A film by Deepa Mehta
Any film on domestic violence is not an easy one to make; Deepa Metha is getting some vitriolic reviews from India for directing a film limited in technique, plot and dialogue. This barrage of misguided critique is in fact the very essence of the reactionary logic Indians, and South Asians largely, adopt when faced with a complex problem – shoot the messenger.
Likewise, there is absolutely no support for a woman who chooses to react either way on the issue of being a rugmat, a punching bag or a stress ball for a perpetrator, who in 98% of domestic violence cases, is a man. Society and its gatekeepers of the construct of reality blame her, for creating a fuss, general disorder, disharmony, familial discord and what not, for, if she’d rather choose to keep it indoors muffled under the covers of the rule of the mighty, there would be no need to change things. And above all, all South Asia spends an insane amount on weddings precisely to raise the stakes so high that it is ominous for it to not work out. The higher the cost of the wedding, the higher the risk of sunk cost and the more likely the lady will not step out of her tight corner, facing the wall.
So Deepa Methta made a film about a problem 25% of the world’s woman face, and all some people care about is how it was delivered? A standing applause is what it deserves not only for delivery but for the courage it takes to put so much disaster of that magnitude on screen. The Kafkaesque shots alone and their timing are more frightening than the sheer terror of breaking of a young woman’s sprit. Nothing breaks sprit more than poverty: The poverty and sickness that expatriates marinate in as they leave their homelands making it though the day for survival and respect. They often strung their lifestyle on the line of irony, so low that even hanging out in malls while day tenants stayed at their own home was not quite undignified. They refused to change, hence polluting all things great about an already advanced and egalitarian society like Canada.
Chand, played by Preity Zinta comes to Canada, like many before her have, to meet her husband for the first time at an airport arrival lounge. His shyness is ominous, and his mother, most western women would faint at the site of. In between the cacophonous lot are the father in law, who is like a dog that is waiting to be put to sleep and a sister in law whose unemployed husband and two kids with personality disorders are too much of a burden on the house already on half rent.
Heart-shaped school projects of the kids on a fridge, sofa prints that appear only in Indian homes, the cheap motel decors that appeal only to desis who binged on Bollywood candy songs and the blankets that Chand wore in Punjab India all put the viewer far too close to a reality that is inescapable. Particularly ethnic is the embodiment of the Punjabi girl who never seems to remove her yearning for her mother in her cry out for pain. Chand is a poetess at heart, waiting to see her mother give her strength at a long dehydrating journey though a desert and she finds her under a tree. Repeating these verses to herself at a time of not just utter insanity, defined by repeated abuse, but escalation of the level of damage, a smaller and smaller gap to recuperate.
At a time of transition, she finds herself with no familiarity, no reliable friend to listen and give perspective and not even a call back home.
Chand draws her strength from her imagination, setting herself free from the shackles of the mundane, by inventing a serpent who turns into a kinder version of her abusive husband, Rocky, played by Vansh Bhardwaj. There is a much talked about cycle of violence in the domestic abuse, which goes something like this – the perpetrator attacks the victim, the victim recovers from shock and harbors feelings of inadequacy and entrapment, the terror of irrevocable mistake for ending up in a state of terror, soon the perpetrator turns to normalcy by either brushing the violence under the rug over dinner, or a cup of tea, and relieved at the option other than having to construct an elaborate plan of empowerment, the victim sooths her broken and bruised self into the comfort and balm of familiarity. And say if the perpetrator is apologetic, claiming the excuse of being provoked to disrupt happiness to which he has a God-ordained entitlement to, then, all the better for the victim, she has to do even less work and fall for the glory of being the magnanimous forgiver. Until it happens again and again reaching full circles until she is killed. 70% of all Canadian emergency health cases of women are related to domestic violence, and still some critics had the audacity to claim Deepa Mehta’s film portrays a “false” picture of NRI families that are settled abroad.
This is the cycle of violence for domestic abuse, but for the first time someone has talked about the cycle of recovery. For any woman who is a victim of spousal abuse, the escape route is almost impossible to come by independently, and for women like Chand, whose sense of cultural alienation only exaggerates her helplessness, it is even tougher. Her memoir is personal and subjective and very inventive. It opens the door to several ways any victim could burrow though tight corners.
Other Human Rights voices have claimed that the major flaws in the film are that it provides no legal recourse, and one should ask those voices to really talk less and read the difference between a documentary and a feature film.
The murder of a gentle dreams of possibility is terribly bloody. Deepa Mehta has done an extraordinary job in using all textures and a unified theme to deal with how people go about living with cold blooded cruelty.
And how very delicate and vulnerable a girl, bred to marry, now black and blue, asks her husband, her only solace for a future, “Mei tenu change naii lagdi?”
(Don’t you like me?)