Talk about redundant topics and domestic violence would rank second; rape steals the crown as a ‘day-to-day thing’ in India. But does being over-discussed and redundant make a subject any less real or vanish? No. The violence, abuse, hatred, and toxicity of patriarchy is alive and kicking in India, paving its way through decades.
Whenever a girl’s marriage comes into discussion, finances, educational and family background, kundalis, rituals and ceremonies, and the like come into limelight. There is rarely a discussion about the negative aspects of tying the knot. It is as if they don’t exist.
‘Parched’, a fiery social drama written and directed by Leena Yadav, depicts the punitive reality of male chauvinism set in arid, rural Rajasthan, India, where women are still treated as objects for serving men in all ways possible.
Parched revolves around the raw, rustic lives of three protagonists – Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee), Lajjo (Radhika Apte), and Bijli (Surveen Chawla). Rani, a 32-year-old woman, married at 13 and widowed for 16 years has been ravished continually by her father-in-law and brother-in-law. Lajjo is infertile and hence a pariah in the village, and her alcoholic husband constantly beats her. Bijli is a local dancer and prostitute, banished from the community. Her bohemian nature and sharp tongue don’t cocoon her from physical and social violation.
Living a parched life of despair and neglect, these women find solace and a bond beyond emotions in each other. How far are they willing to go soothe each other?
On one hand, these women are subservient to the abusive, violent, sadistic sexual predators in the form of men; on the other, they talk openly about sex and intimacy, trying to weave a parallel world, free of these inequalities. The Shaman’s (Adil Hussain) effort to give them a liberating carnal experience is another fascinating nuance to the quest of these women for a life of more choices and change. Will they unshackle themselves from old age oppressive traditions, or will they become permanent slaves to the misogynistic community?
Cruelty and violence might seem routine in rural life, but the urban society is not far from it. Despite living in a post-modern educated society, women are nurtured to accept notions that are basically mistreatment. This conditioning is so subtle and implicit that we fail to recognise it: the slowest but most direct being witnessing our mothers’ lives revolve around our fathers. As children we are trained to adjust as per the moods of our father. Boys get a free pass on late nights out, drinking, smoking, blaspheming in the pretext of ‘manning up’, while girls are raised to cook and clean ‘voluntarily’, behave lady-like, and maintain a graceful and dignified image of self and family.
Anubhav Sinha co-writes ‘Thappad’ with Mrunmayee Lagoo and also directs it, shedding light upon this dark side of urban families which exposes even well-learned and privileged women to physical, sexual, and emotional exploitation. It illustrates the soft, blurry lines of mental and corporeal assault in the intimate relationship of marriage.
The central characters of Thappad, Amrita (Taapsee Pannu), a housewife by choice, and Vikram (Pavail Gulaati), an achievement-oriented corporate slave, are a happily married couple. Outwardly, this higher middle-class couple seems full of life, but look at the details, and you find that Vikram depends completely on Amrita.
She is more than happy to oblige until the day Vikram lands a mighty slap across her face at a party. Shocked and at a loss for words, Amrita walks into her bedroom with trepidation, hoping her husband and the family would address the situation. But the slap jolts her to consciousness, compelling her to face that part of her marriage in which patriarchy is deeply rooted, and the man feels entitled.
Her life crumbles down to pieces and she constantly wonders – is it okay for a husband to slap his wife even if it is a one-off case? Should she reconcile with her husband, or make a life-altering decision? Will she at least get to rant out her feelings?
The first order of support is always expected from the immediate family. Will her mother Sandhya (Ratna Pathak), and her mother-in-law Sulakshana (Tanvi Azmi) – pliant torchbearers of patriarchy – understand her pain, humiliation, and disgust? Will her modern brother Ankur (Karan Rathee) be her pillar, or will he too succumb to the derailed society?
Even those fighting Amrita’s legal battle, Netra (Maya Sarao), a high-profile lawyer, and Swati (Naila Grewal) her assistant, aren’t far from being puppets of patriarchy. Amrita’s father (Kumud Mishra) supports her life choices and stands by her throughout the journey but finds himself in a complex and questionable position as a husband.
The characterisation of the ‘villains’ in Thappad really penetrates our mind; these are ordinary people we eat, sleep, share beliefs with and love without realising the emotional and mental abuse they casually subject on us. And then there’s Dia Mirza’s Shivani Fonseca, a warm aspiration for the human race.
Globally, 35% women have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner or a non-partner at some point in life. In India, domestic violence cases reporting physical abuse on women in rural areas are 29% and in urban areas are 23%.
Shocked? The ‘fortunate’ urban women aren’t so fortunate after all! Even they must hear ‘itna bura bhi nahi hai’ (it’s not that bad), ‘adjust karna padta hai ladkiyon ko’ (girls need to adjust), ‘shaadi mein itna sab toh hota hi hai’ (all this is bound to happen in a marriage).
Many could be thinking, Lord, it’s just one slap! Is it really that big a deal? It drove me crazy as well, so I conducted a small survey on how men and women would react to being hit by their life partners.
Most chose walking away silently or retaliation. However, while women stated they would divorce or separate from their husbands, men nonchalantly said that they were fine staying with their companions after the episode. For women, it is a question of pride and self-respect, for men, it is natural and to be taken in one’s stride. A small survey isn’t enough to draw conclusions, but it could explain why the number of divorces is on the rise.
Are we doing anything to rectify the situation, or do our actions support the misbehaviour? Forget legal and activist solutions. Cinema is a huge and crucial platform influencing millions of people. However, instead of encouraging audiences to question and oppose this horrific culture, mainstream cinema dehumanises women by writing ‘sanskaari’ female characters – submissive, oppressed, devoid of opinion or identity – since forever.
Production houses such as Rajshri, Dharma, Bhansali and Balaji Telefilms glorify women propagating patriarchy as ‘adarsh bahu/beti/behen/maa’. The industry not only makes films that promote this obnoxious ethos but also celebrates hogwash masculinity by awarding films like Kabir Singh.
From casual insensitivities of men and the dilemmas and dualities in characters, to the slow, simmering but steady change in life across age groups and societal divides, Thappad and Parched are an explosive mosaic of gender inequality and female empowerment. They are heart-breaking and difficult to accept and move on from, like a ticking bomb waiting to explode for ages. Will it? Or is everything simply about satisfying the human ego? Watch both to unravel these questions and… keh diya na. Bas keh diya!
Zeba Ali holds a Master's Degree in Psychology and is a Life Skills Coach. She loves to channelise her inner shrink into watching series and films, and then writes about them in a "crispy" manner.
The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.