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Aparna Sen’s movie Paroma shows how woman shackled to her different roles in a patriarchy, is stignmatised when she decides to live for herself.
“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” – Jane Austen, Persuasion
I was a little girl when the movie Paroma, directed by Aparna Sen released in the year 1984. It was my uncle’s wedding and our family had gone to Jalpaiguri to attend the it. On the day before we had to leave for Kolkata my mother and I decided to go for this movie along with my other aunts. The movie had an ‘UA’ certification from the censor board and I remember my maternal aunt shouting her lungs out asking my mother to stop me for watching this movie. I wasn’t taken along, but later I watched it in Kolkata.
The first time I watched Paroma was behind closed doors, and then I decided to watch it without fear or shame. Since then I have watched the movie several times including yesterday night and each time I felt myself identifying with the lady Paroma. I am sure all women will feel the same after they watch the movie.
The story revolves around a forty year old lonely, bored and dutiful housewife Paroma. She is the mother of three children and her only job is to tend to the family, satiate her husband’s sexual needs, and run errands for the household. Her life turns upside down when the young celebrity photographer Rahul chooses her for his magazine ‘Life’ to portray her as an ‘Indian Housewife’.
Paroma, whose identity had always been described in words ‘Maa’ (mother), ‘Bouma’ (daughter-in-law), ‘Boudi’ (brother’s wife), ‘Kakima’ (paternal aunt) is asked by Rahul when he takes her out for one of the photo sessions, “Why not try to live your life dangerously instead of sitting as a maiden inside the four walls of your well furnished house?”
There they enter into a clandestine affair where Rahul takes her back to her youth when she had practiced her sitar lessons, had recited her poems, and had her own identity as a woman, which was crushed post her marriage to her rich husband Subhash Chowdhury who treated her like a commodity.
However the movie takes a tragic turn when Rahul leaves for the US for his next assignment, deceives her, publishes her semi nude photo in a magazine and sends a copy of it to her address with a note “Remember me, Love Rahul”. Rahul goes scot free but Paroma is exposed. She is shunned by her husband and society, has a mental breakdown and tries to commit suicide. The film ends when the doctor advices her psychiatric treatment with her family agreeing to accept her back and Paroma refusing to settle for such an agreeable life. She retorts, saying she would be taking up a job at a store which her friend Sheela a single woman had arranged for her, and also says she has no sense of guilt in her to undergo psychiatric treatment.
So I found myself in tune with Paroma. I was a young married woman of twenty two when I first tried to commit suicide unable to bear the tortures of my husband. I left him at the age of thirty with my mother’s extended family discouraging me not to and I walked away without the sense of guilt. No I never had an affair, but I refused to bind myself with an identity of a dutiful ‘Bahu’ and give in to my in-laws’ who tried to forcibly convert my religion without my consent, as well as many other atrocities. Even if I had had an affair, I would have not have repented, as any woman in my place would choose to have a compassionate partner rather than a dominating and abusive husband. I had the strong values of my father ingrained in me; I refused to be a slave and found my own vocation through my corporate work life, my writings and dance.
In an interview in TOI Aparna Sen had said “I am not an extremist: I have a lot of sympathy for feminist causes because I see them as a part of human rights. Out of all my films Paroma is the most feminist. It was a human problem to me and Paroma just happened to be a woman. It could have been a man also”.
People often mistake feminism as ‘female dominancy’. No, this is not true. Feminism is not about a girl with long legs and a tan, or about putting a man down, but feminism speaks of equality. Yes a woman is free to have her own voice rather than limiting her identity as a daughter, mother, wife and other titles her in laws impose on her post her marriage. There is nothing wrong in these roles, as long as they are not foisted on her and she is not restricted to them by patriarchy.
Feminism speaks of equality and also tells women to be strong. Paroma who had a mental breakdown and had failed in her suicide attempt was counseled by Sheela, her close friend and a single woman, who offers her a job as a sales woman. Sheela too was married once upon a time, and is now divorced as she refused to settle down with her husband who wanted her to abandon her dreams of a spastic school but be a dutiful wife to him.
A word of caution, I am not here to preach divorce or advise anyone to be a single woman like me or Sheela. By all means choose your own partner and settle down happily as is the case in most Indian families, but what Sen had tried in her story and in my opinion is: to be independent. Have a voice of your own; do not be subdued by a man. Stop looking for your soulmate, instead try looking for your soul, mate.
In the movie it was also shown that Paroma’s husband had a fetish for younger women as he tried to sleep with his secretary and his advances were curbed by that strong willed woman. Be that woman. In the words of Rena Rose: Love yourself so much that when someone treats you wrong, you recognize it immediately.
I knew nothing of feminism until I watched Paroma, now it is your turn to go watch the movie and understand your worth. Question your identity whenever you feel bogged down and stand with a head held high without the feeling of guilt or shame. That is what is feminism to me – equality, to have my own voice, independence, and to be a complete woman by myself and not to be defined by a callous man.
The entire movie can be watched here.
A different version of this post was first featured with Feminism in India.
Header image is a still from the movie Paroma
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