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With a well-fleshed, strong character like Mamata in Sui Dhaaga, mainstream Hindi cinema is giving us more roles where women have an equal part to play.
There is something beautifully empathetic, raw and real about still living in small-town India. Naivete and innocence are preserved in the dusty, struggle-filled gallis of the country. The sheer raw talent that resides there, cramped because of circumstances and lack of reach to an outside world that seems so distant, is palpable.
Sui Dhaaga with its overtly simplistic solutions, and its binaries of good and evil, still manages to capture that earnestness. This makes it a film that reaches out for your heart and sometimes throws you back into a world of nostalgia. A simple life where relationships mattered, laughter came easily, and the idea of a collective existed.
Sometimes films fall into the trappings of their existing idiom. When we look at ‘the other’, our ideas of that ‘other’ come forth and claim the narrative. ‘The other’ in this case could well have been small-town India, but Sui Dhaaga steers clear of that. It takes a personal view of struggles, of constricted spaces that don’t allow a young couple to experience intimacy of any kind. The inherent positivity that claims the youth where almost everything no matter how difficult is always ‘badhiya’.
Impeccable camera work by Anil Mehta makes things come alive. One shot that has the lead couple ‘Mauji’ (Varun Dhawan) and ‘Mamata’ (Anushka Sharma) juxtaposed against one another through a window, and conversing while not looking at each other is one that allows us to get a peek into how people living so closely with each other still have little or no space for emotional or physical intimacy. Close shots like these are sprinkled throughout the film, and they allow us to experience the journey of our protagonists rather than feel them from a distance.
As many of us, urban migrants would recognize, these were the feelings and the truths we grew up with, till we came to the far more structured, cold lives in the cities. The film takes an in-to-out view of opportunity, the very real struggles, and how difficult our policies make it for those who have nothing, to survive. I never thought I’d be hoping and praying for the characters in a scene that has them sit for a sewing machine exam. But the innocence and struggle borne by each moved me to that point.
Sharat Katariya’s Dam Laga Ke Haisha, was just as rooted, yet ensured that the protagonists were believable, made mistakes and rectified them in the narrative. They were the villains of their own stories. Yet here, in Sui Dhaaga, the villains are almost all environmental and circumstantial. The ones our protagonists meet through their journeys end up becoming the hurdles, and that in itself becomes an overtly simplistic portrayal. Yet ‘sab badhiya hai’, because the heart of the film is in the right place.
But what was to me the beauty of the film, was the quiet resilience wrapped in the emotional glory that was Mamata – and not as much her portrayal as the writing done for her. Pushing her husband, her family into what she believed was right, taking them along, and altering one mindset at a time. She was calming, persuasive, firm and motivational through the film moving away from the sacrificial wife to an equal partner.
It is conversations like these that are absolutely critical in mainstream cinema – making the role of a woman equal to that of a man, without calling it out as an intentional creation. Films like these help take the feminist conversation into the mainstream, diffusing the misconceptions that come with it. But all is not as badhiya in this endeavour – primarily because certain dialogues move into realms of stereotypes that bring back patriarchy at times. But in the larger scheme of things, they are thankfully just aberrations in the narrative. What disappoints you a little is the end, that falls prey to the conventional idiom of commercial cinema. But still, ‘sab badhiya hai‘.
The soul of the film and the most real characters are Raghubir Yadav as Bauji, and Yamini Dass as Mauji’s mother. They add the layers of simplicity, of those who have struggled with a life their child wishes to choose. Also, those who love to love despite all the reasons for not being able to. They are sweet, innocent, loving, simple and gorgeously layered.
The critical message that the film leaves behind is the impact of our decisions. Both policy and personnel have on the lives of weavers and craftspeople. The real need to intervene to keep our heritage alive needs to be absorbed. Weavers, artisans and craftspeople (along with artists) are refraining from continuing in their respective forms because of the difficulty of their lives, the unpredictability of the incomes that come straddled with it. The need is to envelop the forms as much as we can, and in that quest, celebrate the Sui Dhaaga of our lives.
Varun Dhawan surprises in his adorable turn as Mauji. After October and Sui Dhaaga, I am forced to look out for what he does next. Each member of the supporting cast, with extremely capable and brilliant actors (stage specifically) Namit Das, Puja Sarup are a delight in their roles. What impedes them a little bit, is the binary with which they are written. They are memorable, sharp and their craft unmatched.
The earnestness of the films stays behind with you. Warming your heart up, into an India a lot of us once knew, but have moved away from.
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Saumya Baijal, is a writer in both English and Hindi. Her stories, poems and articles
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