Geeta: Filmmaker Emma Macey-Storch’s close look at acid attack victims

The documentary is about a mother’s resilience and the power of her transformative love to bring change to her daughter’s life after a brutal acid attack

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Directed by Emma Macey-Storch, Geeta is a feature documentary about a mother’s resilience to bring change to her daughter’s life after a brutal acid attack.

Neetu Mahor was two years old when her father Inderjeet crept into the room where she was asleep with her mother and two sisters, and threw acid on them. The attack left her severely scarred and almost completely blind, her eight-day-old baby sister Krishna dead, and their mother Geeta badly injured.

When asked what made him carry out this heinous act, Inderjeet remarked, “Geeta could only give me daughters. A person with sons has more status.”

Their story is now being told all over the world thanks to Australian filmmaker Emma Macey-Storch, in a documentary entitled Geeta.

Geeta has won the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Social Impact Award, the Ferguson Film Prize, and a Golden Tripod for cinematographer Rudi Siira from the Australian Cinematography Society.

Emma first came across the story of Geeta and Neetu as she researched ideas for a film on family violence along with co-producer Nayana Bhandari.

“We had stumbled upon the newly opened ‘Sheroes Hangout’ cafe in Agra which is run by 30 acid-attack survivors and aims to raise awareness about the intricacies of acid attacks,” Emma told Indian Link.

These women are also part of a campaign lobbying for law reforms, harsher sentences for attackers, compensation for victims, medical treatments, and the ban of the open sale of acid in shops.

READ ALSO: Indian film wins big at Sydney documentary film festival

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Neetu with director Emma Macey-Storch. Source: supplied

She recalls her first meeting with the mother-daughter duo with much fondness. “What I loved about them instantly was their wit and humour, and their fearlessness and uncompromising desire for change in the world. They invited me back to their one-room house that night. And it all became clear how important their voice is in the debate on family violence, and why the world just needed to know their story.”

It took Emma and her team seven long years to put their story on film.

The largest challenges were mainly financial, followed by COVID-caused delays.

On crowdfunding the project, Emma recalled, “We did art auctions, concerts, and Dipanjali Rao (co-producer and Indian Link columnist) and I even auctioned ourselves off for cooking meals at people’s houses.”

Ultimately the project secured support from Screen Australia, Vic Screen, The Documentary Australia Foundation, The Post Lounge, Scout Finance and many loyal donors and philanthropists.

Geeta is a film that makes you uncomfortable, and rightly so. It’s not actors that you see on screen, but real people whose lives have been scarred literally and figuratively. These are women who are battling poverty and dispossession, all trapped within the chains of patriarchy. Yet when the film ends, you’re left smiling and laughing with Geeta and Neetu, sharing in their hope and infectious gusto for life.

What made me most uneasy, was the fact that Geeta and Neetu continue to live with the perpetrator Inderjeet. I found myself questioning and judging Geeta for continuing to live with the man who destroyed her and her daughters’ lives.

READ ALSO: Foraging and fermenting bamboo shoot: Dolly Kikon’s documentary

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Neetu at the Melbourne screening of the documentary. Source: supplied

But as shown in Geeta, leaving is not particularly easy. Far too often, women are tied to the community they live in with their violent partners, and that community is a source of support and opportunity. As Geeta confided, it was better to have Inderjeet at home than deal with the other men who would knock on the doors at night.

Emma struggled with the decision herself, to include him in the film.

“A lot of thought that went into this, because of issues around giving perpetrators airtime. I think the turning point for me was that Inderjeet was willing to openly discuss what made him do it, what he was thinking at the time, and take full accountability and show regret.”

Not to take away from the gravity of his crime, Inderjeet is also a pawn caught in the web of a patriarchal society.

“I also think that by Inderjeet offering this truth to the film, it reinforces Geeta and Neetu’s extraordinary power to create change.”

Geeta is not a film to be watched, praised, and then forgotten. It is a call to change.

Acid attacks, abuse, and gender discrimination are not just a problem in India. They are global issues – there are millions of Geetas and Neetus living around us. This film hopes to address the myths and misunderstandings around family violence, and deal with sometimes misguided efforts to try and solve it.

Neetu stood beside Emma at many of the screenings of the film and award shows.

“It was an incredible experience having her with me,” Emma revealed.  “It was an important recognition for all women like Geeta and Neetu who are out there in the world doing the long fight, over decades, to survive violence, find their voice and create change in their communities.”

READ ALSO: A clinical psychiatrist reveals how Indian women in Australia experience family violence – and how to combat it

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