I hope my US friends had a good Thanksgiving break, those who didn’t get a long weekend, I am sorry ;-). We were expecting guests, but unfortunately, their plans got canceled at the last minute…bummer! To make up for that, we decided to be super productive over the four days by finishing many tasks on our neverending To-Do List. To be honest, if not super, we were quite productive. To finish off a decent long weekend, we watched a nice movie – Sivaranjiniyum Innum Sila Pengalum (Sivaranjini and some other women – SISP). The trailer is not available in the US, but others may be able to watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pocdK4loHAQ
Directed by Vasanth S. Sai, the movie is an anthology of three short stories by legendary Tamil authors Ashokamitran, Jeyamohan, and Adhavan. All three stories are female-centric and show the lives of three women, decades apart. The first story, Saraswathi, is set in 1980. Played by Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Saraswathi is married to Chandran and has an infant daughter. Chandran is portrayed as a haughty, self-centered husband who can’t even stand the sound of his daughter crying. At one instance, he hits his wife and when he shows no sign of stopping, Saraswathi stands up to him and tells him to stop. She does not raise her voice, but the fact that she rebels hurts Chandran’s ego so much that he stops talking to her, sulks around the house, and finally abandons his wife and baby daughter. Three days go by and when he still doesn’t return, she enquires at his workplace to realize that he had not been there. She files a police complaint but nothing comes of that either. The story fast-forwards a few years to show Saraswathi working at a factory, making a decent living for herself and her school-going daughter. The last scene was very symbolic: the subdued Saraswathi who always served her husband and silently bore the harsh treatment, now had the whole house to herself. She finally had the freedom to sit back and relax with a cup of coffee, at the end of a tiring but satisfactory day.
The second story, Devaki (set in 1995), stars one of my favorite Malayalam actors, Parvathi. Her versatility knows no bounds and she is brilliant as Devaki, a wife, and daughter-in-law, balancing her job and life in a joint family. In the beginning, the husband looks sensible and supportive, but at one point his true colors show. Drama ensues when the family realizes that their working daughter-in-law keeps a diary, secretly locked in her almirah…what’s worse? She carries the keys to the almirah with her to work. The mother-in-law and older daughter-in-law of the family have to somehow find out what she has been writing and convince the men of the house to confront her. Devaki’s husband, after some protest, confronts her and asks her to read from her diary. She refuses to read from it and emphasizes the fact that it is private. He snatches it from her and reads a few lines… where she has made an innocent remark of how she had seen women wearing jeans and how it looked good on them. Devaki, humiliated and angry, snatches the diary back and does what she thinks is best, burns it. In the next scene, she is shown moving to a working women’s hostel, her almirah in tow. Here again, the last scene is remarkable. As Devaki’s ex-husband, brother-in-law, and nephew drive by on a motorbike, she is sipping a glass of tea at a roadside tea store, standing apart in a crowd of typical male customers seen at such stores.
The third and last story, Sivaranjini (set in 2007), is of course about the title character. Ranjini, played by Lakshmi Priyaa Chandramouli is a sprinter, a gold medal winner in her college, and a potential player at national level championships. Her dreams are shattered when she is forced to get married a few days before her competition. The first day at her husband’s home, her mother-in-law (MIL) complains about her cooking and tells her, ‘The pongal was too salty and the sambar was not spicy at all. I am going to be away for a few days, so make sure you ask your mother or me when you cook next time. My son is used to eating good food. Even before she graduates, Ranjini gets pregnant and the next scene we see is Ranjini scrambling to get her morning chores done in her home in Chennai. For most of the story, it looks as though the camera is simply following her around as she scrambles to fix everyone’s breakfast, pack lunches, and attend to her daughter’s needs while making sure that the other child in the house, the husband gets ready and leaves for work on time. In the midst of it all, she also has to hear things like, Your cooking doesn’t suit me, I’ll cook my own food,” from her MIL.
After a lot of thought and discussion, Ranjini takes one day for herself and goes back to her college hoping to find the cup she had won years before. After searching the entire college and the godown, she leaves dejected and empty-handed. Back in her mundane life, the once champion sprinter gets to use her skills to run behind her daughter’s school bus to hand over the child’s lunch box. At least the kids in the bus applaud her effort. The last scene here stands out too, showing Sivaranjini walking back to her mundanity, after displaying a spark of her calibre.
While the first two stories end on a positive note, showing the women shine in their independence, Sivaranjini’s destiny seems to be limited to her kitchen, her home, her family, and her buried dreams.
What I loved about the three stories was the way the women were portrayed. I have noticed that in the usual female-centric stories the women have to achieve remarkable feats to be hailed as heroes, for instance, Nayantara’s role as a blind cop in Netrikan. In SISP, the women dominate each story, and though there are male characters, they fade away as the women shine. Each story also has children — Saraswathi’s daughter, Devaki’s nephew, and Sivaranjini’s daughter — growing up witnessing and absorbing the behaviors of the adults around them.
Be it 1980, 1995, 2007 or even 2021, there are still women in many parts of the world who have to lead subdued lives, simply because of their gender. Many men around the globe still believe that they are the superior gender… they need to open their eyes and look around! And we can only hope that these adults also realize that children observe, understand, and tend to imitate what they see. So it is on us to behave well, regardless of whether we are in the presence of children or not.
It would be wrong on my part if I didn’t thank the men in my family for being such gentlemen. I am grateful to them for being respectful to us and supportive of us leading our lives the way we want to.
Until I write again. stay safe, stay happy, and stay yourself!