole world. Change our thinking and the world will be changed’.

Emma’s dream is that this film creates change in India by getting it into high schools so young people see they can support change. Our time is nearly up and covid isn’t mentioned until now. As with everyone during the pandemic they have suffered the covid disappointments of delays and cancellations but are thrilled to just find out they have won the social justice award at the Santa Barbara Film festival.

This screening is the first time Neetu is watching it with an audience, and as I watch her in her full-length gold brocade skirt, she’s radiant, deservedly proud and beaming. Surrounded by people, she is in her element. Her powerful words come back to me ‘silence can kill people’.

Short URL: https://indiandownunder.com.au/?p=17713