Odd film out | Movies

A long time before Veere

The 80s was a notoriously unimaginative period in Bollywood history. But at this time, when mindless action flicks with sexist storylines ruled the roost, filmmaker Aruna Raje made Rihaee — a subversive piece of cinema addressing women’s choice, sexual frustration and, most importantly, the female gaze. The film starred Hema Malini and Vinod Khanna with parallel cinema prominents like Naseeruddin Shah, Pallavi Joshi, Neena Gupta, Mohan Agashe and Reema Lagoo.

Today, as multiple analyses and opinion pieces are dedicated to the masturbation scene in Veere Di Wedding , Raje’s work at its time seems truly groundbreaking. In fact, in her book, Freedom: My Story, the filmmaker writes about the ordeals she faced during and after the making of the film, which strangely resonate with the theme of the movie.

Set in a village in Gujarat where the men have moved to the cities for work and the women are left behind to work on the fields, Rihaee explores physical pleasure, adultery and gendered hypocrisy from the female point of view. When away from home, the men routinely have affairs, and believe their need for physical gratification is but natural. The same rule, of course, doesn’t apply to their wives.

Exploring pleasure

The film begins with the arrival of the flamboyant Mansukh (Shah) to the village. Many women flirt with him and are seduced, but he is rebuffed by Taku (Hema), who is devoted to her husband, Amarji (Khanna), a carpenter in the city. But Taku finally gives in to Mansukh and soon discovers she is pregnant. When Amarji returns, Taku confesses to the affair, but refuses an abortion. Sensing the dangerous precedent Taku’s assertion would set, the village panchayat is called upon to discipline her. Tables are turned at the meeting when the women rally together and show the self-serving, hypocritical men the mirror.

The film has a scene where an engaged girl, besotted with a married man, watches him bathe, fascinated by his strong body. She feels an incredible physical attraction to him that she doesn’t for her fiancé. Raje’s move to employ the female gaze in that era is audacious. Few filmmakers have been able to portray female sexuality as unapologetically as Raje does. She was perhaps the first one to do so.

Rihaee portrays a woman’s sex drive for what it is — natural and human. Taku, for example, shares a loving relationship with Amarji, but the long spells of loneliness and the lack of physical intimacy break her resolve. Refreshingly, she doesn’t feel guilty about it.

The film makes no moral judgements on adultery — it only asks a simple question is a woman’s desire any less than a man’s?

The Bangalore-based freelance writer believes one Rafi song a day keeps the doctor away.

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Printable version | Jul 7, 2022 7:58:26 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/a-long-time-before-veere/article24655053.ece