Petals in the Dust – Exploring Gender Violence in India

Photo 1 happy_girls

The Vancouver Int’l South Asian Film Festival (VISAFF) presents Nyna Pais Caputi‘s Petals in the Dust: The Endangered Indian Girls, a feature documentary about the cultural origins of female genocidal crime in modern India.

“I needed to create this film for myself, and for people like me who didn’t realize the magnitude,” says director and producer Caputi in a sit-down interview with WIFTV member Christine Bissonnette

Nyna Pais Caputi filming in India

Nyna Pais Caputi filming in India

It’s a provocative topic to explore for an Indian woman. “Every time I show it to an Indian audience, I’m nervous about the reaction to the film,” says Caputi. “But my goal is to use this film to create more dialogue, and to create discussions about how can we end these instances of gender violence, and how can we introduce gender sensitivity and gender equality into our schools.”

Several individuals have gotten involved since Caputi started her work on the film. Lucky Gill, a Surrey realtor who grew up as one of four daughters, was one of Caputi’s interviewees. Gill founded the non-profit Global Girl Power Foundation, dedicated to empowering girls and women around the world.

Caputi found another key ally in Mohamed Hamir. Struggling to raise funds for the film, Caputi organized a fundraiser, which was covered by the Indian newspaper ‘Indian West.’ The article caught the attention of Hamir, who was living in California. He called Caputi, and told her he wanted to support her film. “He went on to become my biggest donor,” she tells us. He’s now her executive producer. “This was incredible,” she continues “because it’s not just about Indian women and getting them involved, we need the men to get involved too.”

Hamir agrees. “7,000 girls are killed every day,” he says, with disbelief in his voice. Seven years ago his daughter and her husband adopted a baby girl from India. “If her biological mother hadn’t put her in an orphanage, what would have been the fate of my granddaughter?” he asks. “It’s incredible that we can inflict such a violence on our own humanity. That paternalistic mindset needs to be changed. You educate a woman, you educate a nation. It’s not just a moral crime. The women have equal or more potential – they’re more compassionate than men – to raise the standard of living.”

The documentary features multiple stories of incredible survival – including one story about a woman who was buried alive as an infant – and stories about incredible strength of spirit – including the story of woman who is now in the process of suing her husband and hospital authorities for conducting an illegal sex determination test on her while she was pregnant. Caputi shares that not all women featured in the film were easy to access.

“The few people who did come forward said that they were doing it so that they could be a voice for other women. They suffered so much violence. They thought if they spoke up, other women might find the courage to step forward.”

After several community screenings, multiple women and men have come forward to share their stories, just as she hoped they would. “They’d tell me ‘for years I didn’t have the courage but now, after seeing this film, I feel that I can talk about it as well.’ It’s been very inspiring.”

Completing the documentary

Petals in the Dust PosterCaputi was wondering how to weave several stories into a narrative. “The film was a mess before we brought on Shirley Gutierrez, our editor,” Caputi admits. She helped make several key decisions about the stories in the film. Gutierrez suggested to bring Caputi into the narrative. “They wanted to see the film through my eyes,” Caputi says.

During the process of filming, Caputi’s father died. She talks about his death at the end of the film. “My father was a very empowered man from a young age. He was so supportive of me. I dedicate the film to him because I want to use positive female and male role models.”

Another key addition to the film was the music. They brought on Michael Tremante as a composer. “His work,” she says, “really helps to carry the viewer through what is a very difficult narrative.”

But one of the biggest contributions Gutierrez made to the film was the ending. “The ending was very weak before she came on,” says Caputi. “We just had talking heads; activists talking about what we had to do to change things. Shirley said ‘No. It needs to end with the women you featured in the film. It needs to end with stories of hope.’ And not just hope inspired by the survivors, but hope inspired by the many non-profits that have been working this genocide for years.”

Though difficult to watch, the film tells an important story of strength and resilience.

Caputi hopes the stories will have a positive impact on people all over the world, inspiring us to work together to educate ourselves and our children on equality and compassion, no matter what our race.


Petals in the Dust: The Endangered Indian Girls will be screening on Saturday, November 28 at 2 PM at VISAFF.

Executive Producer Mohamed Hamir will be in attendance. This screening is co-presented by Women in Film & Television Vancouver.

The 5th annual Vancouver Int’l South Asian Film Festival (VISAFF), themed “Bollywood & Beyond” takes place November 27-29, 2015 at SFU Woodward’s.

Learn more about the film on

By Christine Bissonnette –  Photography by Gino Caputi

Christine Bissonnette is a writer and spoken word poet interested in courage. She manages the website Creative Life, a collection of stories and conversations that explore what we’re really talking about when we refer to that oh! so elusive word: creativity.

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