'21 Hours' is a documentary that covers the struggle of the women who sell fish for a living on the roadsides. The documentary journeys through the life of Rajamma.
The film, directed by Sunitha CV and produced by Magline Philomina, covers the journey and work of Rajamma.
The film premiered on March 7th, a day before international women's day, released by prominent Malayalam actress Manju Warrier.
Talking to the BEYOND Pink App team, filmmaker Sunitha said that they chose to make this film as part of research by Coastal Women Federation.
Watching Rajamma's life, it is clear that she goes through a lot of challenges and hurdles to earn a living. ‘21 Hours’, as suggested by the title, is how long she works; which include both her earning work, travels, and domestic work.
But, she is a determined woman who wants to make a living instead of sitting at home and depending on her husband.
Married, mother of five children, works six days a week, starting from three in the morning till 1:30 am, leaving just a couple of hours of proper rest.
All of her children are well settled, still, she wants to have her own financial independence.
Also as someone who knows a lot about fish and after seeing that her hometown is not seeing a variety of fish being sold there.
They get their needed variety of fish at Thoothukudy harbour, which is located 200 km away from her hometown.
The auctioning process takes place for exactly half an hour in Thoothukudy harbour and she has to ensure that she is right there on time.
Rajamma said that she wanted to ensure that people in her hometown are able to get different varieties of fish, therefore she chose to sell the fish thereafter undergoing long travels.
Apart from selling, she also shares the fish variety with her friends and peers.
Due to social conditioning and stereotypical gender roles, Rajamma and other women who sell fish like her have to work for longer hours.
"After coming from work, whether it is catching or selling fish, men have drinks with friends or play cards. Women, on the other hand, have no one to even prepare meals for them when they get back from work," said Sunitha, "Rajamma is able to go to sleep only after making and having her meals."
Rajamma treats her workplace with respect, just everyone else in her group, she cleans her place of work to ensure that others are not affected by the cleanliness aspect of it.
"Still there are people who purposefully try to ruin her business," said Sunitha.
People tend to discourage others from buying from her if she doesn't sell the fish at a lower price. They propagate fake stories about them' like they sell unclean or ruined fish. Or that she sells at a higher cost when compared to the market price.
At one point a prominent politician tried to boycott her business when she didn't sell fish to him at a lower price.
"Someone took a video of the situation and posted it on Facebook. She got favourable support and reactions after that," said Sunitha, "when we presented the idea of this documentary, Rajamma was excited. She hopes that people will get to see the kind of struggle she and women like her go through and hopes that they will get the needed assistance accordingly."
After the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, fish sellers' business got affected. Rajamma's life wasn't as secure as it was. The competition also has arisen as a result.
Rajamma hopes that people will see her documentary and understand the plight they are going through and the challenges they face.
"This is my first independent documentary," said Sunitha about her work, "I have assisted prominent filmmakers before in my ten-year-long career in this industry."
Sunitha CV is the producer of the 'Samrambhaka' programme on Flowers TV. She is a basic qualification in journalism and studied more overseas while assisting other filmmakers.
She is also working as a casting director and acting coach in the industry. She has also acted in major films such as 'Parava.'
"I have worked on several good projects earlier. 'Samrambhaka' was my first major breakthrough. Now, this documentary is something we all poured our hearts into," said Sunitha.
As someone who documented Rajamma and other fish sellers, she hopes that people who see her work will understand and connect with them likewise.