Focus on Women - a trend in International Cinema

Jai Chandiram's indepth analysis

(L) Ramchand Pakistani                                             (R) Gulabi Talkies

Woman 1 : India and Pakistan

The Osian  Festival  had strong features on the ‘Woman” To name a few  Gulabi Talkies, Ramchand Pakistani , Whatever Lola wants, Lady Chatterley, Blind Mountain, Western Trunk Line,  Hidden Faces . Sister Stella ,  My Blueberry Nights,Three Monkeys, Flight of the Red Balloon and many others. I was not able to see all the films that I have listed\ and so will limit myself to a few that I was able to see.

Starting with  Mehreen Jabbar’s award winner , Ramachand Pakistani is as much the story of the young boy Ramchand  who inadvertently crosses the border as it is  the story of  his mother Champa. Her husband also crosses the border in search of his son and both are imprisoned in India .  Being of low caste  and a Hindu minority  in the border area of Pakistan    Champa  struggles with her existence never giving up the hope for the return of her husband and child . Pushed to pay off her debts the Thakur insists that she sell her bull .  Champa from behind her ghunghat dismisses the suggestion with a terse , definitive , “Bol diya nahin bechenge”. Nandita Das’s  ripens the character of Sanwari in  Bawandar  and sharpens her performance , sculpting her  language , body and her rhythm  to the sparse landscape  and women of the Kutch area.

Based on a true story Ramchand Pakistani mirrors the turmoil of families separated by borders accidentally and decay in jails leaving the families in limbo. Champa’s story of perseverance and survival are  a tribute to the resilience and strength of women .Aiming for  a wider audience the film focuses on the narrative of individual  struggles and the harsh  politics and the governments are distanced which to a large extent is also the reality of life.

Gulabi Talkies - Girish Kasarwalli

Gulab  a  midwife ,sweet , charming  lives on her own in the island village. Musa her husband  has deserted  her and married another woman and has a  son Adda. Gulab in her loneliness is obsessed with films - so much so that she has never missed the first show in the theater. She is dragged out of a theater for a delivery with the promise she can have a satellite TV connection. She can watch all the song and dance numbers at home. Gulab in her loneliness invites the village women to watch the films and serials. Her home becomes a free theater, Gulabi Talkies, where women live their reel lives.  Against the background of globalization the village “fish  wars” a divide the village on  communal lines .  Gulab in tune with  her romantic world inadvertently helps a young woman to elope and she gets caught in the  communal division and the village women are forbidden to view the serials in her home . Musa has grown in success and returns to her to eat her special dishes which she lovingly prepares. She is content to have Musa back in her life and share his son’s affection. Gulab fights for fairness in the fish wars forcefully and finally Musa succumbs to her goodness.

Umashree, award winner at The Osian festival gives a multi layered nuanced performance which in its subtlety wins her not only the affection of the villagers but reaches out to the audience.


Woman 2 :China

Blind Mountain  . Mang Shan China – (Hong Kong)

A young woman is kidnapped, duped and sold to a farmer as a bride in an isolated mountain village. She fights bitterly for her freedom and tries to escape from this marriage .The young women tell her that it is impassible to escape but she continues to try and escape. Her letters are intercepted, the police will not admit her complaint and she continues her fight. A young boy whom she teaches alerts her that her mail is intercepted and offers to mail the letter to her father. Her father arrives and there is a fight with the villagers and they are able to forcibly .keep her. Her father returns with the police from the city and intervenes in her release. . The film captures the period, and highlights the brutality and the blindness of the community in giving freedom to a young woman who is kept in marriage against her will.  The story is based on a true incident. The film has all the elements of a documentary and captures the harsh reality of rural China .A narrative grippingly told highlights the brutality, inhumanity and treachery in life. The director, in answer to a question, said that there are still some pockets in China where this could be true.


The Western Trunk Line by Li Jixian (China)

This film  also highlights Xueyan isolation in a remote town. She is young pretty and an excellent dancer. She is harassed by the local community as they learn that her father was a counter revolutionary. Xueyan works in the quarry and sends money to her ailing father. Siping, young aimless, a rebel hates work and escapes to the world of radio. He tinkers and can fix broken radios like a true” jugad”. Living opposite her, he falls in love with Xueyan and her dance. His kid brother an artist also falls in love with Xueyan. Sipinh not only avoids work but steals money from mail. He is on conscription duty and dies in a mission saving public property. Xueyen world is topsy-turvy and must begin her life again. A young woman making a life on her own, shot in a documentary style, the film captures the period and the harsh reality of isolation beautifully. A proud woman Xueyan is no chick!

Woman 3: Turkey and USA

Hidden Faces - Saki Yuzler Turkey

Germany makes the strongest case against honor killings.  The story is told from the point of view of the family that must kill Zure who had a child from a shepherd boy who abandons her . Zure’s brother Ali 17 years old is ordered to strangle his sister’s  baby in front of her. The father is ordered to kill Zure. Ismail does kill the child and the father does not find the heart to kill his daughter and instead shoots himself. Her uncle from Germany saves Zure and she starts afresh life in Germany, The uncle is searched and  killed and Zure is shot but survives. She starts life again in a remote area in Turkey and  participates in a documentary  on honor killings. Her uncle, Ali, sees the film poster and the film  and begins the  pursuit of Zure In a chilling encounter he shoots Zure .The violence divides the family and the guilt of Ismail is palpable as he tries to save his sister from murder . The woman director creates tremendous tension in the pursuit …the inevitability does not come as surprise …so different from the endings in Hindi movies .   


My Blueberry Nights , Osian’s centerpiece by Wong Kar Wai , (Hong Kong- China France )

This film featured Norah Jones. Heart broken Elizabeth has to come to terms and she opts to travel across America earning her way as a waitress . She leaves behind  a ‘new friend’  a cafe owner who has been the key keeper of many heartbreaks and people who are regulars and move on . She also leaves her key in the hope that her lover will return to claim the key and return to her. After a few weeks and many Blueberry pies she moves on in her search for self Elizabeth comes across many broken hearts , a cop who drowns himself in drinks as his wife has abandoned him .Elizabeth is able to mature through these experiences and keeps her inner core of trust  and reaches out to these broken people the cop , his wife and a gambler .The nature of her work is to serve and she often has to be sympathetic  to these troubled souls . Her own heartbreak  pales in the confrontations with these regulars and is duped by the gambler whose cameo performance is electric . She sends postcards of her encounters to the café owner , who makes desperate to contact her . She finally  returns to New York and to her blueberry pie which has been a metaphor for abandonment  - perhaps to a-new beginning. It is beautifully shot a la Wong Kar Wai style, rich in colour and movement stark landscape and colorful lights of Las Vegas . I found it a good roadie film  genteel  unlike his other work which has undertones of violence.


Editor: Manohar Khushalani

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