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A cry for emancipation

GEETA NANDAKUMAR
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INTERVIEW Director Kundan Shah on his sensitive film ‘Teen Behenein'

Free spirits stifled A scene from Teen Behenein and (below) Kundan Shah
Free spirits stifled A scene from Teen Behenein and (below) Kundan Shah

K undan Shah's “Teen Behenein” is a film that revolves around the suicide of three sisters due to dowry demands. A cutting edge critique of the existing value systems in Indian society that result in the total debasement of women, the director reveals the dynamics behind the making of this path-breaking film.

This film is a departure from your favourite genre of comedies and satires. What made you direct a serious film?

All my films have a serious undercurrent and this is no exception. When Zee Telefilms and Sudhir Mishra approached me, I was keen to deal with the subject of dowry as a scourge.

The film is not morbid. In fact, it bristles with joie de vivre of the three siblings, even as they mull and debate the extreme step. Theirs is not a sudden burst of despair, rather a hopelessness and a lament at a lack of choice to escape the bestiality of a society that does not value human life, but, is concerned about the dowry that a bride will bring and her beauty.

The film is very poignant. Did you meet the families of the suicide victims to understand the situation?

Yes, a lot of research went into understanding the entire psyche of the women, their fears and hopes and how despite being educated and dynamic, they were unable to get out of the oppressive social system. If you watch the film, these are young women eager to live and not filled with negativism. However, I did not speak to the parents of these women, since they were too traumatised.

You have captured the vulnerability and helplessness of the women without any overtly feministic statements How did you manage that?

The film opens with the quote from Anton Chekov's Three Sisters : Life for us three sisters hasn't been beautiful yet, we've been stifled by it as plants are choked by weeds. . . I wanted to depict the manner in which these spirited young women were pushed to the brink.

The three men who appear briefly in the film epitomise lust, greed and the exploitative bent of patriarchy.

The film juxtaposes this darkness against the stability and decorum that the women maintain in their lives even as they make a choice to embrace their death.

The openness of the terrace in their house mirrors their aspiration to be free spirits desiring to be in charge of their own destinies.

What forces them to take their own lives is the anguish and humiliation that their parents face due to their inability to marry the girls off with handsome dowries.

The film was completed in 2005 and has not seen the light of day.

Yes, a film like this needs to reach out to a wide audience.

GEETA NANDAKUMAR

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