Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Striking a Chord

The journey through film studies has so far been fascinating. 11 movies from across the world questioning our assumptions and the stereotypes we live by every single day. Last week was perhaps the most difficult and poignant as two movies struck a chord deep within and made me look around, look back and look within me; they heightened my senses and brought more depth into things I had always known.


Patriarchy is such an integral part of the society we live in that even the most rebellious of us get co-opted into it. It operates insidiously, not always through beatings and physical abuse; the process so routine that most of us don't even realise that we are being co-opted into our own oppression. And this is not a story of a 'conservative' society where women must wear the veil. It is the story of every modern patriarchal society.

A wonderfully sensitive film set in Iran, Two Women explores patriarchal domination through the lense of a friendship and the journey of the two friends through life. It is the story of how society slowly breaks the confidence of a woman who believed in her ability to conquer the world. Iran is not India and yet the story is so close home that if I close my eyes and look back at the women I have known, I can find at least two who have gone through that same relentless lashing of the water against rocks, dissolving it slowly, eroding, transforming, reducing. The movie brought these women closer to me, I went back and looked at their lives anew, my respect for their fight greater. One of them was a teacher who taught me at a time when I was much to small to understand any of this. She committed suicide. Her image came back so sharply during the film that I could have been 6 years old again.

The second is technically my maid, but I have long since stopped thinking of her in those terms. For 14 years she has been with us and is today as much a part of our family as anyone else in the household. She's a thakur from Madhya Pradesh, daughter of a Congress trade union leader, brought up in Kolkata. Married and packed off to a little village in the interior of MP early in life, she had the gumption to run away with four tiny kids as she realised that she had become nothing but a maid during the day and a sexual object during the night for her truck driver (and for good measure alcoholic!) husband. Rebuffed by her family, a woman who did not know her letters, had no qualifications, and four tiny children to support, packed her bags and one fine day landed in Delhi - a huge sprawling city where she did not know anyone and had no roof over her head.

Her journey to support her children by doing domestic labour has not been an easy one. And the physical labour was the least of the obstacles. Accosted by men, shunned by society for long, acceptance was not easy in coming. Today she is the president of the Mahila Samiti of her slum.

I took a woman's rebellion against oppression for granted for isn't it the natural reaction to any form of oppression? But then I realise now that the oppression itself can become so a part of a person's nature that to take that first mental leap to recognise the need for rebellion itself is so tough and requires a will power far greater than I had imagined.

The story of a confident woman breaking was scary. What was even more scary was the fact that one is forced to become an observer to the transition within oneself as cherished independence turns to clinging dependence, confidence into constant doubt, preventing the protagonist from breaking the bonds that shackled her and held her hostage. It was scary for it could someday happen to me and those like me and I hope then that I can show the same courage as Devi, who was able to leave.


Tom and Jerry has for long been one of my favourite cartoons. Sunday afternoon lunch, I would sit with my entire family and watch as a cat and mouse played out the most rowdy and violent chases. The impact of violence... I'll never be able to watch a Tom and Jerry cartoon quite the same way again. The sheer impact of this movie was enough to freak me out and I can generally sit through some pretty graphic stuff but not when I am expected to fill in the violent sequences from my own imagination; not when the "villain" turns for my approval, smirks and carries on.

The less said here, the more. A movie truly worth watching - it puts a lot of violence in perspective be it war movies or cartoons. It jars you out of the stupor, out of the numbness that settles in when something uncomfortable happens. It forces you to be a part of the process, to feel the pain and the sadism, to see the connection between fiction and reality.

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