Friday Feminist Reviews, Movies 20th July, 2023

Intersectionality in Cinema: Films that Challenge Gender Norms (Part II).

Cinema serves as a reflection of society and offers a valuable opportunity to explore intersectionality within feminism. In today’s Friday Feminist Review, we continue our examination of films from India, America, and Iran, delving into the interconnected nature of various social issues. The films featured in this review have been carefully selected for their alignment with feminist ideals and their relevance in the contemporary world. 

Join us as we look anew at some classics from around the world, where we encounter the stark realities of life while also embracing their finer moments. This two-part article aims to highlight how cinema provides a unique perspective absent from our everyday experiences. Read Part One here.

3. Maadathy (2021), directed by Leena Manimekala, India, Tamil


Now, let’s come back to India. We are not so innocent of violence in our history. Caste-based and gender based violence is rampant. Maadathy tells the story of a young Dalit girl who is infatuated by younger men who bathe near the river. Her family lives far from the main village, as the caste system mandates. Whenever they are in close proximity to an upper caste person, they need to hide so they do not pollute them. The film layers with this another subversion of societal norms: the female gaze towards a man’s body. The young girl gets excited fantasising about the man she watches, wishing for a possibility of a romance. 

The film is hinged on two crucial incidents: the sexual assault on her mother and the girl by the group of men she was watching then when her family takes her dead body to the nearby temple to protest her killing. The villagers who worship the goddess cannot handle Dalits being in such close proximity to them. This starts a fight. A conflict between caste and gaze. Audiences are situated at the periphery, involved independently in the decision making process. Here the decision is simple, the young girl was wronged, the goddess was wronged, the villagers were wrong. 

But the truth is that we see caste-based violence every day. So many people die in our sewers and so many women face sexual abuse but we rarely feel angry and read it in a small column of our newspapers or a discussion among our peers. Maadathy shows how the caste system at its extreme form evokes emotions in us but they should be evoked at every small incident thus making the film different than anything before as caste-based violence is not going anywhere. It is happening all around us every day. 

Maadathy shows how the caste system at its extreme form evokes emotions in us…

4. A Separation (2011), directed by Asghar Farhadi, Iran, Persian 


The caste system in India is also closely connected to the class system like many other societies. The Iranian film A Separation shows exactly that. The story is simple: a couple is getting divorced as the wife wants to leave Iran and the husband wants to stay back to take care of his ailing father. Their daughter has to make a complex decision to choose with whom she wants to stay. The problem arises when the husband pushes a nurse for her father outside of the house as she failed to take care of him and left his father wandering the streets. The nurse is from a poor family with her small daughter to take care of. It is revealed that she lost her baby due to the push as she fell down the stairs. The Iranian laws consider this as a murder and the husband is facing a possibility of punishment like death. The wife who was all ready to leave now has to stick back and see what can be done. 

The narrative relies on a single truth: whether the husband knew the nurse was pregnant or not. Only this reality or giving a huge sum of money to the nurse’s abusive husband will save him. This creates a picture of how class and gender intersect. The young girls in the films want to pursue education but only one of them can. Tarmeh, the daughter, is a good student torn between her soon to be divorced father and mother. The young girl of the poor nurse is also interested in education but probably will not continue as her family struggles to meet the ends. 

It shows a separation of many worlds, like Parasite did a few years ago, such as all the women and men and their legal system. Does pushing a woman out of his house in anger makes him a murderer or is his ignoring her worsening health of greater concern? The man who shows much kindness to his Alzheimer stricken father has now issues showing anger to those who are below him at the ladder. The wife on the other hand seems to be kinder towards the poor nurse but has to save her husband’s life as well. She tries hard to strike a bargain so they can give clemency but it fails as the nurse’s husband was insistent on getting justice delivered in any form. 

The film shows these worlds of conflict and complexity in a manner that it splits the audience into half. One has to be the judge and the other has to play the jury. The women in the film are the core of the story, they are the sufferers of different kinds of marriage, social system, gender based violence, and many others. They also suffer from the loneliness that Violet suffers in 36 Chowringhee Lane. The glass door here separates the worlds of men and women starkly for us to see from a point of view where we can only see them from a distance. 

The film shows these worlds of conflict and complexity in a manner that it splits the audience into half.

5. Mahanagar (1963), directed by Satyajit Ray, India, Bangla and English  


Mahanagar shows a story of a woman getting out of her house to take care of her family. She befriends an Anglo Indian girl for whom she ends up leaving her job. This is the general narrative of the film. A simple protest against globalisation and patriarchy. The film shows Arati, played by Madhabi Mukherjee, stepping out to work as a saleswoman as her husband is unemployed. We see the world through her eyes where she is a hardworking woman. This leads to quick promotion and praise from everyone around her. There is also a famous poster of the film where she applied red lipstick for the first time as a way to show that she is free. She has been shown as a woman fighting against the odds like her own family, like Joyland showed recently, and shows her feminist perspective. She is quite powerful in calling out her boss who fires her friend on unethical grounds. She asks him to apologise which the boss refuses as he is a man and her boss. She ends up submitting her resignation in protest and meets her husband. They both embrace each other as partners, showing a gender equality that we rarely see in our cinema. 

The film’s ending though may not feel as feminist as the woman ends up apologising to her husband for choosing freedom but that shows a male perspective that can always be expected from men, and Satayjit Ray is no exception. But the film is a true feminist fable as it shows radical kindness in protest and standing your ground without throwing the ideas of bashing out of the window. Mahanagar shows the megacity that we are still discovering where many women are stepping out for the first time and learning the importance of financial freedom. The film holds all these ideas together through Arati’s eyes and her lipstick makes sure they glow as red as her freedom when she applies it. 

But the film is a true feminist fable as it shows radical kindness in protest and standing your ground…

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