The Threadbare Mattress
of the oppressed?
Shanichari’s eyes are lingering on the ground, struggling to look at her admirer who would behold her lovingly through the caressing look of his eyes. Why does she struggle though — when her entire being is craving for his touch? She is singing in her melodious voice, dil hoom hoom kare ghabraaye (a masterwork of Bhupen Hazarika in my opinion, not that my opinion matters 😷), while her hand slowly moves backwards and that of her lover Thakur Laxman Singh’s moves forward — both hands on their laps and not the other.
O more chandrama, teri chaandni ang jalaaye
Teri oonchi ataari maine pankh liye katwaaye
This is a shot that succinctly captures the entire social fabric of the Indian society where caste, religion, lineage, all the social constructs trumps love — an emotion that has the power to sprout life into the shrivelled stumps of our existence transcends to nothingness. Teri unchi atari is the pedestal at which Thakur Laxman Singh — a Zamindar, is throned and no matter how much his heart yearns for Shanichari — a Rudali, this Sangam is rendered forbidden for neither can Shanichari ascend her eyes onto the throne and neither can Thakur descend it. People are born into this world, while some do find love, others toil their entire lives to find not even a single drop of it. Poor souls are looking for oceans in a desert and their fates so unfortunate that there isn't even a mirage. Sometimes I think God created this world and forgot about its existence. Or maybe, He/She didn’t forget about it but made sure that we become oblivious to the pain and hardships of each other.
The subtlety with which the movie has been made is so simple that the trauma, the oppression, the misery, the agony are all just there as if they are the inevitable ingredients of life — intensity may vary but it’s there. Laxman Singh is a progressive Zamindar who dismisses societal norms and asks Shanichari to let go of them too but she is so bound within those territories that she is killing her happiness from the start to the end. Will she ever reach a breaking point?
Mirch Masala has confirmed Nasruddin Shah is as best as it can get. The intricate undertones with which the movie opens and the rhythm it catches with time is sure to leave anyone in a ride of turbulence. Music — a respite to the ears and a balm to the soul plays in the background — the melodious voice which had to be played from the gramophone was supposed to reinforce the economic, political and social stature of Nasruddin Shah in front of the fickled villagers. But alas, the stupid boy comes with the record and breaks it. A moment of joy and laughter turns into a scene of atrociousness in a split second. Nasruddin laughs one second and is frantic the very next. He is whipping lashes at the boy, tearing his flesh apart and swearing to God that his death has come, as if he is the God, and as he turns backwards, he bursts into laughter and enjoys and smiles and plays with the villagers as if the boy is unseen to them. The finesse with which the scene has been shot, I think, is incomparable to anything I have ever watched. So many things happening at a single point of time and that too within minutes of time frame is nothing but an exemplary performance. This also demonstrates the harsh reality of Zamindars and ourselves. When one abuses his/her power, we stand there wondering what an eyesore but hardly make the effort to pluck away the thorns. The villagers were shocked to see the treatment the boy was at the receiving end of but continued to enjoy the music. As the movie progresses the demands and injustices of the Zamindar grow with no one to defy the prevailing oppression but the ones who are at the centre of the conflict — women of the village. In hindsight, I think the scene was set to show how the villagers have accepted their fate and would never do anything against the impunity with which people in power live. The villagers certainly had a problem when the women, who were being ravished, took matters into their hands. Does Ketan Mehta want to say that ultimately, you and I are those villagers?
Do Beegha Zameen — I have no words. I am speechless and in tears. This is the entire essence of the movie. The integrity, honesty and character one maintains in the face of the most trying times is an inspiration. I am not a connoisseur but the direction of the movie, I guess, is what experts mean when they say the word “Perfection”. Be it the 1950s or 2021, exploitation is unavoidable but hope is what makes us stare the unjust forces in the eyes. The entire family — Parvati Mehto, Shambo Mehto and Kanhaiya Mehto pitch in — in their own ways to save the two Bighas of land which is their mother.
When Sahni runs barefoot in the dying heat of Kolkata and still refuses to buy a pair of shoes, when Nirupa in her tattered clothes, pregnant state sustains herself on water and ventures out to earn to repay the debt, and when Kanhaiya is beaten by his father for stealing for how dare he — a son of a farmer steal — is when realism directed by Bimal Roy hits its peak. The little actions here and a small gesture there to save even one anna is worth a thousand emotions.
Shambo Mehto lashes out on Kanhaiya, who already was in a dilemma despite the little being he is,“तूने किसान का बेटा होकर चोरी की “.
Every shot, every scene and every frame is like a sweater knit by that one thread which, if pulled, disintegrates the entire sweater. The song Ajab Tori Duniya Ho More Rama by Mohammed Rafi is the needle that weaved the movie’s realism.
The three movies are poles apart in terms of story, themes and tones but is a reflection of society thriving just because there is an oppressor and an oppressed. An essential element common to all three movies was that women were at the heart of this injustice. It didn’t matter if she was a lower caste or a Thakurain — as long as it is a “her” — there is nothing that could stop anyone from infringing on her space. Her resistance, her defiance, her wrath, her fury coils and squirms into a loop.
The protagonists, though, were the main characters around whom the movies revolved but one can not sideline the women and their stories. The actions of women at two ends of the economic and social spectrum speak for all women in between. Their choices — sexual, romantic, professional — were questioned by their lot. Why is it that we women put down other women so easily and without an iota of guilt taking over us? Is it a reinforcement of systematic patriarchy enveloping us? Are we the reason for our downfall? Each one of us knows how little and hard-earned is the agency that we have and yet when a woman comes out with her story we dismiss her. Why? Why is it so hard to believe her when we know the possibility of her being abused is more than the possibility of it not happening? There are so many “whys” and so few “because”.
All tired of the tribulations give in — Shanichari cries defying the irony that her life, profession and caste imposed on her, Sonbai’s fiery comrades burn the eyes of the Thakur with the same Masala that trapped them, and 2 Bigha Zameen you will have to watch.
Whether art will be cathartic enough to liberate people is something that is yet to be seen.