Cinema: WAPSI TO HELL, NOT GHAR

Mehru Jaffer

I recently saw Daatu, a Kannada film that I cannot forget. I cannot forget the Brahmin housewife who is first made to perform penance by her family in a temple for a wrong committed by her. While she is at her task at a local temple, she is kidnapped by a man who wants her to convert to Islam so that he can marry her.

But before she is forced into marriage, the unhappy woman meets the father of her captor who is visibly moved by her plight. The elderly gentleman consoles her by saying that no one can force her to convert, or marry her against her will. That she must stop crying and eat well so that she can plan her flight.

After three days of confinement in the home of strangers, so far away from her own home in another village across the forest and a river, the woman does escape captivity and the tragedy of an unwanted marriage to a man of muscle who happens to be Muslim.

The Brahmin housewife escapes in a burkha brought to her by the other gentleman from the same family who is naturally also Muslim.

The Muslim saviour and the Hindu victim, one a man and the other a woman, even hold hands on the way in order to quicken the pace of their journey back to the Brahmin village and to avoid further trouble from any other anti-social elements that may lurk in the dark of the night and in the thick of the forest.

Once she stands safely before her house at some unearthly hour, she breaks down and is so grateful for at last being where she belongs that she spontaneously falls at the feet of the man responsible for liberating her. As she walks towards the familiar door of her home, the good samaritan suggests that she return the burkha to him before meeting her family.

She does so tearfully.

Her frantic knocking makes her husband open the front door to find his dishevelled wife faint into his arms. The grief-stricken husband is overjoyed to have his wife back. He calls his mother and sister who bring the traumatised woman food and water.

They sit around her to find out what happened to her and where she was for three days.The housewife tells them exactly what she has experienced through no fault of her own. She talks about all her fears and frustrations. The husband smiles. He is relieved that she is safe and at home. But his mother and sister worry about what the neighbours will say the coming morning when they are told that she spent three days in a Muslim home, eating and drinking there and being in physical
contact with non-Brahmins.

The mother and sister are not evil. They are just not able to think on their own and to decide what is the most humane thing to do under the circumstances.

They insist that others know best what is good for them. They are unable to bear the thought of annoying
God, traditionalists and men who have guided them in life for generations.

They summon the village elders, some of whom insist that it is not enough for the family to forgive and forget the misadventure of the unfortunate woman.

The woman is made to go through a purification bath and dressed up to appear before religious experts and the wise in the village.

There is much argument and discussion over the fate of the woman. What is the fate of one person before ancient traditions and a sacred way of life, is the conclusion. Because she is no longer pure, the woman must be expelled from her home and loved ones in order to maintain the sanctity of the village and its residents!

Watching her husband stand like a statue, allowing others to decide the fate of his wife, the woman who had seemed so subservient announces that no one need expel her for she is leaving the village on her own. Amid a helpless chorus of “But, but, but...” her young son breaks away from the crowd to join the mother, followed by another couple from the same village.

This small group of new age citizens is seen walking across the silver screen, perhaps in the hope of a new dawn, leaving the rest of the villagers to live in spotless purity as elusive as those promises made by laundry detergent advertisements.

What kind of a ghar wapsi was this, is the question.   

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2015