Sunday, October 30, 2005


I finally got to see "Matrubhoomi", Manish Jha's hard-hitting film about a future India where infanticide (and presumably female foeticide) has resulted in a severe imbalance between the numbers of men and women in the population.  The result is that virtually all men in the film are unmarried, except for the family at the crux of the film, where all five brothers marry the one woman their father and his marriage-broker ally have been able to find. The hapless bride has no choice but to service all the men around her, by nightly rotation.  I do not use "service" lightly: the denial of personhood to women, that is, the conception of woman as mere instrument, is one of the central themes of the film, a bleak notion from which there is no exit, not even when the village where the film is set explodes into caste violence (the trigger for which is the question of which of two communities the woman "belongs" to), not even when the film concludes on its ostensibly hopeful note-- the birth of a child.  Why "ostensibly"?  The child is a girl, and although her mother smiles upon seeing her, a dark future awaits her.

In a word, the film is grotesque, calculated to offend, and its vision of a dystopia with hardly any women, and the women and men who are products of such a society, is searingly effective, to the point where I felt unsettled even hours after the movie had ended (and can't really imagine wanting to watch it again). It is unquestionably a polemical piece of work, but just as unquestionably, Jha is a talented polemicist. As an aside, one welcome feature of the film is that none of the film's many forced sexual encounters are presented in anything like a titillating manner. The overall effect is of a world where everyone is stripped of dignity (with the women the most disadvantaged of all).

Baradwaj Rangan (one of my very favorite reviewers on Bollywood and Tamil films) has a fuller review on

Aside: In a welcome move, the film has been released in six languages (including Bhojpuri), as opposed to merely being shown at one festival or another.  That fact makes a world of difference, between the anthropologizing gaze of those who imagine themselves wholly removed from the world of the film and a brave attempt to hold a mirror up to society


Satyam said...

But not the least polemical point here is quite obviously the parallel with Draupadi and the five Pandavas. Of course this bit of 'mytho-history' is also contested. You have everything ranging from the version that Draupadi bore each of the five Pandus a son (Arjun won her but the brothers were resolved to 'share' everything because of a promise given to their 'mother') to one where she only married Arjun. Again there are some variants in between. One suggests that she married all five but had relations only with Arjun. Why did she marry all five? Because when she was 'garlanding' Arjun some flowers fell on the four others. And there are again extensions which would have you believe that Draupadi regarded the others as brothers or even father (Yudhishtira). Perhaps fully cognizant of all these versions the director goes a step further and includes even the father in this circle of 'sharers'.

anangbhai said...

Well there's a lot of discussion about the social and historical underpinnings in the mahabharata, and although I'm always jump in to a discussion about my favorite epic, did no one notice that the woman's name was Kalki, namely the last avatar of vishnu who would destroy the 'sinners' with his flaming sword on a white horse. As in she was the sigul of things to come.
That was the one symbol in the movie that seemed most obvious to me.
Btw, Qalandar, saw your blog thru naachgaana. Loved your comments on the shakespeare article.
I wanted to write a full length article detailing how sorely india lacks variety in its cinema, in fact, if india has any cinema to speak of in the artistic sense, but i have a feeling i'll get flamed by all the tightwad indians out there.