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Art is not a luxury, but a necessity.



Jyothi Venkatesh

As the COVID-19 pandemic surges around the globe, cases of domestic violence have reached a frightening peak. According to the UNFPA, if lockdowns continue for six months around the globe, 31 million additional cases of domestic violence can be expected. The day since the stay-at-home orders were issued by the Indian government over two months ago, the National Commission for Women received more than double the number of complaints it did before, registering a number that went from 116 to 257 a mere ten days after. In a bid to bring attention to this silent pandemic, actor Ruhii Singh joins filmmaker and fashion designer Kristy De Cunha for the short film That Neighbour’s Wife. The two-and-a-half minute feature traces the footsteps of a distressed woman who manages to call a trusted person and convey the signal for help.

Says Ruhii Singh, “The lockdown has helped curb the spread of the corona virus but it has let violence fall through the cracks. Women facing domestic violence are finding themselves in a situation where they are prohibited from escaping their homes; they’re prisoners within their own four walls. Marital rape is not okay, domestic violence is not okay—we can’t continue to normalize these crimes.  Violence is not a part of any marriage, bond or union.”With That Neighbour’s Wife, De Cunha aims to embed the covert distress signal—a universal signal for help against violence at home—in the minds of viewers. There are two simple steps to forming the symbol: (1) Palm to camera and tuck thumb (2) Trap thumb. The discreet gesture can be made on a video call to family or friends and in-person to a neighbour or stranger too. The film is part of a global initiative ‘Signal For Help’ launched by the Women’s Funding Network, a philanthropic organization connecting over 100 women-focused foundations in the world.

That Neighbour’s Wife is the first feature in the three-film series that De Cunha is working on to break the silence on what children and women suffer in an abusive household. Shot remotely during the lockdown, the films portray no acts of violence, as the writer-director wanted them to be viewed by people across all age groups. Says Kristy De Cunha, “The need of the hour is to be receptive and responsive. If these films bring solace to a victim by letting them know that they can reach out and seek help discreetly without endangering themselves any further, then that’s half the battle won. More importantly, we need to educate our children and the future generations and raise them to respect all.”

Ruhii Singh believes that her character in That Neighbour’s Wife is every woman who has ever faced domestic violence. Through the film, Singh wants to create discourse, awareness and action to build mechanisms of help, refuge and rehabilitation for survivors of domestic violence. She thinks it’s time society does away with the ‘log kyakahenge (what will people say?)’ mentality as well as the patriarchal example of endurance in womanhood.  Says Ruhii Singh, “That Neighbour’s Wife is both sensitive and bold. We want to tell people that domestic violence is an act that women from all walks of life and households are faced with. Keep your eyes and ears open. If you hear or see someone facing violence, speak up and support them. It’s important to unlearn what it means to empower women. Silence is not the answer. We have to undo the stigma that plagues speaking up and seeking help.” Produced by Rahebar Sonawalla and edited by Arvin Maben, Kristy De Cunha’s That Neighbour’s Wife is an attempt at solidarity and help in a time of global crisis. Team-work was indisputable for a remote-project and the cast and crew hope the film and its message are received widely.

 Ruhii Singh is an actor, model and former Miss India who made her cinematic debut with Madhur Bhandarkar’s 2015 drama Calendar Girls. Apart from playing the lead roles in the recent web series Operation Cobra and Spotlight 2, Singh has also featured in Canadian filmmaker Nisha Pahuja’s Emmy-nominated documentary The World Before Her which partly profiled Singh’s aspiration to become Miss India while exploring the complex and conflicting environment that Indian women are faced with on their journey to success. Singh is set to star in the upcoming comedy-drama Runaway Lugaiand will also be seen alongside South Indian megastar Kajal Aggarwal in Mosagullu, a film about the world’s largest I.T. scam. Now well on the way to global superstardom, Singh wants to fight for the equitable causes she believes in through her diverse work in the fields of film and fashion.

Watch That Neighbour’s Wife here:

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