It’s hard not to feel a tad disoriented when you have watched almost 30 films in about 10 days at the Mumbai film festival that concluded on Thursday. Your head is full of various characters and film universes colliding into each other.
Looking back, sifting through these films carefully, I’ll perhaps remember this festival for all the fascinating fictional women I have had the pleasure of encountering.It began for me with the biopic, Colette, that paints life in Paris of the early 1900s for a woman who refuses to be forced into the background. It’s also about her lack of fear in exploring her sexuality and how the-then French society responded to it. Hint: Objects get hurled.
Aditya Sengupta’s Jonaki is about a less feisty woman in comparison, one who is forced to tolerate a marriage, a life she didn’t choose for herself. The lesbian-lead of the Kenyan film, Rafiki, are victims of a regressive society, which forces them to make the thankless choice between safety and happiness. As one of the characters says in a tragic scene towards the end: “I just want my normal life back.”
Sometimes, happiness is just too risky. Sometimes, you settle for a life you don’t want only so you don’t have to fight every day.The women of Vasanth’s Sivaranjiniyum Innum Sila Pengalum know all too well about this. They are those who have been dealt bad hands, women who see their resistance resulting in misery.
One of the characters, Saraswathi, tries it once, when she summons defiance after being beaten up by her husband. However, her resistance is turned completely on its head by her husband who weaponises his silence. Eventually, she begs him to beat her up, if it will mean that normalcy can return.
While on assault, it’s impossible not to think of the disturbing end stretch of Manoj Bajpayee’s Bhonsle, which leaves you shaken in the same way that Paruththiveeran did.
Different women protest differently at mistreatment. The neglected wife in Wildlife is one whose burning desire for independence has forever been quashed by the responsibility of having to run a family and raise a boy. She has little time to wallow in self-pity. As her dad told her when she was a child, “Tears help nothing”.
There are plenty of tears though in Steve McQueen’s Widows, a terrific heist film that challenges conventional tropes of the genre by making women the plotters. They don’t just do the ‘man’ things though; some of them make up for a lack of brutish strength with other equally, if not more, effective alternatives. At a festival bursting with films that have had prominent roles for women, it’s only fitting that its last film — Widows — should be one that has diverse women kicking a**.