Well, Anushka continues her producer mission of ripping off the covers from India’s sins of the past and present. Yet another harrowing painful examination of the patriarchy and the unrelenting torment of being a woman in India. It’s handled delicately, but there is a rape scene. And a scene of terrible male on female violence. Just disturbing stuff. Watch with the lights on during the day, don’t watch at all if you are feeling wobbly.
We have had a whole string of movies lately trying to re-invent India’s past as a beautiful perfect lost glory. That fantasy has always been there of course, it was a large part of the fuel for the independence movement. And it’s true, in that there were good things in past India that were lost as time moved forward. But it’s not true in that a lot of the things were bad and there is a reason the world moved on. When you are doing a pretty fantasy of history you can simply ignore or re-write the bad (think Lagaan with its noble Raja, and happy villagers who learned to forget casteism and communalism), or you can present the bad as though it was good (Padmavat and jauhar being a prime example). Most often that “bad” which is re-written as good, is re-written at the expense of women. In the past, women were happy in their purdah, happy to devote their lives to their noble men, happy with their beautiful clothing and jewels. Polygamy, arranged marriages between children, leaving your home forever to live with your in-laws, it was all “good”. And rape only happened by strangers, and was quickly followed by Noble Suicide. And those suicides were also “good”.
This movie is the opposite. The fascinating thing about it is that it is NOT a fairy tale. It is far more historically accurate than the “histories” we have been fed lately. This is not a tale of impossible forgotten time and fantasy, this is the reality that was always there in every history book, waiting to be seen. We just don’t see it, because it is a woman’s story, and women don’t matter.
The movie is influenced highly by Charulata which happens to be the only Satyajit Ray movie I have seen (that’s lucky!) thanks to a film class in college. And also possibly I’ve been told Chokher Bali, which I haven’t seen. But the thing with both those films is that they didn’t go far enough. They showed a sort of poetic ineffable pain of purdah, and being an intelligent woman trapped away from the world with no power to grab happiness. This film rips away that facade and points to the reality that this poetic pretty pain is all we are willing to acknowledge, while the true pain of being a woman is hidden behind it. They were the fairy tales, these version is the truth.
While also being a bit of a fairy tale. There are some obvious metaphors, which is fun. Rahul Bose plays twins, always a kick to run through the “meaning” when a filmmaker chooses to have a literal doubling role. There’s a whole thing with women’s feet that flows beautifully as a theme, picking up on the wedding rituals which already exist (marking the sheet when you walk in, wearing toe rings, etc.). And the filmmakers do not stint on the costumes, jewelry, and setting. It’s only 90 minutes. but each of those 90 minutes of screentime is perfectly crafted, I don’t think our heroine repeats an outfit once.
The outfits have to do some of the acting for her, on purpose. Our heroine is meant to be an enigma, because the people around her have made her so. There are only two speaking roles for woman, also on purpose. This is a world where men are dangerous and everywhere and women have no chance to bond with each other. Women exist as men see them, exist to wander through the world being looked at. Tripti Dimri plays our heroine, but the slightly more difficult role (I think) is the other female part, Paoli Dam’s role. She has to be both unsympathetic and sympathetic simultaneously, to let the audience see her thoughts in a way Tripti never does and to not always find those thoughts pleasant. Avinash Tiwary is our hero, in a very clearly defined “hero” kind of way, trying to go through the motions of filling that role for himself, how he thinks he has to be. The more interesting role, and character, is Rahul Bose. A double role for one thing, and on older man who is more sure of himself. And then there’s lovely Parambrata Chattopadhyay once again in his sweet spot of male ally.
Really, it’s worth a watch! If you feel up to some pretty raw material. It’s only 90 minutes and that is appropriate, it feels like a short story or a fable far more than a novel or full-fledged film. Give it a try, and then come back to my other review to discuss it in greater depth.