Speaking out loud against gender disparity

A still from the movie "I Still Hide to Smike"

As Rayhana walks into the room I ask her, “Do you still need to hide to smoke?”

She breaks out into a laugh and replies, “Yes. In Kerala I do need to.” Franco-Algerian director Rayhana’s film ‘I Still Hide To Smoke’,  is a take on gender disparity and women being victimised all over the world, especially in third world countries.

“If something is bad, it is bad for both men and women. How can it be bad for women alone? A woman who smokes is looked down upon and called a slut, whereas it is perfectly fine for a man to smoke. My movie is not on smoking but on double standards, ” says Rayhana, who is in Kerala with her film for the the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), which currently going on.

The movie was shot in a hammam (community bath) in Greece and most of the actors are Greek.

“ I very badly wanted to shoot the movie in my home country Algeria. But there was no way I could. How could I in a country where religious fundamentalism rules and women are confined to norms set by patriarchy? No Algerian actress was willing to act in my movie. I don’t blame them. For if they did act in my movie, the only choice for them would be to leave Algeria and live in some other country thereafter” says Rayhana.

“I Still Hide To Smoke”,  is set in a hammam where no men are allowed. Here women, away from the male gaze become themselves. They disrobe not only their bodies, but their minds and souls too.

Franco-Algerian director Rayhana

Here the women unburden themselves. Rayhana says,”I have used a completely female crew. Many scenes in the movie had to be shot in the nude and I wanted no voyeurism. The women in my movie are real women sans make up or perfect bodies. They are fat, skinny, old, young and as real as they are in real life.”

Rayhana is fundamentally a theater person. She has been writing and acting in plays for several years. Rayhana had to flee her country of birth Algeria following murder attempts and death threats against her for she always fought for freedom of expression.

The film “I Still Hide To Smoke”, was first conceived and staged by her as a play. It was after it received great critical acclaim that it was adapted into a movie.

“Each time I stage a play, I make changes, I improvise. But in cinema that is not possible. What is done is done. Also one needs a lot of money to make a movie. But in theater so much is possible with so little” says Rayhana speaking about the differences between working in theatre and in movies.

But she says she absolutely enjoyed working on this movie and has another one coming up soon, again centered on women.

Let us hope the tribe of film makers like Rayhana increase because when their voices are heard out loud, it is the voice of repressed women all over the world that we hear. And it is time we put an end to their silence.