Set up in a relatively isolated village in Assam, the 2012 film Bakor Putek (directed by Chandra Mudoi) vividly portrays the grappling issues of social evils, superstitions and exploitation of women and illiteracy, to name a few. The movie starts with a new doctor moving into a village who notices how a young child with physical deformities named Seng is often bullied by his peers. They call him names and socially ostracize and harass him.
Intrigued by the happenings in and around the village, the doctor tries to dig deep into the lives of Seng and his mother, Padma.
The heart-wrenching story hereby unfolds – how Padma, a vulnerable girl from a small village, falls prey to society and its unfair ideals. Ideas when institutionalised often become norms and these norms grip every individual in and around its vicinity, making them believe and convincing them of its authenticity. Patriarchy as such an institutionalised structure has indeed been successful in doing the same.
Padma has been repeatedly violated and exploited without her consent. She does not realise the graveness of the matter and considers it to be ‘societal norms’ that she has to abide by and live in accordance with. Padma’s story starts with her being married off to a boy from a neighbouring village. The decision was taken by the village elderly without probing deeply into what had actually conspired but rather on the hearsay of a man who had seen the two of them together near some bushes.
It was thus decided that Padma has indeed brought ‘disgrace’ to her village with this act of hers, and society would no longer accept her if she does not marry the boy. With no voice to raise against the decision, she went off to live with Pual. The story then moves to Pual’s village where we get to see the actual imagery of how, along with frequent sexual violence, the marginalised are often exploited and manipulated by the rich landowning classes and the role superstition plays in their lives.
The movie speaks extensively about how a lack of education stifles people’s capacity to think critically and rationally and makes them vulnerable to all kinds of superstitious beliefs.
The mainstay of Pual and many others like him was a small lake in the middle of the village, in which the villagers used to fish and survive. A man named Pratap often used to claim ownership to the lake, as the surrounding land around it belonged to him. He would ask the fishermen not to fish in his lake or else they would be beaten up.
In fear of crossing him, they used to abide by it as they had borrowed money from him which they weren’t able to return, thus his hooliganism went on unquestioned. However, Pual was rebellious and refused to accept Pratap as the lake’s owner and despite repeated threats, he went on fishing even on the side which was believed to be haunted. The village had a major superstition that one side of the lake was haunted by a water ghost often known as ‘baak’ in Assamese folklore. Belief has it that this ghost often haunts fishermen and has a sack tied to its belly. It would follow a person and kill at the first instance and after killing, it would bury the person upside down.
Pratap, seeing Pual’s fearless nature, decided to take advantage of it. He agreed to Pual fishing on the lake and even offered him to do so on his behalf, as he knew the never-explored side of the lake had profits in store for him. Thus Pual would often be at the lake fishing even during the darkest hours of the night and Padma would be home. The happenings were very well known to Pratap who had been eyeing her for a long time.
It was during one of these nights Padma was sexually assaulted for the first time. The news floating around was that it was the ‘baak’ who had taken the shape of Pual and raped her. The villagers, now doubtful of Pual, started questioning his identity. Meanwhile, rumours about the ‘baak’ and his presence in the village and that Pratap had previously seen happenings of this kind were rife.
We get to see how the marginalised are often exploited and manipulated by the rich landowning classes and the role superstition plays in their lives.
A few days later, Pual goes off fishing and never returns and his body is found after a while floating on the lake. Villagers were then convinced of him being killed by the ‘baak’ and that it was the ghost that had impregnated Padma. Thus her ostracisation begins. Pratap, on the other hand, convinces her to abort the child and gave her herbs to help with it. Being at an advanced stage of pregnancy, she wasn’t successful in aborting, instead, the child was born with deformities. This added to the superstitious beliefs of the villagers and made both their lives miserable.
As the story unfolded in front of the doctor, he outrightly realised the culprit behind it and tried to make the villagers aware of the happenings and rationalise the events. But indeed his attempts were futile and the villagers stubbornly stayed rooted in their superstitions and norms. Pratap had a stronghold on the minds of the locals and being aware of this power – he again tried to manipulate them. In one of the incidents, Seng being provoked by a small boy, retaliated by scratching him on his face. The villagers, incited by Pratap, decided to take revenge by vandalising Padma’s house.
Pratap who had sexually assaulted Padma and killed Pual was never convicted of his crimes because of the advantageous position that he held both economically and socially over the villagers. Starting from claiming the lake to be his to beating up fishermen who would not follow his orders to spreading rumours that the villagers thought to be true – he had it all. At the receiving end of it, was Padma.
Thus with no house to live, the doctor then took in both Seng and Padma in his house and moved away from the village. The movie thus speaks extensively about how a lack of education stifles people’s capacity to think critically and rationally and also makes them vulnerable to all kinds of superstitious beliefs. A society running on predefined ideas and norms finds it difficult to do away with it whether wrong or right and as a result, people like Pratap make the utmost use of it.
Featured image used for representative purpose only. Image source: IMDB