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Movies reflect life and life reflects movies. The movie Roja gave me the strength to follow my heart and do what I had to. I consider her a feminist icon.
“Because you are a woman, people will force their thinking on you, their boundaries on you. They will tell you how to dress, how to behave, who you can meet and where you can go. Don’t live in the shadows of people’s judgment. Make your own choices in the light of your own wisdom” – Amitabh Bachchan
The film Roja was released in 1992. It was directed by celebrated director Mani Ratnam and had Arvind Swamy as Rishi Kumar and Madhoo as Roja. I was a teen when I first watched the movie and was fascinated by the songs, the brilliant acting, and the direction. I sang those songs myself and even brought home a prize for singing “Dil hein chhota sa, chhoti si asha” at a contest.
Today I watched the movie again. I’d like to share what I learned from it, as I saw Roja in me. I felt Roja and I had a lot in common, and she is my true feminist icon.
The story revolves around a fun loving woman Roja who along with her family resides in a small town in Tamil Nadu. Her life takes a turn when Rishi, an urban man comes to her village. Rishi who is a cryptologist employed with R.A.W was to get married to Roja’s sister Shenbagam. But Shenbagam loved someone else. She confides the same to Rishi in private and asks him to turn down the marriage proposal.
Rishi being a decent man respects her wish and requests for Roja’s hand. Much to Roja’s annoyance, she is married to Rishi and travels to Madras now Chennai. Back in the village, Shenbagam marries the man she loved. Roja, unaware of her sister’s affair, keeps herself at a distance from Rishi. Later Rishi reveals the real reason, and when it is confirmed when she confronts her sister, Roja apologizes to Rishi. They get close as a couple, and love blossoms.
Back at work, Rishi’s boss falls sick and sends Rishi to the troubled zone Baramulla in Kashmir to commandeer military intelligence. The couple travels to Kashmir and enjoys their time together until Rishi is abducted by a group of terrorists.
The rest of the movie portrays Roja’s solo journey in the new place, her only friend a local guide and her tremendous valor to free her husband Rishi.
So are there lessons for us women like us? I guess all hands will go up.
Roja was from a rural area, led a simple life, but had the maturity to be angry that her sister had been affronted when Rishi turns down the proposal. In social terms, this is a disaster. Also, despite the fact that she was now married to a rich man, she has the integrity to insist on the truth before she gives him her loyalty and love.
So I got my first lesson on self respect. I need to understand the man first and then get into a relationship/marriage.
Roja was a straightforward, honest, and loyal woman, and Rishi loved her for this nature.
Make sure that a man appreciates your self and talent, and not just your beauty. When they only appreciate your looks, they are in effect objectifying you.
When Rishi was kidnapped, Roja ran behind the terrorist van, not for once did she fear for her life. Neither did she know about the terrorism, nor did she know much about the militants. All she knew was that she wanted her husband back. She visits the military camp; shakes up their officers, reaches out to the chief minister, all alone with a local guide her only companion. She doesn’t know if her husband is dead or alive. All she had in her was the determination and power of her mind to face everything alone.
Women are strong, and we can fight our battles alone if required. The power is within us to bring our courage to the forefront.
None of her family members come to her rescue, and Roja too never asks for help. The militants wanted another extremist free in exchange of her husband. The army was reluctant to this demand, so Roja reaches out to the chief minister alone pleading to free her husband. The CM agrees and the army chief visits her and tries to pacify her with Roja retorting point blank “Had it been the kin of the prime minister, would the army chief still talk like this?” That shows her simple nature.
So let us all women embrace the fact come whatever may, no power should scare us if we are right.
Roja had a happy ending, where finally Rishi Kumar sneaks out of the den, and army chief is also happy that they did not have to hand over their prisoner to the militants.
I have had relationships, heartbreaks, failures and breakdowns. I am a single woman and a mother to a ten year old. Yet I know how to keep myself safe.
Roja fought alone to save her husband, and I fought alone to free myself from the clutches of my abusive husband.
Roja did not call her family members, nor did I.
Roja went pillar to post for a news on her husband and I did court room trials to get myself freed from that my husband’s clutches without any support from my extended family. Yes my father supported me just like that local guide who was with Roja all the while she dealt with her ordeal.
Roja faced many questions, for which she had apt replies. I, too, replied pertinently to each question hurled at me by the patriarchs around me when my married crumbled around me.
Roja faced the Chief Minister and I faced the judge. The CM understood her pain, and in my case the woman Justice could understand my suffering.
Neither Roja had a mental breakdown nor did I. Despite the army chief telling her what she should or shouldn’t do, she followed her heart. Society, instead of supporting me, tried cajoling me with their dose of ‘wisdom’, especially the men folks in my family. All I did was to keep my mouth shut and do what I had to do. I did break down, but that was in front of my God. There were sleepless nights, but I spoke about my sorrows to God as I knew these wise fools would never let me live in peace.
We are all a Roja in some way or other. Just know how to use it. People have mocked me, hated me, misunderstood me, and have also treated me shabbily, but not once did I show them my vulnerability.
Be simple, be sober, be kind, be compassionate, but if need be fight out your battles alone so hard that the assailant gets scared of you. We women do have in us that passion and we need to keep the fire burning. I was told by my own boss each time he sanctioned my leave for attending the court proceedings that I should stick to my unhappy marriage. He also had the gall to advise me that I should go in for a second marriage after my divorce.
Deal with situations like this with an iron clad will. Find your inner Roja.
I leave you with my favourite song from the movie.
Header image is a still from the movie Roja