Director : Jagmohan MundhraMain cast - Nandita Das, Deepti Naval, Raghubir Yadav.
The movie is based on a true incident. Bhanwari Devi
is a potter from the village of Bhateri near Jaipur, Rajasthan; who was gang-raped by five high-class men of her village. She is still waiting for justice after twenty years, as all the accused were acquited in 1995.
Nandita Das portrays the role of Sanwari Devi and Raghubir Yadav plays her husand Sohan. Deepti Naval represents 'Saathin' an initiative under the Women's Development Project by the Govt. of Rajasthan, to empower women in rural Rajasthan.
The movie starts with an American woman (the delectable Laila Rouass) and her Indian beau coming to Rajasthan to find out about Sanwari Devi's case. They hop on to a camel-cart and find out that the owner is her husband, who then narrates the incident to them.
Sanwari Devi is a potter who is nominated by her friend to work as a 'Saathin' with Deepti Naval. A child-bride herself, Sanwari is at first shown supporting child-marriages, her own daughter has been 'married-off' at a tender age. However exposure to the disadvantages of this system convince her to swim against the tide. She even takes up the case of a molested woman in a nearby village and storms the accused's house with a group of women.
In her own village, she is vocal about her now-changed opinions on child-marriages and therefore
invites the wrath of many. When the Sarpanch of the village is conducting his nine-month old daughter's marriage on the festive day of 'Aakha Teej or Akshaya Tritiya
', the police swoop in and stop it. Enraged and convinced that Sanwari is behind this, he decides to take revenge.
Sanwari and Sohan are out working in their fields, the Sarpanch, his nephew and three other high-caste men attack them. While one fends off Sohan, two men hold Sanwari down and the uncle-nephew duo rape her.
This is where I must stand up and applaud Nandita Das for her subtle yet explosive portrayal of a rape-victim. Not that we, in the audience would ever know what it is like to have another man forcefully abuse you, nor whether we could set a 'standard' where a rape-victim can scream only so much or not at all, however the scene will fill you with despair, great grief and anger.
After the attack, after the men have satiated themselves and gone away, Sohan crawls to Sanwari and gently smooths out her clothes and drapes the chunri over her head. Another scene where both Raghubir and Nandita have made you feel helpless and left you stunned with their portrayal of their 'shame' - his because he could not protect her as a man, her's because she brought this upon him.
Sanwari decides to file a complaint and Sohan supports her. At the police station the inspector on duty demands a rape-certificate by a medical officer as well as a Magistrate's order to file the FIR Welcome to India. These things happen.
At the medical officer's clinic, Sanwari refuses to be examined by a male gynaec (since the lady doctor is not available). Deepti Nawal takes them to Jaipur and gets the medical examination done. This is after 52 hours! They are made to wait until the next day to meet the Magistrate since he has a party to attend.
back in the village the inspector files the FIR and asks her to deposit her ghaghra
with him as evidence. Sohan offers her his paghri
to cover her shame. This is significant because in my chauvinistic country removing a man's head-dress is akin to removing his honour.
The trial in itself is true and shameful. Within 3 years six judges sit on the case and the last one to preside over it acquits all the five. Reasoning?
"It is highly unlikely that higher-caste self-respectable men like these would ever commit such a crime as even touching a low-caste woman as her, forget raping her.
Also it is against our Indian culture that an uncle would 'have sex' with a younger member of his family watching on"
When the judgement is announced, Deepti Naval renders a powerful and emotionally charged scene which is not jarring or loud and instead blends perfectly with the injustice shown throughout.
The movie ends with clippings of Sanwari Devi still working as a 'Saathin'.
There is a parallel story of Deepti's own marriage with her socialist professor husband breaking down, which just helps to bring out the hypocrisy of most of us. Lilette Dubbey has brief scenes as the head of a Delhi NGO and she plays her role to perfection as always, without infringing or stealing others' shows.
Jagmohan Mundhra has made it very clear in his works that he is not bothered about appealing to the masses. His movies are always gritty and brutal. The rape-scene is brutal yes, and in the same fashion, the start of the scene is quite boring. And unless you have read about this movie beforehand, you might even quit watching it. Probably the only scene that I felt was not upto standards was one where the police-women taunt Sanwari. Instead of menacing, the police-woman looked like a clown. A tad over-the-limit perhaps?
Credit must be given to the crew for a true-to-life rendering of the rural backgrounds, costumes and accents. The characters as well as the extras have blended together very well with the setting. However the 'ghoonghat' system exists even in city-bred Rajasthani women so I was quite surprised that the women in the movie went about unveiled in front of men other than their husband....I remember my neighbours - the daughter-in-laws would not even speak or utter a single word in front of the men in their in-laws family, and would draw the veil even in the presence of their younger brothers-in-law...perhaps I have seen only a part of the system.
Perfect casting, perfect dialogues and perfect acting come together in Bawandar to make it a veritable sandstorm.