MORE THAN A WOMAN

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Every mother is special, we spoke to one such mother from Melbourne, Mitu Bhowmick Lange to understand what is it being a woman…

The Mother’s Day that has just gone by has given us a new perspective on the year we missed; and the year that we are living now. It pushes us to ponder how blessed we are to be celebrating women, motherhood and all that comes along with it.
Recently, Mr Sethi (editor-in-chief of G’day India and the Indian Weekly) and I spoke to one such woman who not only wears many hats to her name, but she is also a woman we feel like celebrating today.

A typical day for Mitu is waking up in the morning– with her 7-year-old daughter Parina singing loudly right in her ears. It feels like we know her already. So, let me take you inside the world of Mitu Bhowmick Lange: filmmaker, founder and director of Mind Blowing Films, and director of the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne. Also, winner of Jill Robb Award from Film Victoria recognising her achievements, leadership and mentorship of other women from the sector.

Zooming in from her St Kilda home, a visibly upset Mitu had just gotten news of her friend in critical condition battling for his life infected with Covid in India. Very shaken by the suddenness of it all, she continues with the interview. The news lingers on the back of our minds, slowly bringing us to the present.

Mr Sethi begins the interview by summarising the many roles Mitu plays in her life – but what is HER most important role? It was no brainer when she said, ‘Motherhood.’ Since having her daughter Parina, sometimes everything becomes all-consuming at the Bhowmick Lange household. Smirking slightly, she tells us that she has drawn a map of her brain to her team many a time when they come to her with petty issues. In a nutshell, 50 per cent is occupied by Parina; the remaining 50 per cent consists of health, business, her husband and her parents. Predominately, it’s motherhood that is the constant and essential role she plays.

Giggling, Mitu tells us this is very ironic because she was never the maternal type; her focus has always been her career, so she has surprised herself by enjoying motherhood to all its glory. When Parina was born, she was diagnosed with Down syndrome. Mitu wishes she knew then what she knows now. The first three years were particularly very challenging, with several stays at the Royal Children’s Hospital. A place that Mitu says restored her faith in Humanity. The last seven years have been full of wonderful adventures that have made them grow. Like most parents with children with special needs, ‘she never takes anything for granted and celebrates all the wins’. The highs are higher and the lows are lower. Parina surprises and challenges them ever-day –’never a dull moment’. She laughs.

The next part, like most Australian Indians, is being a daughter to her parents in India. Given the current climate, Mitu feels overwhelmed with worry and a nagging sadness with everything that’s happening in India.

Then, of course, being a wife, marrying her best friend – Roy who supports her on all her crazy ideas and dreams. They met in Delhi, while in college, backstage at a TAG theatre production. Continuing with her infectious laugh, she says that she found it rather strange: A Hindi speaking New Zealander studying in Delhi. Like most Indian fathers, Mitu’s father was also very curious to know ‘what is a New Zealander doing studying in Delhi?’ After four years of courtship, they married amidst 45 relatives and friends from UK, New Zealand, several merry Bengali relatives and friends. After the wedding, they were back in Mumbai with Mitu continuing her exciting journey making shows for various channels before finally relocating to Melbourne. They have been married twenty-four years, and it has been a big adventure. She points out getting married at a young age gave them room to grow together.

Then she has a role of a friend to a lot of people, both in Australia and in India. The Lange’s are known for their open house with friends and food flowing in filled with laughter, food and chatter.

Then comes the businesswoman, who we all know.
Mitu quotes her ex-boss, telling us, ‘Work–life balance doesn’t exist.’ In life, one has to coexist wearing multiple hats. Mitu juggles between hats, from the festival director to the distributor to the producer – but the most important hat that she joyfully wears is her mother’s hat.

Talking to us about some of the challenges in the multiple roles she plays, Mitu tells us though these roles came with many ups and downs, life itself is a rollercoaster ride that we all have to navigate. Like all popular public events the festival receives its share of criticism, some of which Mitu admits has helped make the festival better and stronger. Taking it as positive feedback, she and her team go through the actual process of incorporating these suggestions.

However, last year the criticism reached a strange new level. Extremely personal vicious attacks Mitu confirms that she has never spoken about this, nor she has ever engaged.
However, when things started getting out of control, for the first time in the 11 years of the festival, they had to seek the help of the Australia Federal Police, who confirmed that the hate mails were coming from one IP in the US. They have also warned a few here to be careful. The company is also taking legal actions.

‘When one is being bullied one feels a level of humiliation, please speak up, the laws in this country and the community will support you’

Mitu took this step after a lot of thought. She had always ignored it in the past and moved on. Though this time she felt she had to address the vicious lies. The bullying felt relentless, targeting not only her company and the festival but also her team and her family.

It was so deeply personal and hateful that she would have lost respect for her own self if she hadn’t done something about it. She has never defended anything and always felt that her work always spoke. She is quite right seeing her body of work, I, too feel that she doesn’t need to justify to anyone at all. Thousands enjoy the festival every year, and eagerly wait for the next one. And after a while, that narrative is the only truth.
I am not surprised when she tells me she has lost respect for some people. People who chose to play all sides and engaged in petty politics. Where do they find so much time, she wonders?

‘It is also surprising when people talk about Women empowerment and equality but leave no opportunity to spew their misogyny’

Being a part of the Film festival myself in 2019, I’ll say that one just needed to be at Federation Square during the Bollywood Dance Competition or at the Awards night. The energy of the crowd takes you to a new high when people from all walks of lives come together as a community, some cramped up like sardines, just to get a glimpse of Sharukh Khan. Or the unique opportunity to hear from the Masters about their craft. Seeing such positivity and then suddenly having viciously dismissed by a handful of people is mind-boggling. Mitu says, “we love the festival and it is a privilege to produce it”. They respect all opinions, including the unflattering ones. However, being disrespectful, vicious and a bully is not the way to go about it.

‘Respect is a two street and sadly kindness is underestimated’.

Here I am, looking at a woman who brings the Indian community in Australia together via arts and cinema. She’s also a mother, and she’s someone’s daughter. As Mr Sethi rightly points out, ‘She’s the daughter of India.’

Mitu’s message to the wider community is simply to be kind to each other and live every moment. Things at the moment are not easy for everyone, while people are gasping for oxygen, and here we are arguing for things that don’t matter in the bigger picture. At the end of the day, it’s all about the journey and overcoming the obstacles and moving forward, it is not about judging each other. ‘The whole environment of bitterness doesn’t serve the purpose.’

Yet, here I am talking to a businesswoman who wouldn’t change anything if there was a retake in life.

If anything, she has learnt change with the pandemic; as Mitu rightly says, we just can’t plan anything and take it for granted. Still, she sees her company in the next five years producing films and shows, and keeping herself and her family healthy and happy.

For Mitu the mother, her message for young mothers is not to get bogged down with expectation and the media’s perception. There is no rulebook for being a mother; there is no right or wrong. We should follow our heart and stay true to who we are – and have our careers. Yes! It’s difficult to balance it but it can be done. ‘Don’t put yourself last.’
As we wrap up the interview, we have to ask the mother what she wishes for her daughter.

Her wish is simple, like most mothers. She just wants Parina to be independent, self-sufficient, happy and contributing to the larger community. Mitu wants her daughter to have all the things that are important in life – especially love and dignity.
While writing this, I cherish all that makes Mitu – a full circle celebration of a mother, daughter, wife, businesswoman, friend and a mentor. I think of none other than Frida Kahlo “At the end of the day we can endure much more than we think we can.”

By Nandita Chakraborty