A PERIOD PIECE – Shuchi Talati

with special guest Shuchi Talati, hosted by Asha Dahya

On this month’s rePRO Periodical Podcast, Asha speaks with “A Period Piece” director Shuchi Talati about breaking away from typical culture clash/arranged marriage narratives about South Asians, the way her crew helped create a comfortable environment on set, and how the character of Geetha demonstrates how period sex is perfectly normal. Shuchi also talks about her first feature film, “Girls Will Be Girls,” which will begin filming later this year.

Asha Dahya  00;00;12;29
Hello friends! Welcome to another episode of the rePRO Film podcast. I’m your host Asha Dahya, delivering this interview straight to your inbox via the rePRO Periodical newsletter. Each month we share important articles, links to organizations you can support, a short film to watch, and of course this interview, all centered around our chosen theme. This month we’re focusing on menstrual health and all things periods. Yes, the topic that literally billions of people around the world experience, yet is still heavily stigmatized in so many ways. 

From menstrual products being taxed as “luxury goods” in a number of countries, to the lack of access to period products, and women and girls being shunned from their communities and forced to stay in potentially dangerous spaces because menstruating is considered “dirty” or “unclean” by certain groups, it’s clear we have a long way to go to dismantle harmful cultural norms.   But one of the most exciting areas we are seeing change in, is film and media. From the 2018 Oscar-winning short documentary “Period. End of Sentence”, to more recently Pixar’s ‘Turning Red’ driving a tonne of conversations on social media about how periods are included in family films, this is what we need to see more of! No more silence!

Today I’m thrilled to be speaking with an acclaimed filmmaker Shuchi Talati, whose short narrative film A Period Piece is breaking silence and taboos in powerful and beautiful ways. Shuchi is originally from India and her work challenges dominant narratives around gender, sexuality, race and South Asian identity. Shuchi is also a writer / producer for documentaries. Recent credits include We Are: Brooklyn Saints for Netflix, and Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas for HBO, where one of Shuchi’s episodes was nominated for a GLAAD award.

Released in 2020, ‘A Period Piece’ follows main character Geetha, a control and order loving Indian-American woman who finally has sex with her lover Vehd one afternoon in her apartment, but things quickly turn messy when period blood stains her pristine couch and a fight erupts while they are having sex. The film has enjoyed nearly 2 years of a successful festival run, including being screened at our very own Repro Film Fest, as well as SXSW in 2020. Dismantling stigma around menstruation starts with having open conversations and normalizing this very normal thing! I hope you enjoy our conversation.

Shuchi, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate your time and know you’re working on another big project right now, which I’m going to ask you about a little bit later, but we’re really excited to be highlighting ‘A Period Piece’ in this month’s rePRO Periodical. The film was initially released in 2020 and has had quite a successful festival run the past couple of years coming. Can you tell me more about that? How does it feel to have it so well received at these festivals?

Shuchi Talati  00;03;29;00
Yeah, thank you. I am so happy to be here and appear to be so. You know, it was supposed to premiere at SXSW in 2020 which is like in March. And so it was like right before our world sort of players. And SXSW was I think the first film festival or like major festival that was canceled.

Shuchi Talati  00;03;50;05
And so in a way it was like a strange beginning to the film’s journey. And then kind of on the flip side of it because it was you know, they ended up doing a sort of little online screening. And when the film screens online, I feel like you have the feeling simultaneously that everyone and no one is watching it. But I think it was kind of cool that a lot of people like I think film festivals can be prohibitively expensive. So a lot of people who would not have made it out in person were able to watch it. And kind of since then, I wasn’t like, you know, I wasn’t totally sure what the journey would be like.

It feels like the film has really been welcomed by a lot of like Asian American Indian American festivals. And I know the programmer at one of the Indian-American festivals said this is going to scandalize a lot of uncles and aunties at home, and we love it. And I think that actually has been particularly special to bring it to like Indian and Indian American audiences.

Asha Dahya  00;04;53;12
Yeah, for sure. I mean, I know that my mom, who’s Indian, who listens to all these podcasts because she loves me, obviously. I know she’s probably going to listen to this and I’m going to tell I like mom. These are conversations about sex and, you know, reproductive issues. And but surprisingly, she’s been very open minded. So I really love that about her. But let’s go back to the origins of the film. How did the story initially come about and what was the inspiration for creating a period piece?

Shuchi Talati  00;05;20;01
Yeah, a great question. Also, “Hi, Asha’s mom.” I feel like a lot of my work kind of comes with like there’s like something like real from like. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be autobiographical. But it’s like something personal, like so for, I think for a period piece. Well, I will say that there is a grain. So it shot in my apartment and that is my couch. And that couch at one point has been stained. I have not seen where I had this kind of like a scene, really. A scene led this idea of like here you had sex and the couch being stained. But then to really find like the heart of the story, like what what is the actual conflict between the characters? You know, apart from the mechanics of like the sex of the staining.

Shuchi Talati  00;06;06;07
So that actually took, I think, a couple of years to arrive. And and I think it was when, like, I feel like we’ve all had this feeling in relationships where it’s a little bit asymmetrical. One person wants a little bit more than the other person is able to give them, like the kind of a dynamic that creates. And I know that I’ve been in relationships like that and sometimes my impulse has to be has been to be like, I’m cool. I don’t care that’s why you can commit a totally fine and on the inside, like, I’m dying, you know? So I feel like at some point it just kind of these two ideas came together and it felt like the the spilling of the blood and like, which really results in like kind of spilling over our feelings, you know, for the female character, it kind of came together in this story.

Asha Dahya  00;06;59;15
I love you interwove those two so well together. And yeah, for everyone, you’ve got to watch the film because it’s it’s just really wonderful how, you know, it’s this theme of we’re talking, we’re seeing period blood and you know, for many people that is the shocking thing. But actually what’s going on in their relationship is really dynamic as well. And that’s that’s really EYE-OPENING, too. So I love that. And, you know, reading your director’s statement on the website, you know, you talk about being a South Asian woman and I’m a South Asian woman myself. And I really loved the thought process behind, you know, what you were just talking about. With the film. I really resonated with it. Can you talk more about the idea of wanting to normalize sex during your period and these themes, especially for a South Asian audience, perhaps?

Shuchi Talati  00;07;43;01
Yeah. Thank you for that question. Let’s be real. Like periods are taboo. Certainly in South Asian cultures. We don’t really talk about them. You know, when I got my first period, I was like, I was actually shocked, you know, I was like, What is going on? I am dying because obviously it had not been talked about until then. So, I mean, you know, there like I grew up in a Hindu household in Gujarat, and so there was all this like, oh, you don’t go into the kitchen. And, you know, I mean, it was kind of like my mom was cool. So she would be like, don’t tell anyone, don’t tell grandma. But you can, like, be in the kitchen.

Shuchi Talati  00;08;20;27
But there was just this sense that it is like impure. So obviously that is the sort of kind of background that I grew up with. But also, I so, like, grew like I came into adulthood and like, you know, started like having like sexual partners. It also shifted in where it was like my relationship with my body shifted. And I was like, this is normal, like. Like, about half the world is menstruating, you know, every month, like, for, like, many, many years of their, like, adult life. So it’s like, why is it so mysterious and hidden and why are like pads and tampons, like, in some faraway eye, you know, in, like, pharmacies. So I think, like, for me, it sex and like, my period became much more normal. And once I had sex, on my period multiple times, I was like, wow. Like, this is an experience that I kind of want to write about in a way. That I experience it now in a way where it’s almost like mundane. You know, I want to tell a story about, like, how periods are taboo. And the South Asian woman is maybe like, oh, my God, you know, I have my period, but I actually want her to treat it as normal and mundane and in a way, like, I guess model how I wish periods were treated when I was growing up and how I know periods can be treated now.

Asha Dahya  00;09;55;19 – 00;10;38;26
Yeah. And I definitely feel you know, maybe our generation of South Asians living in, you know, a Western culture like America, the UK or Australia, wherever, I think there is definitely that push to normalize it, which is really great. But speaking of identity, you know, both the lead characters and actors in your film are South Asian, yet this film wasn’t really about their identity. So following on from what you kind of just started talking about, can you talk about the thought process of not wanting to focus on them being South Asian and, and why, you know, South, South Asian and other minorities on film should be allowed to have these normal, mundane experiences and not just center around you know, their skin color or their culture or things like that.

Shuchi Talati  00;10;39;06
Yeah. Thank you so much for asking that. This is sort of like a thing that I think about all the time in my work, and you’ll see like the first. It was really important for me to read cast like South Asian characters, just because there are a lot of narratives that are not available to us and so I wanted to see South Asians in this weird South Asian like boundaries, bodies having sex in this way in a way which is like unfiltered raw, you know, uncomfortable, very real with all the ups and downs.

Shuchi Talati  00;11;10;17
So it was very important for me that these characters were South-Asian and yet like I see that a lot of films that our community is allowed to tell are very, like you were saying, centered around our identity. So you still see the arranged marriage plot over and over again in like whether it’s a TV series or like a film you know, you’ll see like stories about like and Indian immigrants like identity and how they’re dealing with that and like maybe like the conflict between a more Indian family and a more like American, like, you know, like life outside of the family.

Shuchi Talati  00;11;52;06
Those are parts of our identity. And those stories are important. But that’s not all of us, you know? I mean, there’s also like, we fall in love and we are envious and we, you know, experience like jealousy, just like and I want our heartbreak and grief, and I just want space for us to just tell stories that are kind of universal because I do think that only having a limited kind of narrative, you know, we it’s kind of like robbing us of our full scope of humanity. And so I want like these other narratives to exist with the ones that are more dominant.

Asha Dahya  00;12;31;18
I love that answer. So I’m just thinking of the soundbites I’m going to share on Instagram afterwards when this interview goes out. So that was brilliantly said. And, you know, the story itself is quite intimate You know, you see these characters having sex and, you know, the film industry has changed because of COVID, obviously, but now it’s really getting back on its feet a little bit. What was the process of filming like? You know, you said you filmed in your apartment. How did you work to make the actors feel comfortable on set? You know, what was that like? Where was the crew you know, just all of those dynamics when you’re filming it.

Shuchi Talati  00;13;06;04
Yeah. And those are so important for like all films, but especially a film like this, which basically required the actors to be naked from much of it, you know? So I think the fact that we were shooting in a small, intimate space and we had a very small crew and a lot of women, actually, a lot of the women on the crew. So it was kind of like created a certain kind of like atmosphere from the get go. And then obviously the actors had read the script. And I will say that a lot of actors, you know, once they read the script, did not even want to audition. So they were like uncomfortable with it. So they were like there was a very small subsection of the actors that the script went out to who even wanted to audition.

Shuchi Talati  00;13;53;19
And those were already, I feel like in some ways, like brave and special souls. And so the two actors that we ended up casting Sonal Aggarwal from Chicago, and there’d be a part of me from LA, but obviously we’d had like extensive conversations even during the casting process, about like how we were expecting, you know, how we were hoping to film it in the fact that, you know, I’m not interested in seeing like genitals or but, but the fact that these actors are like, you feel like they’re nude and the sex feels real, and it’s not the kind of sexy sometimes scenes in a mall where like the woman is wearing her bra while she’s having sex, you know, which has never happened to me in my life. And I was like, I want it to feel real. And part of actually it feeling real is the nudity. So I think because there had been these extensive conversations, I think by the time they came on set, they were kind of you know, as ready as one can be.

Shuchi Talati  00;14;53;19
And it’s still very vulnerable then to have like thought about it and prepared for it and then show up and have to actually perform in front of, you know, a group of people. So obviously, we tried to keep it as much of a close said and like move, you know, people who were not necessarily really for the filming of that actual shot to another room or of course, like for scenes where you are not really seeing. So clearly in film, there’s these things which are called genital guards which are basically like flesh colored thongs without sides. So so the actors actually I never fully nude, you know, it was like for like privacy but also for hygiene. So it’s so I think like we also had like those and like somebody on standby with the robe.

Shuchi Talati  00;15;43;28
We’re shooting in the summer and I think on the very first day, the very first shot required them to undress, then I think Stone oh God got so comfortable. She was like, okay, that’s it. It’s so hard. Don’t bring that robe. Dear me, I’m fine. And and I think it was like it made me feel really happy that she felt really like comfortable you know, and performing that way. And really said to me at the end of the shoot that I’ve, I feel like I feel empowered like I feel like I’m here with my stretch marks and I’m here with my belly fat. And I feel really loved here, you know, and, and I feel like that’s I think it’s big. How we make work is as important as what work we make. And I think that’s like a testament to the crew who helped create this little cocoon, you know, where they could, like, actors have to act live. They have to create lives. So it’s very vulnerable and it’s very brave. And the film really required them to bring it. So I’m really glad that they were able to.

Asha Dahya  00;16;57;27
Yeah. I mean, that’s such an important aspect of filming we don’t often hear about, especially from an audience point of view. I mean, there have been some conversations recently in the media about some of the actors in the TV series Euphoria and how they felt pressured to do nude scenes and didn’t feel comfortable. So hearing this and how important it is to make actors and, you know, people feel comfortable and said is really powerful and and empowering, like Sanaa said. So that’s really great. Kudos to you and your crew for for making that happen. As a filmmaker from India living in the US, you’ve been here for a while. Do you feel there are certain expectations from you regarding the types of narratives you quote unquote should focus on what people would expect from you as a filmmaker?

Shuchi Talati  00;17;42;28
Well, that’s a tough question because I think the answer is kind of yes, and I wish it was no. I feel like I’m experiencing it a lot more with the current project that I’m working on, which maybe we’ll get into. It’s called Girls Will Be Girls, and it’s a coming of age story that’s set in India, and it kind of has two parts to it, like one that takes place in a conservative, sort of oppressive school where this young girl has to kind of fight against the social and moral codes and like she is coming of age, having her first sexual experience.

Shuchi Talati  00;18;16;08
And then the other part, equally important part of the film takes place at home where the young girl has this kind of interesting, complicated mother daughter relationship where like that story developing. And I sometimes find that people in the West and, you know, the U.S. and Europe both are much more interested in the school part of the storyline because that kind of is like more like issue based and like, you know, it kind of fits into the kinds of stories that come out from that part of the world where about like, you know, it’s about the patriarchy and it’s like women’s oppression.

Shuchi Talati  00;18;52;176
The mother daughter story to me is like the heart of the film. That’s really the true love story of the film, and that is much more universal. And I’ve actually heard somebody say that that feels like it’s from a Western gaze, which is like insane. But it’s like I think that’s the unexpected part. And that sometimes is the challenge of, you know, making work that doesn’t fit neatly in this box.

Asha Dahya  00;19;20;06
Yeah. And can appeal to so many different audiences and demographics. That’s really interesting. The feedback that you getting the going back to a period piece and wrapping that up. Before we ask, before I ask you about your next project, you know, menstruation is so normal, like we said, for approximately half the world, which is billions of people, yet it’s so heavily stigmatized and people get shamed for it in all sorts of cultures.

Even here in the United States, I was working on a quick side note story. I was working on a media campaign a couple of years ago, which was all about dismantling the tampon tax in Canada. And so we made this viral video and I was doing a lot of media interviews to talk about the video, where it’s going on social media all that kind of stuff. And there was one radio interview I did, and I was speaking to the producer who was a woman before I went on air, and she was telling me, okay, so that the host is going to ask you these questions, but let’s not talk about periods. And I’m like, Wait, what? It’s about the tampon tax. Like, how do you not talk about fear?

It just kind of blew my mind that even in a media campaign that was about tampon tax, it’s like, don’t talk about periods. And so I guess my question really is, you know, how can films like a period a period piece and all the films and documentaries that we’ve seen worked to dispel stigma and maybe a lot of internalized shame about periods, too, among women?

Shuchi Talati  00;20;50;08
I feel like for what it’s like, I think there’s a kind of like erasure, right, of our like real bodies and periods like so given that so many of us are menstruating at any given hour around the world. So but we don’t see it like so I think the first thing is just to kind of like make it more visible, like why don’t more characters we don’t like?

That doesn’t have to be the main storyline, but they could be having their period. They’re out buying like tampons or sanitary nets or like, like if there is just I think erasure is what makes it kind of feel shameful, you know, but if they’re visibility, I feel like that’s like in my film where there’s one scene where like you see a peg, a bloody peg, and, and I just like, I can’t tell you the number of women who’ve seen it and who are like, Oh my God, I don’t know when, when, if ever I saw that in a film on film.

Asha Dahya  00;21;45;06
No way. Yeah. I can’t even think.

Shuchi Talati  00;21;47;05
Yeah. And it’s like that’s important just to, like, be able to see it, you know? And of course, then the other narratives about I guess what I’m saying is that it doesn’t really need to be an issue based narrative for a film to make a difference, you know, like it is a normal part of our lives. And if it is just more interwoven into our narratives, maybe it feel more normal in life, too.

Asha Dahya  00;22;15;04
Yeah, I feel like there’s, there should be there’s some sort of project idea out there about watching every film that has women and girls and people of a certain age and scope. She’s on a period. She’s on a period. She could be on a period. She could be in a period. You know, just to make it normal and have some sort of like, I don’t know, Trevor Noah type Daily Show commentary to make it funny, but also like, okay, this is a real thing that’s going to happen.

So if anyone wants to make that that compilation video, feel free, I will release that idea into the universe. But in the meantime, I’m so thankful that films like ‘A Period Piece’ are, you know, putting these things front and center and allowing it to be normalized and to be seen. Visibility’s really, really important. And so speaking of visibility and, you know, things being on film, talk about what you’re working on next. And you mentioned your, you know, the film that you’re shooting. What else can you tell us about it when will it be released? What can be where can people find more information about your work?

Shuchi Talati  00;23;10;24
The film that I’m working on right now is my first feature film is called Girls Will Be Girls. And it’s it’s like a coming of age story both for a girl and her mom. And it’s sad. It’s set in Nanny Theo, which is in the Himalayan Mountains and is also a town which is kind of known for its boarding schools. So, you know, it’s like the boarding school is part of the world. And like like I was saying, like the home with mom is the other part of the world. And yeah, I’m actually just about to go to India. I’m going to go fly to India next week. And I’m going to stay there probably until the end of the year.  We’ll be shooting in the fall, which is like right after the monsoons. So the mountains are like lush and beautiful. And so so that’s kind of the hope and the plan. You know, we know now more than more clearly than ever that the world is kind of uncertain. But that’s the plan to shoot we’re casting right now. We’ll shoot end of the year and then hopefully be ready for festival as like mid-next year.

Asha Dahya  00;24;17;11
How exciting. Well, if it’s anything like the caliber of work you brought us in a period piece, I have no doubt it’s going to be impactful and really beautifully shot and really memorable. So best of luck with the filming for the rest of the year. And I know you know your festival run with a period piece is pretty much wrapped up. Where can people find more information about AI? Where can people follow you and get to know the work that you’re doing as well?

Shuchi Talati  00;24;43;08
Yeah, I think the best way to follow me, because I’m like a little bit of validated is my website, which is basically my name dot com, ShuchiTalati.com. Our film, A Period Piece, does have an Instagram. It’s @aperiodpiecefilm – So yeah, you can follow that for any updates any future screenings. Hopefully it’ll be streaming on some platforms. Fingers crossed. Now that the festival run is coming to an end, we’re looking for a kind of distributor/distribution outlets. Yeah, follow along.

Asha Dahya  00;25;18;17
Sounds great. And of course if you are a subscriber to the rePRO Periodical, you’ve got a link to watch the film. So please go ahead and do that and keep up to date with news about when it’s going to be a streaming or on demand somewhere, but shoot you till I die. Thank you so much for speaking with me today and I wish you all the best of luck and I can’t wait to see the film come out in the future.

Shuchi Talati  00;25;42;19
Thank you so much, Asha. It is a pleasure.

Asha Dahya  00;25;46;25
You can learn more about A Period Piece by following @aperiodpiecefilm on Instagram, and keep up to date with all of Shuchi’s work at shuchitalati.com.  As always, be sure to subscribe to the rePRO Periodical at reprofilm.org, and you can listen to all the episodes of the rePRO Film Podcast on Apple podcasts, Spotify and Google podcasts. Rate, subscribe and tell all your friends! Everyone is welcome to join our repro film community! Until next month, I’m Asha Dahya, bye for now!

A PERIOD PIECE (Director/Screentwriter: Shuchi Talati)