Vaishnavi Sundar

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Vaishnavi Sundar
Vaishnavi in Chennai
Born8 June 1986
OccupationFilmmaker, activist
Years active2008 - Present

Vaishnavi Sundar is an Indian independent filmmaker and activist.

Her latest film: Dysphoric: Fleeing Womanhood Like a House on Fire is a four-part documentary series on "gender identity ideology",[1] and she said screenings of the film have been cancelled following allegations of transphobia.[2][3][4] In 2018, she produced and directed a documentary on Workplace sexual harassment called But What Was She Wearing?.[5] Her films have been screened in several Indian and international festivals. She founded Women Making Films.[6] She has written, directed, and produced all her films under her own production company, Lime Soda Films.[7][promotional language]

Early life[edit]

Vaishnavi was born on 8 June 1986 in Avadi, a suburb in the state of Tamil Nadu. She did her schooling there and went on to getting her bachelor's degree in commerce at Ethiraj College for Women, Chennai. She did her post-graduation in business administration from Anna University in Chennai. She attended the International Visitor Leadership Program.{(fact}}

Vaishnavi started out with acting under Theatre Nisha, a Chennai-based centre of drama.[8] She gradually moved on to directing and writing plays too. She attended "The Actor's Voice" by Bill Wright at Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow. She also attended a physical theatre workshop under Anita Santhanam, a graduate of London International School of Performing Arts. While she started acting in films from 2010, her decision to make her own came in 2013 when she started making Pava.


As an actress[edit]

Vaishnavi initiated her acting career in association with Theatre Nisha. In the course of 7 years she has acted in a variety of plays viz., The Pregnant King, The Red Queens of the Black Night, Siri Sampige, The Particle Collider and Fire and the Rain etc. She won the award for best actress for her lead role in The Particle Collider.[9] In the later years, she directed four plays - To Write my Epitaph[10], The Lilac Ticket, A Beautiful Mind and Chitrangada (A Monologue), two of which won her the best director and play of the day award by Short and Sweet. Of the four, she wrote and produced A Beautiful Mind and Chitrangada, herself. Vaishnavi has also performed at the prestigious Soorya festival and at Rangashankara's Sampriti Festival.[11][12]

As a voice artist, her work appeared in regionally hosted television series, including Nickelodeon cartoons Ninja Hattori, Perman and a Korean feature film Tidal Wave (2009).

As a filmmaker[edit]

Vaishnavi began her filmmaking career in 2014 when she made her debut film Pava[13], a story about the metamorphosis of the relationship between a young girl and a barber. Pava has made its way to many film festivals across the country and the abroad, including places like Slovenia, Afghanistan and New York. Her second film, The Catalyst[14] came in 2015 which was a crowd-funded project raised from an independent fundraiser[15] unlike Kickstarter or Indiegogo. The film was inspired by the story ‘Taxi Driver’ written by the Indian writer Kartar Singh Duggal.[16] The Catalyst has since been a subject matter of discussion and learning among colleges and film clubs. Vaishnavi has conducted many workshops[17][18] on the topic and she has also written at length about the process of finishing the film by making all the resources available for free, in the film's website.[19] During August 2015, she directed a documentary on Palaeontology titled Unearthing The Treasures of Ariyalur.[20] This project that focused on the fossils discovered in Ariyalur, a small village in Tamil Nadu went on to become the first ever Indian documentary on fossils and drew positive attention of Palaeontology professionals from all over the world.[21] During a short trip to Gangtok, Sikkim, Vaishnavi made a short documentary on the life of a female traffic cop by name Anju Chetri and called it Aage Jake Left. The film focuses on the Northeastern Indian women's admirable grit. This film was screened at the London Feminist Film Festival, and Pakistan International Women's Film Festival.[22]

Her film, But what was she wearing, is a documentary on workplace sexual harassment in India which examines the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act of 2013, and “juxtaposes the expectations and realities of seeking redressal” for such crimes under this Act.[23] The film has received reviews from leading media outlets including The News Minute,[24] Scroll,[25] Newslaundry,[26] The Quint,[27],[28] Vikatan,[29] Theekathir[30] and Indian Express[31] to name a few. The film has since been screened in five cities including Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, Mumbai

In January 2021, she conceived, directed and edited a four-part documentary series during COVID lockdown called: 'Dysphoric: Fleeing Womanhood Like a House on Fire' made entirely via video conferencing software. In this dystopian world where misogyny is rampant, and womanhood is commodified, being female comes at a cost. Corporates capitalise on women's bodies blurring the lines of biological sex, and profiting from the empirically untested pseudo-science of queer theory. This gaslighting is aided by the complicity of media, academia, legal and the political world. It is no surprise that young girls are fleeing womanhood like a house on fire.

The past decade has seen a steep rise in the number of young girls seeking to transition by undergoing life threatening, irreversible procedures. ‘Dysphoric’ is a four-part documentary series on the rise of Gender Identity Ideology, its effects on women and girls - especially in developing countries. The film explores gender transition, the permanent medical side-effects of hormones and surgeries, the propaganda by 'woke' corporations that glorifies thousands of stereotypical gender presentations coalesced as fashion, a surge in pronoun policing; language hijacking that calls women ‘menstruators’, and the many hurdles women face while trying to question this modern-day misogyny. The film amplifies the voices of detransitioners, clinicians, psychiatrists, sociologists, feminists, academics and concerned citizens.

As a writer[edit]

Vaishnavi is a published writer and has written on diverse topics themed under films, feminism and the epoch of social justice community in India. Starting from the intersection of feminist ideology and filmmaking, Vaishnavi has written articles that have been published on platforms like Women's Voices Now[32] and, The Hindu.[33] For other topics related to women's issues, she is a regular freelancing contributor to TheNewsminute,[34] Scroll,[35] The Ladies Finger,[36] Firstpost,[37] The Swaddle,[38] Provoke Magazine,[39] Worldpulse[40],[41] Ozy[42] etc.

As a curator, speaker and adjudicator[edit]

During March 2016, Vaishnavi spoke on progressive filmmaking, as a mentor in Vital Voices Global Mentoring Walk – Chennai Chapter[43]. Later, she was invited as a speaker at a major conference on alternative cinema: marketing, promotion & release organised by Indiearth Xchange.[44] She was also an adjudicator for Women's Voices Now- a US-based platform advocating for women's rights through films and has curated various International film festivals across the country, involving a special package of films made by women. The recent ones were in Madurai[45] and Chennai.[46] In November 2017, Vaishnavi was invited as a Springboard Sessions Speaker at Samagra 2017, an annual event organised by the Melton Foundation at the BMS College of Engineering. She periodically guest lectures at premier educational institutions like the IIT Madras on Cinema, Feminism and equality. In November 2018, Vaishnavi was invited by Gender at Work to speak as a panelist on "Bridging the Gender Gap at Workplace",[47] held at Goethe Zentrum, Hyderabad. The Rotract Club of Women's Christian College, Chennai invited Vaishnavi as a panelist for their event, Stree Suraksha where she opined on "Relationship between media culture and sexual harassment." The All India Democratic Women's Association frequently invites Vaishnavi to speak at various grassroots events across Tamil Nadu. She also serves as a speaker and adjudicator of a variety of online events, film festivals regularly.

As an activist[edit]

Vaishnavi's work as a feminist activist started from a campaign she initiated against a Tamil magazine which described women's leggings as "obscene", on social media with the trending hashtag #OurClothesOurChoice which eventually compelled them to take-down the online version of the magazine.[48] Her next noticeable work involves a campaign against the glorification of crimes against women in Tamil cinema. Along with Iswarya, a Chennai-based researcher, Vaishnavi participated in discussions at various place and also produced a video stressing on its dangers, asking people to boycott films that glorify stalking and male violence against women.[49][failed verification]

Reproductive rights in India draw in her most recent work, which includes advocating for emergency contraceptive pills to be available over-the-counter in the state of Tamil Nadu. The ban of over-the-counter ECP has been in place for 10 years[as of?] and her petition requesting the government to lift the ban went viral which so far has received more than 1500 signatures.[50] For this, she won a story award by World Pulse.[51]

In November 2017, Vaishnavi was invited by Al Jazeera to be in a panel discussing controversial Bollywood film Padmavati. Vaishnavi put forth her arguments about the need for a recourse that looks into real issues like poverty, rape and a dearth of safe space for women in India, rather than glorify fringe elements that vandalise and murder in the name of Indian culture. This was broadcast live from Washington DC by The Stream, a social media community with its own daily TV show on Al Jazeera English.[52]

Through her film, But What Was She Wearing? which touches upon the rampant sexual harassment of women in the unorganised sectors such as construction and farm labour, highlighting a lack of structure for redressal that one finds in larger corporate firms, she endeavoured to educate (through collaborations with organisations and NGO) women about their rights by screening the film in small towns of India. Through this film, Vaishnavi's team hopes to get the attention of policy-makers and force amendments in the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, in order to make the law more potent and practical, instead of the toothless paper-legislation that it is today. The film is already scheduled to screen in multiple colleges in India as part of the sensitisation program in these educational institutes.[citation needed] Since the first screening of the film in Chennai, many corporate heads[who?] have approached the team to screen the film at their workplace for their employees.

Transgender people[edit]

Vaishnavi is now[when?] advocating "sex-based rights"[citation needed] in collaboration with the Women's Human Rights Campaign (WHRC), an anti-transgender group.[53]

She has said screenings of her film have been cancelled following allegations of transphobia.[2][3]

Other activities[edit]

Women Making Films is a recently launched website founded by Vaishnavi. A product of her feminist activism and approach towards cinema and an attempt to condemn the blatant gender disparity in the film industry. It was established on the notion that there was no community in India empowering women filmmakers.[54] The forum is dedicated to establishing an appreciable connectivity among women filmmakers within India as well as the world. This not-for-profit community was built to create an online campus for the promotion of female filmmakers, their works etc. through blogs, workshops and mentorship programs and many more such avenues.[6][55][56]

In the course of one year since its launch, this website has gathered a vast number of popular and influential women working in Indian and world cinema in its members list including Debalina Majumdar, Annupamaa, Iram Parveen Bilal, Revathy S. Varmha and Beena Sarwar. Along with a group of ground-breaking articles on the subject of cinema and tabooed aspects of society, Vaishnavi has also interviewed artists like Tannishtha Chatterjee, Megha Ramaswamy, Rajshri Deshpande, Anuradha Menon and Nina Paley. Through the platform of Women Making Films Vaishnavi has collaborated with various educational and film organisations like Goethe Institut, LaGuardia Community College and Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute and conducted film festivals and screenings. The community's most successful event, The First Festival was an attempt to screen films made by women all over India[57] and it is the only such event in which 15 films made by women from 7 countries were screened in 10 cities all over India.[58] The First Festival was also widely appreciated and talked about by the media.[59][60][61] It also generated discussions about sexism and sex-based discrimination with filmmaking, in all the places it was conducted.[62] The First Festival brought together a number of collaborators who offered to screen films in their premises and came on to become the initial developing ground for Vaishnavi's organisation.[63] Women Making Films has an ongoing event calendar with curated screenings, film festivals and focussed workshops throughout the year.

Women Making Films continues to be the voice of female filmmakers from around the world, with members from more than 19 countries, and 32 unique departments that they are an expert in.


Year Name Language Role
2010 The Pregnant King English Actress
2010 Red Queens of the Dark Night English Actress
2011 Shadjam English Actress
2011 Mathemagician English Actress
2012 Shadjam English Actress
2013 The Brave Tin Soldier English Actress
2013 The Little Match Girl English Actress
2013 The Fire and the Rain English Actress
2013 The Lilac Ticket English Director
2013 The Particle Collider English Actress
2013 Romancing Guy Maupassant in India English Actress
2013 The fire and the rain English Actress
2014 Siri Sampige English Actress
2014 Late for school English Actress
2014 To Write My Epitaph English Director
2014 Solladi Siva sakti Tamil Actress
2016 Chitrangadha English Writer, Actress


Year Name Language Role
2010 "Naanum oru penn" (I'm a woman too) Tamil Actress
2010 Home Sweet Home Tamil Actress
2011 Unsweetened Tamil Actress
2013 The impossibility of dialogue Hindi Actress
2014 PAVA Tamil, Malayalam Writer, Director
2014 Vela Taaralu Telugu Assistant director
2014 Objection over ruled Tamil Actress
2014 Urban Displacement English Actress
2014 Dwaraka Hindi Actress
2014 Samyuktam Teeugu Assistant director
2014 Dream A Dream Kannada Assistant director
2015 The Catalyst Kannada Writer, Director
2016 Unearthing the Treasures of Ariyalur English Director
2016 Marupadi Malayalam Actress
2017 Aage Jake Left Hindi Director, Cinematographer, Editor
2018 To what end? English/Tamil Director, Executive Producer
2018 But What Was She Wearing? Multiple Director, Executive Producer
2018 Jackal's Womb NA Director, Executive Producer
2019 The Seal English/Hindi Producer
2021 Dysphoric: Fleeing Womanhood Like a House on Fire[64][65][66] English Director, Producer, Editor
Upcoming Muted Wails English Writer, Actor, Producer

Festivals and Screenings[edit]

Dysphoric: Fleeing Womanhood Like a House on Fire[edit]

  • Released online for worldwide distribution

But What Was She Wearing?[edit]

  • Official selection - Udada International Women's Film Festival, Kenya 2018
  • Official selection - Nominee (Best Film) Independent Talents International Film Festival, 2018
  • Official selection - Colorado International Activism Film Festival, 2019
  • Official selection - 6th International Documentary Festival of Ierapetra Awards, 2019

To What End?[edit]

  • Official selection - Pitch Her Productions' Riveter Series: #MeToo, New York City, USA 2018
  • Official selection competition - Women International Film Festival. Islamabad, Pakistan 2018
  • Official selection - Cut the Gap! The HeForShe Vienna Gender Equality Short Film Day, Austria 2018

Aage Jake Left[edit]

  • Official selection competition - Women International Film Festival. Islamabad, Pakistan 2017
  • Official selection competition - Cine Sister Women Women. Manchester, UK 2017
  • Official selection competition - London Feminist Film Festival. London, UK 2017

Unearthing The Treasures Of Ariyalur[edit]

  • Official selection – International Festival of Women Filmmakers, Gauhati India 2016
  • Official selection competition – International Documentary and Short Film Festival Kerala Trivandrum India 2016
  • Official selection competition - Docademia's 2nd Short Documentary Contest Chicago, USA 2017

The Catalyst[edit]

  • Official selection – International Festival of Women Filmmakers, Gauhati India 2016
  • Official selection – International Short Film Festival, Bangalore India 2015


  • Official selection competition – International Documentary and Short Film Festival Kerala Trivandrum 2014
  • Official selection – Bangalore International Short Film Festival 2014
  • Official selection competition – Alpavirama – South Asian short film festival India, Ahmadabad 2014
  • Official selection – IAWRT – Asian Women's Film Festival, Delhi 2015
  • Official selection – Anthropo Children's festival, Slovenia 2015
  • Official selection – Under The Tin Roof Performing Arts Festival, Mumbai 2015
  • Official selection – International Women Film Festival, Afghanistan 2015
  • Official selection – FLO Film Festival, Mumbai 2016
  • Official selection – International Festival of Women Filmmakers, Gauhati 2016
  • Official selection – Women Making Films Festival, New York 2016
  • Winner - Women International Film Festival. Islamabad, Pakistan 2018

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Vaishnavi Sundar". Object Now. Retrieved 19 December 2021.
  2. ^ a b "I was cancelled for my tweets on transgenderism". Spiked-Online. Retrieved 19 December 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Vaishnavi Sundar: Gecancelt vom Mainstream". Die Tagespost. Retrieved 19 December 2021.
  4. ^ "Indian filmmaker Vaishnavi Sundar made a film about sexual harassment, then got cancelled by liberal feminists". Feminist Current. 25 March 2020. Retrieved 19 December 2021.
  5. ^ "But What Was She Wearing, India's first feature-length documentary on workplace harassment, faces funding crunch - Firstpost". 5 February 2018. Retrieved 15 February 2018.
  6. ^ a b "Reel It In". 8 September 2015. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  7. ^ "Lime Soda Films". Retrieved 22 May 2017.
  8. ^ Gopalakrishnan, Aswathy (14 March 2017). "Long Road To A Level Playing Field: Interview With Filmmaker Vaishnavi Sundar -". Retrieved 22 May 2017.
  9. ^ "A spotlight for 10 minutes". Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  10. ^ "To Write my Epitaph". Alliance Française of Madras. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  11. ^ "Above and beyond". The Hindu. 5 November 2013. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  12. ^ "Theatre Nisha". Theatre Nisha. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  13. ^ "PAVA a short film by Vaishnavi Sundar". Vimeo. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  14. ^ "Video on The Catalyst". The Catalyst. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  15. ^ "Auto Driver Focus of Experimental Film". Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  16. ^ "Art, against all odds". The Hindu. 31 July 2015. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  17. ^ "Two-day workshop for women filmmakers in city - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  18. ^ "Crowd Funding Workshop for Budding Filmmakers - Eclectic Northeast". Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  19. ^ "Blog". 26 February 2015. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  20. ^ Editor (29 January 2016). "Unearthing The Treasures Of Ariyalur – A Documentary". Nirmukta. Retrieved 5 September 2016. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  21. ^ "Documenting a tale from the paleo-age". 21 February 2016. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  22. ^ "Long Road To A Level Playing Field".
  23. ^ "This Upcoming Film Will Help Us Understand What Happens After Cases of Workplace Sexual Harassment are Filed - The Ladies FingerThe Ladies Finger". 30 March 2017. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  24. ^ "'But What Was She Wearing?': Must watch film on workplace sexual harassment". The News Minute. 9 October 2018. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  25. ^ Nathan, Archana. "Documentary 'But What Was She Wearing' delves into the efficacy of sexual harassment laws in India". Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  26. ^ Newslaundry. "Newslaundry | Sabki Dhulai". Newslaundry. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  27. ^ "'But What Was She Wearing' Couldn't Have Come at a Better Time". The Quint. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  28. ^ "Vaishnavi Sundar's 'But What Was She Wearing?' Is A Powerful Documentary On Workplace Harassment". 15 October 2018. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  29. ^ Gunavathy.m (29 October 2018). "'சாமானியப் பெண்களின் குரல் இந்தப் படத்தில் ஒலிக்கும்!' - ஆவணப்பட இயக்குநர் வைஷ்ணவி | but what was she wearing was the documentary directed by vaishnavi sundar speaks of workplace harassment". (in Tamil). Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  30. ^ "வேட்டை நாய் போல அவள் முன்னே ஓடிச் செல்லும் நிழல்… – ஜி.செல்வா". தீக்கதிர். 19 November 2018. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  31. ^ "Building the Narrative". The Indian Express. 26 October 2018. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  32. ^ "Community and Sisterhood". Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  33. ^ "Vaishnavi Sundar - thRead". The Hindu. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  34. ^ "Articles by Vaishnavi Sundar". The News Minute. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  35. ^ "Vaishnavi Sundar |". Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  36. ^ "You searched for vaishnavi sundar - The Ladies Finger". The Ladies Finger. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  37. ^ "Commitment to feminism".
  38. ^ "Reinventing Horror Cinema".
  39. ^ "The Tree Of Abuse".
  40. ^ "Lifting The Ban On Emergency Contraceptives". 14 February 2017.
  41. ^ September 8, Vaishnavi Sundar On; 2019 (8 September 2019). "Why Women Must Make Bad Films For The Next 50 Years". Retrieved 11 October 2019.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  43. ^ "Vital Voices Global Mentoring Walk". WMF. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  44. ^ "Conference Day 1 - IndiEarth XChange 2016 - An annual trade event for independent music, film and media". Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  45. ^ RP, Amudhan (18 November 2016). "18th Madurai Film Festival 2016 : Women Making Films". Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  46. ^ "5th Chennai Film Festival 2017 : Special Package # 1 - Women Making Films". Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  47. ^ "Why gender gap at workplace?". The Hans India. 17 November 2018. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  48. ^ "Magazine Says Women's Leggings Are 'Obscene', Facebook Users Give A Fitting Reply". Youth Ki Awaaz. 26 September 2015. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  49. ^ "Activism is my Art: Vaishnavi Sundar". 4 November 2016. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  50. ^ "Petition on 'ban' of emergency birth control in TN goes viral". 9 October 2016. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  51. ^ "INDIA: Lifting the Ban on Emergency Contraceptives | World Pulse". World Pulse. 14 February 2017. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  52. ^ clay (28 November 2017). "Why is a Bollywood film sparking threats of violence?". The Stream - Al Jazeera English. Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  53. ^ "'Rights aren't a competition': Anti-trans hate is on the rise in Canada, activists and advocates say". CTV News. Retrieved 4 December 2021.
  54. ^ "Women Making Films: A Platform Linking Indian Women Filmmakers". Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  55. ^ "Muffled Voices Get a Mouthpiece". Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  56. ^ Prateek (25 February 2016). "Films and Feminism: The Melange of Progress". Nirmukta. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  57. ^ "Women Filmmakers Only". Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  58. ^ "Fest of Films Made by Women from Tomorrow". Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  59. ^ "By women, for women". 2 September 2015. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  60. ^ "Launched - 'Women Making Films', An Initiative To Promote Women Filmmakers! - Jamuura Blog". 18 September 2015. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  61. ^ "Tvm to host fest of Women-madefilms - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  62. ^ "The reel life of women". The Hindu. 16 September 2015. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  63. ^ "Departing From the Usual". Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  64. ^ "Dysphoric - A four part documentary on the rise of 'gender identity' ideology". Asiaville. 30 January 2021.
  65. ^ WHRC (21 February 2021). "Vaishnavi Sundar Talks About Her Latest Film 'Dysphoric - Fleeing womanhood like a house on fire". Rumble.
  66. ^ "Dysphorique : fuir la féminité comme une maison en feu (par Vaishnavi Sundar)" [Dysphoric: fleeing from womanhood like a house on fire (by Vaishnavi Sundar)]. Le Partage (in French). 28 February 2021.

External links[edit]