“Sab tumhare bhalaiye ke liye keh rahe hain” (Everyone’s saying it for your own good.) These words are left ringing in my ears well into the movie. Words I’ve heard too often. Heck, words every woman has heard too often. About not blowing things out of proportion, or making an issue out of “trivial” things like molestation or a man who makes your life hell by claiming rights over you.
(After all, boys will be boys.)
Anaarkali Of Arrah, with Swara Bhaskar in all her glory, shows that no matter how many times you scream it, no matter what language you spell it out in, and across caste, creed, and level of education, there’s one simple message that people don’t seem to get – ‘No means No’.
And that is why the film hits home. And hits home hard.
Swara Bhaskar plays a singer called Anaarkali from a small town in Bihar. Razor-sharp, coy, and unapologetically saucy, her songs are filled with double-entendres that give the audience (mostly men) what they want – a tantalising show. She enjoys the fame and attention; and men from all over town flock to see this woman who is comfortable in her own sexuality.
Mind you, she enjoys all this. And has no qualms telling off a man who thinks she ought to be treated like desi tandoor.
Things get serious when a pervy, inebriated VC molests her on stage. He’s influential, rich, and will not let a woman slight him because according to him, she’s a lowly prostitute. Or worse.
(After all, a woman who is open about her sexuality is tainted).
But Anaarkali is not a woman who will submit to patriarchy just like that. Irrespective of who she is and what she sings about, she knows that no one has the right to do anything to her without her consent. She argues with anybody who thinks she needs to “know her place”. She swings her slippers at them as swiftly as she retorts that she is a performer with her own free will.
The film shows us the ordeals of this singer who is kicked around like a piece of meat. Someone who throws daggers right back at them.
Last year, Pink had three privileged women residing in an urban city with help by their side. Anaarkali of Arrah has the same theme of consent, but is set in the reality of a smaller town, where corruption and sexism are rampant, and a woman fighting for herself has no one by her side.
With the roles she picks and the films she acts in, Swara Bhaskar has always been seen as a thinking actor. But it’s even better watching this talent being utilised as a lead actress; not just the heroine’s friend as is often the case with her (Tanu Weds Manu, Raanjhana). As in Nil Battey Sannata, Swara’s choice of film shows us that we don’t always need a hero to rescue the damsel in distress. Not even an Amitabh Bachchan.
The two other actors – Sanjay Mishra and Pankaj Tripathi – are worth a mention. Both play men who have to always show a woman her “place”.
As the lascivious Vice Chancellor who speaks about lapping up Anaarkali as easily as he laps up his bottles of liquor, Sanjay Mishra’s acting isn’t far from the outrageous conduct of some influential figures in our country. The audience can yell, scream, or even hurl abuses at him, but the entitlement reeking from his paan-stained teeth, loose tongue, and roving eyes, is enough to leave anyone’s skin crawling.
Pankaj Tripathi, Anaarkali’s manager and lover, plays that man who will always blame women when they’re molested. From pointing out that “such things happen” to “you need a beating to know your place,” his character is irksome yet all-too familiar. In Pankaj, we can recognise somebody we all know – the guy who believes the women have it coming.
Directed by Avinash Das, Anaarkali of Arrah surprisingly stays with the woman’s perspective, with glimpses of her past and stories of what makes her the saucy singer she is. And while it’s sad that we need films to teach people the rules of consent, it’s heartening when directors (and actors) do such a good job of it.
And when the story tells us what makes a woman who she is, it makes even a small movie like this one supersede other big contenders at theatres.
The Anaarkali of Arrah review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.