It was with the Covid situation overtaking our lives that we started becoming digital in our communications. With ‘social distancing’ being the most important rule in this situation, we were confined to our houses with no possibility of any kind of physical interaction. But thankfully, due to the internet, we were not totally disconnected and could connect to family and friends through mobile, video calls, zoom meetings etc.
One thing that helped me go through this prolonged period of confinement at home was the entertainment through the OTT platforms. And it was the wide choice available in these platforms like Netflix and Prime Video that I could watch some of the very good movies on very offbeat themes. I remember watching Ahaan with a very uncommon theme. It not only had a lead character, – a young man with Down Syndrome and another character with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The fact that the character of person with Down syndrome was performed by an actor who had Down syndrome in real life, made the movie very authentic. I was also happy to see OCD being a subject of portrayal in an Indian movie. This is so common a condition, but rarely talked about. It reminded me of Hollywood movie, As Good as it Gets with Jack Nicholson as the lead actor who has the OCD condition.
In the offbeat themes, the gender related movies have fascinated me and I have been really impressed by the creativity with which the issues related to women have been projected through the movies. And what is good about the OTT platforms is the choice available, not only in Hindi and English movies, but in other languages. I remember watching an Egyptian movie titled 678 that focused on sexual harassment in daily lives of women across the class divide. Indian regional cinema is providing a rich content on gender related issues. To illustrate the quality of the regional language movies, If I have to give one example of the quality of regional movies, I will mention a Malayalam movie titled Great Indian Kitchen. This is a movie about a girl qualified to be a dancer and struck up after marriage in a conventional family where her life is confined to kitchen. The movie clearly portrays the drudgeries of the household work and the handwork that it demands from women. It also shows how in return, there is total insensitivity to women’s aspirations, their capabilities and even their very existence.
In today’s column I want to talk of three movies revolving around issues related to that I have watched more recently in these OTT platform. Of these the first movie, that actually gave me the feeling of joy was a short forty minute movie Raat Rani, a part of the six movie series of Modern Love : Mumbai (2022) on Prime Video. The central character of this movie is Lali, a Kashmiri girl who has been living in Mumbai for past ten years with her husband Lutfi. Though she is happy with her life all dedicated to her husband, Lutfi is bored of her and he abandons her. For a woman who is completely into the man and who has invested everything she has – her life, her emotions, her handwork and money into her marriage, she is devastated. While she is struggling to overcome her emotions and her desire to have her man back in her life, she finds her strength and her freedom. She not only copes with her problems but finds a way to use her cooking skills to improve her economic situation. The movie metaphorically uses an almost broken bicycle that Lali is left with when her husband abandons her, to show her struggle and the impossible feats that she is able to achieve. She not only repairs and colours the bicycle (as she repairs her life) but becomes proficient in riding it through the steep heights of the flyover (as she overcomes the dependence on her husband). She starts crossing the limits which were out of bound for her earlier. ‘Not allowed’, she cries with joy as she rides on the out of bound sea-link for two wheelers – and she remembers what else is ‘not allowed’ for women like her (not allowed, going to college’, ‘not allowed, falling in love’, ‘not allowed marrying in low caste’). The movie is a wonderful journey of Lali living a life in the shadow of her husband to a confident Lali who has ‘moved on’ after being abandoned and has discovered her potential and her strength as a woman. Fatima Sana Shaikh who has acted as Lali has actually made her a very lovable character.
The second movie, is a Zimbabwean movie Cook off, currently showing in Netflix. The central character of the movie is woman who is a single parent named Anesu who has passion for cooking. Due to her lower class background, life is.a struggle for her but what givers her the joy of her life is her son who loves her cooking and has great dreams for her as a professional Chef. It is the son who enters her into Battle of the Chefs, a cooking competition which she ultimately wins and is able to establish her own enterprise. The movie is not only about a woman finding her potential and her strength but about the people around her who recognise and acknowledge her talent and push her to follow her dreams. Woman’s struggle, of course is her own as she fights the odds of the system she is struck in, but her chance of winning become better when she is provided support by some other men and women, the movie seems to suggest. Though a foreign movie, it is a relatable as one finds the social background, the gender biases, the patriarchal notions almost similar.
This message of women’s struggle not being complete without men’s support gets very clearly portrayed by the third movie that I want to talk about. It is Jayeshbhai Jordar which is currently running on Prime Video. It is quite a light movie made in semi-comic way but with a strong message about the society’s preference about boys over girls. This is a story about an unborn girl getting an opportunity to be born in a family where having a second girl child is a taboo. The movie though is about the issue of girl child, but the hero is a man – Jayeshbhai the son of the traditional Sarpanch of the village who is a tyrant. Jayeshbhai (played by Ranveer Singh) has the single mission in the movie of saving his unborn daughter. While his wife Mudra is too meek and dependent and unable to fight the patriarchal set up of society and her immediate family, especially her father in law, it is her husband who is determined and clear that after aborting six foetus, he doesn’t have the conscience to kill this one. So whatever it may take, the conceit, the lies or falsehood vis-a-vis his parents, he would save the daughter. And he succeeds. The movie though has some unrealistic scenes, some extreme drama situations – but what remains consistent is the message which is very clearly conveyed. And the message that it gives is that fighting patriarchy and gender biases is not the responsibility of women only, but as much of men. Another message that it provides is that gender sensitivity is not only the domain of women. Many times, women may themselves be gender insensitive and men might be more sensitive. In this movie, mother of Jayeshbhai played by Rathna Pathak Shah, initially is seen as much a part of the patriarchal system. Jayeshbhai, on the contrary, despite being man, is most gender-sensitive. He emerges as the feminist in the family as he not only talks and acts on the principle of empowerment of women but also breaks many patriarchal stereotypes.
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