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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Why have we suddenly woke up to celebrate women behind the scene?

The story of three women working behind the scene at ISRO was first broke by BBC on 12 December, three weeks before the USA release of Hidden Figures. The BBC story spoke about only Ritu Karidhal, Anuradha TK and Nandini Harinath. Later, on 15 February 2017, when ISRO's PSLV - C37 rocket successfully placed 104 small satellites into orbit, Internet news sites started writing about 8 women in ISRO. The BBC list was now expanded to include - Maumita Dutta, Kirti Faujdhar, N Valarmathi, Mrinal Sampath and Tessy Thomas. Soon, social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook etc become agog with stories of these women and their relentless selfless work behind the scene for making the country proud.

Nobody, however, pointed out that some of these women have been working in ISRO for more than 20 years now. Anuradha TK has been working at ISRO for 34 years! It was somehow too much time that India needed to eventually recognize them. And there were no mention that it was a BBC journalist Geeta Pandey who had traveled to Bangalore following a two year old lead and broke the story to challenge the perceived notion that space science is a male bastion.

Hidden Figures is a 2016 Hollywood drama film about three African-American women working behind the scene at NASA who had played vital roles during the early years of Us space research programme. The film has won 26 awards and nominated for 60 more including 3 Oscars this year. The film was released in US on 6 January and in India on 17 February this year. The film is produced by 3 companies including Hollywood biggie Fox 2000 Pictures, and distributed by 10 compnaies worldwide. Made with an estimated $25,000,000 budget, the film has grossed estimated $ 142,591,830 till 17 February 2017 when it was released in India. By the time it was released in India, the enthusiasm associated with the film has ebbed. New York Daily News reported - "Hidden Figures is an earnest movie, but not a very exciting one. The screenplay feels as engineered as a Gemini rocket launch, with every scene and line carefully calculated". The popularity of the movie was on the decline. No doubt, it needed some boost for its India release where about 45 million people watch movies. Consider this - only 25 million people watched 3 Idiots to make it a big hit. India is a big market for Hollywood films and producers with almost 500 million people below the age of 20 . Hollywood producers have started producing Hindi films now. 

I am self -confessed skeptic as long as I am dealing with media. I need to be. My early life as journalist had trained me to be so. Here, I am bit intrigued by the timing of BBC waiting a full two years to write about women working along with men in ISRO and India's space research programme. Two years ago when India put a spaceship on Mar's orbit, a photo went viral in social media.
The message accompanying the photo described the women as scientists in ISRO and challenged the stereotype that space science in India is a male dominated area. ISRO later clarified that the women in the photo were administrative staff, but also added that there are many women scientists working in ISRO. After that, two years went by and BBC decided only in December 2016 to write about these women, just three weeks before the release of Hidden Figures. This may be a the work of a brilliant news editor with very sensitive nose for news. But, this also may be a marketing ploy for the movie. With India parallel in ISRO, you find it easier to connect with the story of Hidden Figures and thus help it gross more in India. As I am writing this Hidden Figures have completed five days in India and have got 4 star review from Times of India.

Read about Hidden Figures' sucess here.     

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