Well, this was kind of a downer of a movie! Happy, in that I am glad these stories are being told. Sad, in that BLECH! These stories have so little hope! Anyway, if you don’t feel like being depressed, you can just read my summary and discuss below instead of watching it for yourself.
Whole Plot in Two Paragraphs:
We start with Bhumi living with Konkona’s family. Konkona is established in a two bedroom apartment, with a low level job at an accounting firm, a husband who works for some company, two little boys, and dreams of buying a better apartment in new construction. Bhumi has broken an engagement and chosen to come to Noida outside Delhi to live with Konkona and start a life as a working woman. Bhumi blurts out to Konkona during a family outing to an amusement park that her husband Aamir Bashir wants to have sex with her. Konkona doesn’t react, but things become cold between the two women. Bhumi finds a bed to rent at a hostel and asks for an advance at work to pay for it, then quits when she doesn’t get it. Bhumi gets a job at a phone “romance” company to pay for her bed, then ends up renting space at a shadowy hostel for surrogate mothers and prostitutes and other fallen women when the respectable bed falls through. At her new job, she starts a phone romance with a client, Vikrant Massay. Meanwhile, back home, Konkona is increasingly dissatisfied, selling her jewelry and stealing money at work to pay for luxuries to make life easier. She is stressed because her youngest “son” is increasingly displaying feminine characteristics, wanting to ride on the girls’ bus and use the girl’s bathroom. Thinking it is something with her, she contacts her estranged mother (who left her family for a lover) and asks her about her sex life, and is Konkona was ever “masculine” as a child. She isn’t happy with her answers and throws her out. Her husband has no sympathy for any of her problems, but she starts to feel something for a nice young delivery man Amol Parashar for her favorite restaurant, who is always helpful and interested.
Bhumi makes friends at her hostel with another girl, Kubra Sait, who has a DJ boyfriend who gets them into parts and takes them for drives. She has a bad night when some men at a party mistake her for a prostitute and she barely escapes. The next morning, she and Kubra agree not to talk about it again. They go on a trip to Agra and Bhumi calls Vikrant to meet her, in real life. They kiss and spend the night together, but Bhumi isn’t ready for sex yet. Konkona sees her on news coverage and learns she is working at a sex call center. She waits for her there and confronts her, Bhumi confronts Konkona with how she has never truly lived her life. Konkona is inspired to go on a secret date into Delhi with Amol. On “rose day”, Konkona has sex with Amol and Bhumi with Vikrant. Afterwards, Bhumi and Vikrant are caught together on an obscenity sweep by the police and the right wing terrorist group. Vikrant pays a bribe and gives his real name and gets away, leaving Bhumi in prison. She calls Konkona for help, and the two women share a drink and finally bond, Konkona admitting she had sex before marriage and has never had an orgasm with her husband, Bhumi admitting she had sex with a man who didn’t love her. Konkona goes home excited to try sex again now that Amol has given her an orgasm. Bhumi tracks down Kubra’s ex-boyfriend for sex, good sex. Both women are feeling happy and empowered, when Konkona’s husband calls in to the phone sex line and Bhumi calls him out. He calls Bhumi’s parents, there is a family meeting, Bhumi stands up for herself. And then in one horrible night, it all goes wrong. At a local celebration where a statue in honor of “woman power” is unveiled, the terrorists strike, destroy the statue and fire into the crowd, killing Kubra and Amol. Konkona goes home heartbroken and packs up to leave her husband with her youngest son, getting on a bus to stay with her mother. Bhumi goes back to her office, also destroyed by the terrorists the same night, and makes a suggestion to her bosses. She gives a speech on TV, saying she is proud of her work and will be opening up the first line for women, because they also get lonely.
That ending, it’s a MESS!!!!! Very powerful image to have this enormous statue of a vagina be attacked with sticks and bullets and things, but totally strange when compared with the very slow unspoken build of the rest of the film. I mean, REALLY? Konkona has sex one time and her lover dies? Kubra Sait, who seduced Bhumi into casual sex, is shot? Blech!
And the rest of it is so well done! The backstory for the two women is dribbled out in bits and pieces. Clearly they are very close and love each other deeply. Later it is mentioned that they are from Bihar (low development region) and are lower caste. That Konkona was extremely promising in school, that she had a boyfriend in college, and then a hymen repair operation before her marriage. That Bhumi broke an engagement and chose to come live with Konkona. That Konkona’s mother left when she was a teenager for a lover. So we have the full picture of the demons that drove them to Noida. Konkona gave up her free life and good sex, her promise, her intelligence, and so on, because she thought she could start fresh with a good marriage and being a good wife (unlike her “bad” mother). Bhumi was somehow afraid of marriage, didn’t feel ready, came to the city to stay and be happy with her big sister who encouraged her to be herself (once we see her parents, we realize that Konkona was shockingly fun and liberal and accepting compared to them). Both of them have what they wanted, but it isn’t making them happy, because it isn’t real. Konkona’s marriage is surviving on a knife’s edge, they never have sex, her son is probably transgender, and she is constantly patching up the edges of the money they need without telling her husband. Bhumi is living a free and happy life, but only by selling her sexuality, there is no clean way for a young woman to be free in this new city.
The biggest message is a firm line of “never give your power to a man”. Bhumi leaps to the fantasy of Vikrant as a decent guy, only to find awkward conversations, bad sex, and finally betrayal. Double betrayal, first he walks out on her when he gets in trouble, and then he offers to leave his wife for her and declares his love, not even being faithful to his unfaithfulness, still taunting with a lie of love that won’t hold up to pressure. Konkona is miserable with her husband, but happy when she uses the young Amol for loving kind sex, not True Love, but kindness for now. Bhumi and Konkona find their power when they walk away from any idea of a romantic relationship. Konkona leaves her husband, and Bhumi goes back to her phone job, accepting that a voice on the phone offering support is better for this world than any pretense of real connection. At least, for women. Women talking to women, giving them them the clean “for pay” relationship, that will save them from the unsatisfying unhappy attempt to find a connection with men who see them only as a body.
Oh right, that’s the other big message! Women’s bodies, abused and used and tortured. A bit all over the place unfortunately, everything from the surrogates seen rushed to the hospital after a miscarriage, or stone faced handing over their babies-to the destruction of the Vagina statue at the end. Konkona dropping it in that she had a hyman replacement surgery before marriage and she believes it is why she turned frigid, that felt kind of together. It maybe would have been simpler if she was just incapable of enjoying sex with her husband (why should she? He never seemed to approach her as a person and their marriage was dull and joyless), but it was nice to know she could enjoy sex with someone else before marriage, and hymen repair is a common surgery. Bhumi barely escaping from being raped by men who see her at a party and think she is a call girl, also okay, felt like part of the flow of testing boundaries and enjoying night life as a young beautiful woman in a city. But Bhumi’s weird surrogate/prostitute hostel is just STRANGE. And Kubra leaving her DJ boyfriend for a richer boyfriend and then being shot for it? Totally pointless.
There is so much good in this film. Like, Bhumi initially being welcomed and trained by nice warm women, and then the slow reveal that this whole call center of dozens of women is run by suit wearing powerful men. The way Konkona’s son’s gender identity starts with him simply holding his favorite dolls and slowly dribbles out into more and more confirmation of something bigger going on with him. Most of all the relationship between the two women. The first two minutes sees them loving each other and happy and young together, and then Bhumi blurts out that Konkona’s husband wants to have sex with her and there is a coolness that leaps up suddenly between them. They barely talk after that, but we can see how they are working on each other, Bhumi fleeing to safety and a fantasy of free love instead of Konkona’s life of lies. And Konkona wanting to be young and free like Bhumi. Until they talk honestly again and admit how miserable they are with their choices, starting a journey that leads to them choosing new paths.
But boy does that messy ending almost ruin things! And really, there is no reason for it. Let Bhumi be fired and confronted by her family thenhave casual satisfying sex where she is in control to take the taste of her messy lying sex with Vikrant out of her mouth. Let Konkona start to see more and more how she enjoyed being with Amol simply because he was kind and her husband is never kind. And then let them see each other one more time, maybe even have the Vagina Statue unveiling as the moment when they look at it, and look at each other, and think new thoughts. Have Konkona go home and leave her husband and realize she is turning into her mother, and get on the bus to go to her mother, giving her son/daughter a pretty pink headband on the way. And have Bhumi go back to the office and offer to come back to work and be the face of the company, and a new branch aimed at women callers. But why have the violence and shooting and death in the middle of it?
There is an argument that we need the violence, in order to understand the end result of the little minor hurts these women face is violence. Maybe that would be true in another movie, but for this film, it felt like actual death overshadows the important moments we saw earlier of Konkona’s husband not understanding how to arouse her, or Bhumi building a fantasy about this caller based on nothing. It was just dumb. A dumb dumb film choice that never should have gotten passed the discussion point as a wild and crazy out there suggestion for a resolution.
I’m not gonna say this craziness ruins the whole film, but it comes close. And I will say the overall tone of the film is unrelentingly honest and hopeless, so don’t watch it unless you are up for that.