Cinema is an extremely powerful medium. And certain films can really change the way you cogitate about an issue. Manisha Jha's directorial debut MATRUBHOOMI - A NATION WITHOUT WOMEN is one such film.
The issue that this film tackles evokes a wide variety of emotions at the same time -- anger, rage, antipathy, disgust, abhorrence, revulsion, anxiety
In a nutshell, MATRUBHOOMI will come across as a shocker to those traditional Indian audiences who have grown up on the staple diet of sugar-coated romances and feel-good/sunshine/escapist cinema. You ought to have a strong stomach to absorb a film like MATRUBHOOMI.
MATRUBHOOMI explores a futuristic rural India wherein due to rampant female infanticide, women are practically extinct. In fact, the villagers are so frustrated that they are ready to give dowry to the girls' parents -- a custom that is in sharp contrast to the existing norms.
A village priest [Piyush Mishra] sets his eyes on a girl [Tulip Joshi, who was introduced in Yash Chopra's MERE YAAR KI SHAADI HAI] and gets a marriage proposal from an affluent family for her. The girl's father agrees -- he is paid Rs. 5 lacs and the girl is married off to five brothers.
The story doesn't end here
On the wedding night, the brothers divide the nights they plan to spend with their common wife, but their father [Sudhir Pandey] flares up. Reason: Since he has raised the five sons after their mother's demise and has now even paid a dowry to the girl's father, he should be included in the list. Meaning, he also wants to exercise his conjugal rights.
The young girl is forced to spend night after night with her father-in-law and her five husbands.
She starts getting closer to the youngest brother [Sushant Singh], the only one who treats her like a human being, much to the chagrin of the father and other brothers. The eldest brother has him killed.
The hapless girl turns to her father for refuge, but the father, blinded with money, also lets her down. After her attempt to escape with the low caste servant-boy, she is clamped in iron chains in a cowshed and raped repeatedly by her family.
In the meanwhile, the villagers, who hold the girl responsible for the death of the servant-boy, decide to 'avenge' the murder by raping the woman one after another. Practically the entire village rapes her one night!
When she finally becomes pregnant, everyone claims paternity
Shocking though it may sound, director Manish Jha's interpretation of this story jolts the viewer. The film shakes you up completely, making you sit up to the harsh realities of life.
The performances are spellbinding. Tulip Joshi, Sudhir Pandey, Sushant Singh and Piyush Mishra top the list. Ditto for the other actors, who succeed in making the proceedings life-like.
On the whole, the Indian cinegoer has witnessed escapist cinema for years now. But along side comes a film that makes you think. MATRUBHOOMI is one such film. At the box-office, the film will appeal to the thinking audience mainly. The idea to dub the film in various Indian languages will ensure its reach to the remote areas, but in the wake of tough oppositions week after week as also the fact that a film like MATRUBHOOMI may not be everyone's idea of entertainment, will limit its prospects to connoisseurs of thought-provoking cinema.