‘Son Rise’: In search of a few good men

Vibha Bakshi’s “Son Rise” shows a ray of hope in the fight for gender equality in Haryana

Updated - January 23, 2019 10:29 pm IST

Published - January 23, 2019 04:06 pm IST

“Son Rise” starts with disturbing visuals that capture how deep patriarchy is rooted in Haryana, how illegal sex-selective abortions are still prevalent in parts of the State, described as kudimaar (girl-killing) districts by a courageous government doctor in the film. But before you could ask, what’s new, director Vibha Bakshi introduces us to a few good men who are working for gender equality and are helping women to overcome the trauma of violence. Jitender Chhatar, Sunil Jaglan, and Baljit Singh Malik are ordinary sons of the soil who are working for a new dawn in the State which is infamous for its skewed sex ratio. Supported by the UN Women as part of its # he4she campaign under which people of all gender stand in solidarity with women, the film was premièred at the India Habitat Centre recently to a full house.

The catalyst

The way forward: Vibha Bakshi, who has made a socially conscious film “Son Rise”

The way forward: Vibha Bakshi, who has made a socially conscious film “Son Rise”

Vibha says after Daughters of Mother India (DMI) , her National Award winning film made in the aftermath of 2012 Delhi gang rape, she wanted to go deeper to find out the root of the issue. “Where are these men coming from? Where are things going wrong? Unless we are going to do it together, we aren’t going to win this social battle.”

Two years back, when DMI was being screened in Haryana, a social activist told her that there is a farmer who has married a gang rape survivor and is fighting her case in court. “In no time, I reached there and found that his immediate society made fun of him. They would derisively ask, woh aadmi! We got a feeling that he was not getting support. So I was not going to speak what was his reason to do this. During our conversations, his wife used to come and sit with us. For the first three-four meetings, I didn’t go with the camera. Slowly, they started trusting us and one day the girl took off the veil and said that she had no reason to feel ashamed. It is the rapists who should be ashamed. She is an incredibly strong woman.”

Gradually, Vibha discovered that the girl’s mother-in-law was also a big support. “She is as rural as rural can get but she is standing by her daughter-in-law.” When Vibha started spending time with the family, she felt there must be more such men. And she was not wrong. Soon she came across Sunil Jaglaan, the popular Pradhan of Bibipur village who was taking pathbreaking steps to make women part of the decision making process in the gram panchayat. A father of two daughters, Jaglaan tells Vibha that he realised the mistakes of the past and changed. “He said: ‘mujhe ehsaas hua, main badla. And so can others’,” recounts the director.

In the most touching sequence of the film, men in Bibipur agree to put the turban, a symbol of male pride, on young girls’ head. “It happened for the first time. I cried when the ceremony was in progress as I could relate to their feelings. What is lacking in me is that I don’t have those rights? I am competent but I still feel the bias,” remembers Vibha.

Visuals that enrich the narrative include Jaglaan giving his hand to pull her daughter up on a slide. Vibha doesn’t underline it with background music but it almost becomes a metaphor for what the film stands for. “You can’t force love; you can’t create love. When we went to meet him, he was not home. We started chatting up with his daughters. They were apparently waiting for him. So when he came, they jumped with joy and we followed them in the park.”

Meaningful conversation

Along the way, she also reached out to Baljit Singh Malik, an influential khap chief who is leading a drive to end the tradition of wearing a veil by women and has asked the people to end female foeticide. Access was not easy, and Vibha had to be completely non-judgemental to understand the situation. “It was particularly difficult with the khap chief. Initially, he didn’t want to make eye contact with a woman and I didn’t approve of his views on gender. It was only when I stopped judging him that a meaningful conversation could begin,” recalls Vibha. She feels khaps continues play a very important role in Haryana society. “You can’t do it without them. They are not going anywhere for a long time. If the guy, who happens to be one of the most influential figures, is willing to change, why can’t others? I will make sure that the film is screened in every khap to tell them that you have the social power – use it judiciously and responsibly.”

As is usually the case, the film took shape on the editing table. “It took my editor Hemanti Sarkar two months to edit Stree, but Son Rise kept her engaged for eight months. I had so much material and it was not easy for me to let go. There were a lot of deliberations on the form of the narrative.”

The link

Interestingly, Vibha has kept the most poignant story of Jitender in the second half. “I wanted to establish the link. I wanted to show that you decided to play god by altering the sex ratio. Now you are in a mess. This mess has resulted in frustration which is leading to brides being bought from West Bengal and Jharkhand and an increase in the number of brutal gang rapes.”

The film is also laced with tragi-comic situations such as the scene where a mother-in-law and her Bengali daughter-in-law are sitting on the same cot. The latter talks of how she was trapped and the old lady look into nothingness. “Hemanti asked me what I was thinking. I said it was an encounter, an encounter with reality. Actually, they both are trapped.” With both Jitender and Jaglan facing long legal battles and threats, the film doesn’t show that the sunshine is round the corner. “That’s the reality. But as these men are standing their ground, there is a ray of hope,” sums up Vibha.

Between the lines

Vibha says she didn’t change the way she dresses to fit in and kept the tone as flat as possible while asking questions. “But I did frighten the buffaloes,” she guffaws. “The moment I would enter, buffaloes would go bonkers. I felt insulted! I tried to pass on the blame to the tripod but it didn’t work. Ultimately, we discovered that it was my perfume.”

These days, mainstream films like Dangal also talk of empowering girls. “It is good as they have massive reach. Recently, I watched Simmba and there is a line in the film which says mothers should know how to raise their boys. Being a mother of two sons, I get it. I should not allow them to develop a sense of entitlement. Here, father has a role to play as well.”

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