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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Bandit Queen - From the hindi film diaries

Roles for women in 90’s were as simple as calculating the perimeter of an equilateral triangle.Following are an array of examples in which girls of 90’s were often seen doing
  1. Girls playing roles wherein they importuned men using her choking technique
  2. Used her cuteness to get him do whatever it takes to marry her, be it breaking off with his parampara, that would consist of 100 members that he/she have hardly met or often making a gentle request to hum some lines, even if he doesn’t know the tricks of guitar
  3. Or merely act as a pendulum, who then had to oscillate between 2 or more (then) hot looking men based on a formula of who would make love to me in a better way, thereby putting the audience through a no-confidence motion.
  4. Or some jhinchak things wherein they would feature in atleast 2 hot numbers, an eye candy for the audiences(like me), who would leave the theatre with wet memories of the songs than the engrossing story itself.
At the end of it all audiences felt a genuine connect with all those females/girls portraying the roles , so much so that they started naming their daughters after the character names.

If any “Women centric“ roles/stories  were attempted by then directors/writers,they were either trashed by audiences as art movie or ignored by many, unless it is portrayed by an actress who had already made it to masala movie list. If that was not enough we had Indian Censor board suffering from fear of “castigation of Indian culture” which suggested “few” cuts in the movie, thereby skewing the intentions of the movie consequently the emotions, vision of the “makers”.

One such movie was “Bandit Queen” by Shekhar Kapur. Based on the dictated diary entries titled “Goddess of Flowers”, Kapur narrates the journey of a woman from an aborted childhood, to making of a dacoit, to experiencing Love, carnal abuse, series of retributions and finally ending up as a politician.

It addresses the social issues that existed in the 1960’s when women were never given the respect and were given an unfairly treatment, which Kapur appropriately quotes at the start with “Animals, Drums, Illiterates, low castes and women are worthy of being beaten”. Also highlights the casteism where, the Thakurs were the Unch Jaatiwaale and all other at the bottom end of the pyramid.

Young Phoolan is married off forcibly to a Thakur, twice her age to act as a housemaid. She rebels and flees from his home when she is forced into sexual acts, followed by abuse. 

In dusty lands of UP operated many dacoits, off which Babu Gujjar is the the most notorious upper caste dacoit . By now Phoolan is already considered as a centerfold in that village.Gujjar decides to lay his hands and abducts Phoolan,subjecting her to carnal abuses. Vikram Mallah, a dalit and deputy of Gujjar rescues Phoolan by killing Babu Gujjar, thereby proclaiming the leadership of the group.  Vikram teaches Phoolan howto’s of dacoit viz shooting and rock climbing stuffs.

Meanwhile The head of the group, a Thakur is out of Jail, refuses to accept the the idea of the gang to be operated by the lower caste Mallahs. Things get worse when he makes indecent advances to Phoolan, thereby leading to an altercation,shoot-out between the Thankur and Mallahs. Phoolan along with Vikram and his gang escape to a remote city for hiding. By this time the relationship between the two has grown more than love. 

Knowing nothing else to do apart from dacoity, they come back to the UP to carry on their business. On one fine day during a casual conversation between the two, Vikram is killed, leaving behind Phoolan again,Helpless.
What follows is the most disturbing part. Thankurs take advantage of her helplessness. She is gang-raped , dishonoured and affronted in the upper cast community. In the most helpless of times, she is helped by an old friend of her who gives her some shelter to recover from.

Outraged at all this, Phoolan plans for vengeance by joining a gang headed by a Muslim leader. In a ghastly act of retaliation and misjudgment she ends up killing all the innocent upper caste people in the community. This massacre makes her the most wanted and notorious bandit that the governments are looking for. Faced by a series of attacks on her gang, she finally gives up the dacoity and surrenders to the government and joins politics, promising to help for the welfare of the people. 

As mentioned initially, it is just the kind of role one would not want to do but was pulled off by then theater artist Seema Biswas.  A poignant and disturbing role ever written, that sketches the life cycle of a girl from a teenager to bandit to politicians, admiringly is one of the best by any Hindi actress ever seen. 

And final word goes to the Mala Sen(Writer) and Shekhar Kapur , who unfortunately had the guts to make such a brave movie at a time when the masala movies was at its entertaining best. Unfortunate because, hurdles faced pre and post release forced Mr.Kapur to move to West and make movies that he could relate to. 

No matter how many biographies you read, articles you refer to make a movie, the absoluteness of “true story” from one’s perspective can never be achieved and shall always be debatable.
 A disturbing movie in most parts, but engaging throughout. This is highly recommended. 

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