Vaishnavi Sundar

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Vaishnavi Sundar
Sundar at International Festival of Women Filmmakers – Gauhati, Assam"
Born8 June 1986
OccupationActor, Filmmaker, Social activist
Years active2008 - Present
OrganizationWomen Making Films - India

Vaishnavi Sundar is an independent film maker, actor, screenwriter, and activist from Chennai, Tamil Nadu who has worked in theatre and films. She is known for her work in the field of cinema and activism involving an interplay of feminism and filmmaking. She produced and directed India's first[1] feature-length documentary on Workplace Sexual Harassment in 2018. Her films Pava, The Catalyst and Unearthing The Treasures of Ariyalur have been screened in several Indian and international festivals. She is the founder of Women Making Films, which is known for its effort to break the glass ceiling within the fraternity of domestic and world cinema.[2] She has written, directed, and produced all her films under her own production company, Lime Soda Films.[3]

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 onto getting her bachelor's degree in commerce at Ethiraj College of Women, Chennai. She did her post-graduation in business administration from Anna University in Chennai.

Vaishnavi started out with acting under Theatre Nisha, a Chennai-based centre of drama.[4] 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.


As an actor[edit]

Beginning her professional voyage, 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.[5] In the later years, she directed four plays - To Write my Epitaph[6], 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.[7][8]

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). She played the role of a cop in a Malayalam feature film Marupadi directed by V.M.Vinu.

As a filmmaker[edit]

Vaishnavi began her filmmaking career in 2014 when she made her début film Pava[9], a story about the metamorphosis of the relationship between a young girl and a barber. Pava has made its way to ten film festivals across the country and the globe till now, including places like Slovenia, Afghanistan and New York. Her second film, The Catalyst[10] came in 2015 which was a crowd-funded project and was made from an independent fund raiser[11] unlike Kickstarter or Indiegogo. The film was inspired by the story ‘Taxi Driver’ written by the infamous Indian writer Kartar Singh Duggal.[12] The Catalyst has since been a subject matter of discussion and learning among colleges and film clubs. Vaishnavi has conducted a handful of workshops[13][14] on the topic and she has also written at length about the process by making all the resources available for free, in the film’s website.[15] During August 2015, she directed a documentary on Palaeontology which was released by the name Unearthing The Treasures of Ariyalur.[16] This crowd-funded 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.[17]

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.[18] The film has received reviews from leading media outlets including The News Minute[19], Scroll[20], Newslaundry[21], The Quint[22],[23], Vikatan[24], Theekathir[25] and Indian Express[26] to name a few.

As a writer[edit]

Vaishnavi is a published writer and has written on a diverse list of topics that are 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[27] and, The Hindu.[28] For other sensitive topics related to women's issues, she is a regular freelancing contributor to TheNewsminute,[29] Scroll,[30] and The Ladies Finger.[31]

As a curator, speaker & adjudicator[edit]

In March, 2016, Vaishnavi spoke on progressive filmmaking, as a mentor in Vital Voices Global Mentoring Walk – Chennai Chapter[32]. Later, she was invited as a speaker at a major conference on alternative cinema: marketing, promotion & release organized by Indiearth Xchange.[33] She was also selected as 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[34] and Chennai.[35] 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 Gender. In November 2018, Vaishnavi was invited by Gender at Work to speak as a panelist on "Bridging the Gender Gap at Workplace[36]," held at Goethe Zentrum, Hyderabad. The Retract 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."

As an activist[edit]

Vaishnavi's arduous work on field as a feminist activist started from a campaign she initiated against a Tamil Magazine's victim blaming reporting on social media with the trending hashtag #OurClothesOurChoice which eventually compelled them to take-down the online version of the magazine.[37] 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 gender-violence.[38]

Reproductive rights in India draw in her most recent and ground-breaking work which includes the revolutionary attempt to make emergency contraceptive pills to be available over the counter in the state of Tamil Nadu. The ban of over-the-counter ECP has been there for 10 years and her petition requesting the Government to lift the ban went viral which so far has received more than 1500 signatures.[39] For this, she won a story award by World Pulse- a worldwide social network for women and women's rights.[40]

In November 2017, Vaishnavi was invited by Al Jazeera to be in the panel discussing the Bollywood film ‘Padmavati’ and its swirling controversy. 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.[41]

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 the glaring lack of structure for redressal that one finds in larger corporate firms, she endeavours to educate (through collaborations with organisations and NGO) such women about their rights by screening the film in small towns of India. Through this film and all the press coverage on it, 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 gender sensitisation program in these educational institutes. Since the first screening of the film in Chennai, many corporate heads have approached the team to screen the film at their workplace for their employees. The film serves as an excellent starting point to discuss gender equality and awareness on gender violence, in a country where awareness on the subject is generally poor. 

Women Making Films[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.[42] 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.[2][43][44]

In the course of one year since its launch, this website has gathered a vast amount 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 organizations 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[45] 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.[46] The First Festival was also widely appreciated and talked about by the media.[47][48][49] It also generated discussions about sexism and gender-based discrimination with filmmaking, in all the places it was conducted.[50] 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 organization.[51] Women Making Films has an ongoing event calendar with curated screenings, film festivals and focussed workshops throughout the year.


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


Year Name Language Role
2010 "Naanum oru penn" (I'm a woman too) Tamil Actor
2010 Home Sweet Home Tamil Actor
2011 Unsweetened Tamil Actor
2013 The impossibility of dialogue Hindi Actor
2014 PAVA Tamil, Malayalam Writer, Director
2014 Vela Taaralu Telugu Assistant director
2014 Objection over ruled Tamil Actor
2014 Urban Displacement English Actor
2014 Dwaraka Hindi Actor
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 Actor
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
Upcoming The Seal English/Hindi Producer

Festivals and Screenings[edit]

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

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


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  2. ^ a b "Reel It In". 2015-09-08. Retrieved 2016-09-05.
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External links[edit]