Friday, February 1, 2008

Puttanna Kanagal

I ended up watching two Kannada movies back to back. Both the movies were associated with Puttanna Kanagal, Kalpana, Triveni and Da.Ra.Bendre... No prizes for guessing, they were Sharapanjara and Bellimoda. While Puttanna directed the movie based on Triveni's novels, Kalpana played the lead roles. Incidentally the song "uttara druvadin" from Sharapanjara and "Moodala Maneya" from Bellimoda were penned by the famous poet Da.Ra.Bendre.
They were master pieces indeed.
First Sharapanjara or the 'cage of arrows', the ultimate confinement. It is a story of a women 'Kaveri' played by Kalpana who is beautiful, educated and hails from a very good family. She gets married to a man who falls in love with her at first sight. All is well, its a picture perfect family. Kaveri is loved by all. She is the object of everyone's affection. She has a loving husband, a cute son, an adorable mom-in-law, she has servants at her disposal, a big house and of course a car, which was a luxury at that time. The car shown in the movie is a red colored fiat, now outdated and almost off Indian roads. Kaveri has another baby and becomes very weak. Hysteria strikes her during this post-pregnancy weakness. She is haunted by her pre-marital one-night-stand with another man who repeats the caesarian 'Veni, Vidi, Vici'. The Husband gets a wind of the affair and is very very upset. She is admitted to a mental hospital in Bangalore. After a while she recovers and is discharged. Unfortunately for her, despite the doctors advice, the husband cannot bring himself to love her the way he did before. She craves for the lost love, but she is disappointed. Later she finds that her husband is having an extra-marital affair with his typist. That comes as a trigger. She breaks down.
There are two issues addresses in the movie. One is the mental illness and people's perception about it. The other is the concept of a women's chastity. As a post-liberalization child, i don't find mental illness a big deal, nor will others of my age or younger. In fact our generation is one which seeks the refuge of psychiatrist/counselor at the drop of the hat after all we can afford it right! Back then, mental illness was something incurable, something scary. Post treatment it was nothing but social ostracism. People are scared to talk, they make false accusation, they jeer, make fun and are scared. The affected person craving for love and attention are given anything but love or affection. All that remains with them is the brand. It must have been a difficult era for people with mental illness at that milieu. The movie poignantly brings out the insensitivity of the society in dealing with such people. Well, frankly speaking, we still keep on reading about mentally unsound people chained in temples and such and tortured instead of being cared for. Such apathy, no doubt bodes no good. Triveni was a pioneer when it comes to bringing such episodes to forefront. She wrote during the 50s and 60s probably even earlier, and see her sensitivity. She is so mature for her age, exposure and education. And of course Puttanna is such an expert in translating such a complicated story from print media to a three hour feature film! Beautiful. I was also impressed by Kalpana. My god what terrific acting. It left me disturbed for a while, and had to watch a lighter movie to tone down the effect. I understood for once why she is called a great actress.There are some scenes where she over-acts a bit but then considering her theater background, the extra histrionics can be ignore.

The second issue addressed in the movie is a women's chastity. In the movie, the heroine is abused by a man who says, "he came, he saw, he conquered". He takes pride in having enjoyed the company of a naive girl who is not his wife and leaves her to her fate. No one knows about it. But the girl as she matures into a women still has it in her bosom. She feels she has erred. She has lost her chastity. Feeling guilty all the time. Why should she? It was definitely a mistake but she was not alone in it. Her accomplice in crime has gone scot free. Why should she suffer? Its an unfair deal. Of course when the husband come to know of it, he resolves to adultery. Does two wrongs make a right? Why does he lose his love for a wife who had a past? Could he not have forgiven her?? Is his love not strong enough to forgive her? parallels are drawn in the movie to Ramayan, where Rama has similar point of views. He loves is wife Sita but will not accept her without subjecting her to the test of chastity for which she had to jump into fire. Subsequently the fire god vouches for her chastity. Finally he banished her because of some hearsay on her chastity again. We ordinary mortals could not have succeeded the test! That means not only dying of nth degree burns as well as the stigma of being not-chaste. How can a women prove that she is chaste! Is that a possibility. Is chastity not something you feel about yourself. Say can a women who is raped can still be chaste? Is she not? Why should she pay for no mistake of hers? Some bugger violates her and she feels she has lost her chastity. Its such skewed equation. This makes me wonder what is chastity?? is it something that can be lost in a second? looted by some frustrated maniacs? What is it something you lock it up in a safe? in a bank?Can something be more ridiculous? How did ever come into such morals, who made this code of conduct?(definitely a man)
At the end i still done have answers. I still cant think clear, everything is still muddled. But i know deep down my heart, and still believe that chastity comes from mind more than ones body. It is thoughts that matter than actions that are beyond one's control. Yet a women who has been wronged earlier can still be loyal to her spouse, can still be chaste the way she feel for her spouse. There is no reason for women to still follow Sita and accept ill treatment because of chastity-related problems. i hope things change and for the good. The change comes not as acceptance of multiple parters but in the form of acceptance of a women who has been wronged; this could be a sensible way change mindsets.

No comments: