Category Archives: Film & Performance Reviews

“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.

PINK: The Message Compensates for its Dramatic Filming

Recently released PINK did break a leg at the box office with its compelling message about consent. I believe it is the power of the most ordinary questions that can shake the world. In the times which are probably not the best of times for we see movies endorsing women shaming, satisfying fragile male egos doing immensely well, PINK breaks the cliched box office business and has managed to garner a great audience for a noble message.

While it won many accolades and majority of the women stood in solidarity with the film, there are people who dug out innumerable examples to scrutinize the film in the name of criticism. In a country like India where there are issues such as this, people do not know what does it mean when a woman says NO, I fail to understand what makes people not approach films like this with a sense of optimism. Tons of arguments came across on social media where people called the film an example of bad film making.

There’s no denying that the film portrays the message in a stereotypical manner making it too dramatic and losing on the aesthetics of a courtroom. Probably, a lawyer with a mental disorder fighting a legal case was also an exaggerated attempt. I cannot say this is an excellent film with artistic values but may be it wasn’t ever supposed to be. It’s a film that projects a message that this country needed and if these flaws do not harm the message of the film on a larger level, why can we not approach it as the need of the times we live in. I agree, there are more realistic courtroom drama films made in Hollywood and they are far more achievable and realistic than this but this is not Hollywood and we have to deal with it.

In my understanding, a film maker has the responsibility to think about its target audience. How may people in my country will walk to the cinema hall to watch a film that does not have star power, drama and glam. It is unfortunate that a message as important as this had to be sold but I’m glad people did buy it. But before we blame the film makers for using these tactics to garner audience we need to reflect and introspect on the values that we have instilled in our society.

Another argument that people have been putting across is that a male fighting for women in the film makes it anti feminist in the first place. A female lawyer could have been a better choice and we didn’t have to see a man fighting for women. I have repeatedly stated in my own life that half knowledge is more harmful than no knowledge at all and Feminism is one such ideology that people do not understand but love to gush about.

Deepak Sehgal’s character in the film is build from a space where he is shown to be one among us. Later we discover in the film his stand on the issue of consent and morality through the legal case. Throughout the film his character is seen to be exposing rhetorically, sarcastically and bluntly the hypocrite idea of morale of women that we have been subjected to. His approach, his ideas and values are shown to be that of a feminist and that ends the story.

I know a lot about feminism, there are lectures happening across the country, there are documentaries made, a lot is written over it but does it reach the people it should reach?

Feminism is an ideology that is instilled in men and women alike. It does not matter if it’s a man fighting for these women or a woman. What matters is the idea, the values and the arguments that truly were the highlight of the film. No matter what, we end up making the whole feminist ideology revolve around men at the end of the day and this whole comparison zeroes down the authenticity of this ideology.

Moreover, Meenal’s (Tapsee Panu’s character) rape incident is never brought in the court, the house owner is never dragged in the case and many more such occurring in the film that do make us question the genuineness of the legal process are noteworthy. But at the same time the whole argument that the female characters were shown to be completely unaware and weak and woman are not so dumb in reality, it’s really subjective. May be, a woman is not that aware or fierce or liberal. It is important to drop all our self constructed images of characters and give space to the vision of a film maker while we watch any film.

Amitabh Bachchan’s star power being used and highlighted is a problem in one manner but there’s a need of that kind of compromise. It’s exactly like an icon been put in the limelight so that people go and watch him out and if that made people listen to Mr. Amitabh bachchan telling NO means NO and you stop, it works. I know a lot about feminism, there are lectures happening across the country, there are documentaries made, a lot is written over it but does it reach the people it should reach? Probably, because a star icon is not doing all of that. and we are accustomed to listening up to celebrities more than intellects. I do not say this is the perfect way but if this is the first step, it is the right step.

Sometimes, optimism leads to hope, to a sense of light and change but criticism leads to multiple battles with no conclusion for such noble efforts. I know it’s a flawed film but I am as flawed as this film, we are all as flawed as this film as a society and we need to introspect before we start blaming anymore.