Filmy Dialogue Movies

‘Aise Hi’ and ‘Shut Up Sona’ feature women protagonists at polar ends of the social spectrum

Singer Sona Mohapatra talks of how she had to pay the price for being “difficult” and “demanding”.

Singer Sona Mohapatra talks of how she had to pay the price for being “difficult” and “demanding”.  

.... yet, the two films play out like companion pieces

No two films could be as dissimilar in tone and style as writer-filmmaker Kislay’s debut feature Aise Hi (Just Like That) and cinematographer Deepti Gupta’s documentary Shut Up Sona. The protagonists of the two films — both women — also stand at polar ends of the social spectrum. Yet the films play out like companion pieces. If one is about an elderly lady finding her long-stifled voice, the other examines a hypocritical society trying to curb a spirited young woman from speaking, nay singing, her mind.

Sometimes a loss may turn out to be a gain in disguise, even when it involves the demise of someone you have spent more than half your life with. Aise Hi is a rare film that looks at the death of a life partner not as the end of the road but as the beginning of a new journey. It’s not about loneliness and vacuum in the autumn of life but about striking a fresh friendship with someone else — yourself. .

The death of her husband makes Mrs. Sharma (Mohini Sharma) begin doing things aise hi. Learning embroidery from the neighbourhood tailor, indulging herself in an ice cream or a facial; watching a film alone or buying an airconditioner for her comfort. She feels a twinge of guilt in the beginning, but eventually gets heady liberation from her self-actualisation.

In mapping this unique journey, Kislay treads on ground similar to what he did as a writer in Ivan Ayr’s acclaimed Soni. No theatrics or high drama; just slices of Allahabad’s middle-class life.

Unlikely bond

The idea is to show a mirror to society in a matter-of-fact way. And the reflection is far from flattering: casual sexism and everyday patriarchy are internalised, not just by men but women too. It cuts across class, caste and religion. A family that swoops down on a newly widowed woman’s saris comfortably assuming that she won’t wear them any longer. The assumption that she will move in with her son. A son who uses his mother for his own selfish needs. A family making fun of the mother’s limited universe. It’s in the middle of this that a sorority of women forms — an unlikely bond springing up between the old lady and a young beautician and the tailor’s niece.

Kislay unfolds this against the backdrop of class dynamics, power structures, and the rise of saffron politics. The worship of the cow is quietly juxtaposed against the ill-treatment of women.

Unlike the conservative world of Aise Hi is the urban and supposedly progressive world inhabited by the modern, emancipated singer-performer-composer Sona Mohapatra in Shut Up Sona. Only, not quite. The docu-drama shows an India that doesn’t still know how to handle a woman with a mind of her own, someone who upsets the status quo and questions male dominance. And Mohapatra has been doing this in the field of music and showbiz. Last year, only 49 of Bollywood’s 347 songs were female solos. No wonder Mohapatra calls it a “boys’ club”.

The film shows the ways used to silence her, from trolling and bullying to legal notices. She was informally boycotted at college fests after she wrote an open letter to IIT-Bombay for being denied a solo gig at Mood Indigo and for their unspoken expectation that she would share the stage with her music-composer husband and collaborator Ram Sampath. She had to pay the price for being “difficult” and “demanding”. A Sufi organisation issues a blasphemy notice against her for singing an 800-year-old Amir Khusro devotional composition while “obscenely” dressed.

Mohapatra talks to the male qawwals at Khusro dargah and gets them to sing with her in a space where women are not meant to sing. She asks how Mira can be regarded as an epitome of bhakti when she was as much a rebel.

The charged-up camera keeps pace with Mohapatra’s disruptiveness, flamboyance, energy and politics. On stage and in life. The hallmark of the documentary, however, is Mohapatra’s own candidness. She is outspoken and spares nothing and nobody.

She is frank about Sampath too, who supports her but wants her to take a more non-confrontational way out, to focus on being a performer rather than a dissenter. But there will always be women like the mercurial Mohapatra, who will keep protesting, not in a sweet or sublime voice that is acceptable to men, but in a loud and demanding one.

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Printable version | Feb 29, 2020 10:02:03 AM |

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