“Anaarkali of Aarah”: An important but sidelined film

There’s no lamenting the deteriorated state of Hindi cinema today. There are films that openly present to you on a delicious platter – sexism, racism, fascism and everything that we choose to scrutinize only if it devours our homes and families, only if it does not hinder our ideas of entertainment. A joke is remarkable till the time it’s on someone else, but the moment the propaganda covers our livelihood, it must become a carnage; and then there are these films that tear apart exactly these heart shaking realities to their deepest layer and present to you like a tight slap and urge you to wake up and look where we have landed, in the times when we call ourselves educated and progressive human beings, but we fail as people to give these filmmakers a chance to let us teach lessons that are rather important.

Anaarkali of Aarah is one such film. A singer and dancer from the Aarah village of Bihar, whose songs have double-meaning; as a woman, Anaarkali is a free spirit, and chooses to be a singer with immense pride and passion. She is sexually harassed on an open stage in the presence of 500 people, including the whole department of Bihar Police by a man who deems himself as someone- economically and socially powerful. Anaarkali roams across cities, inside and out; she craves to be what she was with the same pride and same banter, but society looks down upon her a hundred times each day, to let her not forget that it is her who needs to be ashamed, and not the one who dared to think she’s a on sale with a price tag.

Even when she fought like a woman throughout the film, it was the people around her who made her believe that her life was over; that when a woman is harassed, she is supposed to lead a life of a victim, and is expected to roll inside her body and try to be as non-existential as possible. The harasser on the other hand, is the privileged one and a powerful man, in this film – free to teach her a lesson for raising her voice, even when rightfully so. In the end, she does what every woman must know- to say a poised no on the face of men who try to touch her, reducing her body to a commodity.

Several times while watching the film, I wanted to pluck this woman Anaarkali out of that wrathful story that Avinash Das, the director of the film, had put her into and place her in a safe sanctuary. The way Das has managed to keep this story raw, fully projecting each detail of society which is ferocious, grimy and blemished is outstanding. In the end, when she returns to give a fitting reply to her harasser in front of the whole crowd, her act of saying a ‘No’, loud and clear, is so befitting that I felt my body shaking with the courage and faith she resounded from the screen.

“The payoff seems to have been created for an upbeat ending, but we can’t help cheering when Anar rises, refusing to be cowed. What it says needs repeating: whatever kind of labour it may be, including women who strut their stuff — dignity is paramount.”

No film in Hindi cinema, in my opinion, has reflected this brilliantly the idea of consent. It is painful that such films not only cringe for budgets and cinema space, but also when they do release, with a single show at a single theatre, the halls are empty- we might be weeping for the same celebration of cinema that falls conveniently into the lap of films that hit the theatres with big names, fat money and months of promotions and expensive marketing tactics. The films that believe in the power of cinema itself, in the talent of these bunch of actors and storytellers who must prove their calibre time and again are failed, and how. It’s deeply saddening that despite being a marvellous work of cinema, Anaarkali of Aarah lays forgotten and ignored.


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