Ten million female fetuses are estimated to have been aborted over the past two decades in India according to ActionAid. 35 million females are also ‘missing’ according to the 2001 National Indian Census. Female feticide is an urgent and prevalent issue, and this horror does not only apply to India. Oxford University research based on birth statistics revealed that 1500 females from England and Wales have gone ‘missing’ since 1990. Sons being valued higher than daughters seem to have become ‘the norm’ in Indian Society. Whilst some parents feel their daughters to be the ‘Laxmi’ (Goddess) of the house, others are repulsed by them. The expense of paying a dowry, the responsibility of family honour resting upon a daughter, as well as daughter’s being viewed as ‘parahi’ (belonging to her husband’s family) are some factors that encourage the murdering of an unborn female child.
This shocking issue of female feticide is addressed by Nila Madhab Panda in his forthcoming film Jal Pari: The Desert Mermaid. Tannishtha Chatterjee expressed both the importance of the film’s message and her own responsibility as an actress to deliver it to the Times of India: “Being a woman and an actress, it is very important for me to support a film like this.” Furthermore Chatterjee also expressed her views on society as holding double standards – particularly towards females. She stated to IANS, “On one hand, we enjoy watching item numbers, but on the other hand if a girl goes to a party in a short skirt, she gets molested.”
Society is in desperate need to acknowledge and change its shameful preconceptions and Jal Pari encourages society to do just that. Already having been screened at the 65th Cannes Film Festival, the film received a glowing response. The issue of female feticide is tackled in a light-hearted manner in the film, being shown as a child’s adventure. Shreya (Lehar Khan) is an urban Delhi girl who spends her vacation at her father’s village. Being a curious child and always up for an adventure she ends up discovering a shockingly horrific secret that’s hidden away in the village.
Chatterjee plays a supporting role, whilst child stars Lehar Khan and Krishang Trivedi lead as the protagonists. Child star Harsh Mayar of ‘I am Kalam’ also plays a prominent role. On her experience working with child artists, Chatterjee told Times of India: “I love working with children.” She described them as “natural…They are so genuine in their acting.” Jal Pari’s star cast also consists of Parvin Dabs, Rahul Singh, Suhasini Mulay and V.M Badola.
Issues as horrific as female feticide are perhaps easier to confront through a film that has the innocence and inquisitive nature of a child’s adventure. Perhaps having child protagonists emphasises not only the beauty and importance of childhood, but also the value of children- both male and female.