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Meet Madhuri, the protagonist essayed by Manju Warrier in Prathy Poovankozhi, an everywoman who is the hero of her story.
I met Madhuri for the first time in a trailer. Unassuming looks, dry hair and skin, simple attire, unkempt kajal and disregard for everything that bothered her, be it her work life, debts, or daily hassles, Madhuri resembled most women around me or even me. Thus, there was an instant connect.
Madhuri worked as a salesgirl in a cloth shop in a small town in Kerala, working hard from morning till night without any reprieve or respect. In Kerala, thousands of women are employed in retail shops as salesgirls earning a meagre income and hostile working environment.
Madhuri too was one amongst them – quiet but hopeful of a better tomorrow. She did not appear to be fiery but street-smart, yes! When her boss refuses to allow her to leave an hour early, she pulls a quick trick of spiritual blackmail. She tells him that she wanted to visit a Murugan temple that day. The boss, an ardent devotee of the deity, couldn’t refuse now. When Madhuri walked with a smirk, it was also a lesson to face adversities with smartness, especially for women.
Life was alright for Madhuri thanks to her perseverance and ‘don’t care’ attitude towards life, until that day. She is molested cruelly on a crowded bus. By the time she returns to her senses after the shock, the man is gone. Madhuri does what usually no one in her place would have done. She goes after the man but in vain.
That day, she takes a vow that she will not rest until she takes her revenge. Her friend Rosamma tries to deter her because she believes that it will serve no purpose, as such incidents are common. It is an advice Madhuri receives from all quarters. But this time, her perseverance comes handy.
She sets out in search of the man who not only humiliated her as a woman but also completely disrespected her as a human being. Rosamma is still trying to dissuade her, though she joins in the search too. And then, they find him in a street fight! He is Antappan, a market goon, who is notorious for his criminal activities. Rosamma is shocked but not Madhuri! Her determination was only stronger now.
Finally, when she gets to confront him looking straight into his eyes without fear but only anger and determination, Antappan is attacked by goons. I was shocked when I saw Madhuri trying to help him and take him to the hospital. Shouldn’t she be happy that what she wanted to do was already done? Perhaps, he is enduring much more pain now that she could have ever inflicted on him.
She wanted to save him because the woman in her, her self-respect, wanted her to be the one who would punish him and no one else.
Madhuri is not lucky because, by the time, she reaches him, he is a vegetative state. She leaves disheartened, but her fury raged within her.
Then one day, the incident is repeated, this time, on a young schoolgirl.
This time, Madhuri would not let him go. She goes after him, grabs him by the shoulder and unleashes the rage that set a fire within her. What ensued was a chase that we see in commercial potboilers! The villain was the same, but the hero was different. A common woman wearing a simple salwar kameez with no superpowers but only resolve bashing up the man with bare hands!. The world watched! As she bashed up the hands that dared to infringe into a woman’s dignity, I was thrilled, for it gave the young victim the confidence to give a tight slap to her assaulter. And maybe to many more who witnessed the incident.
As credits rolled, there was applause from the audience. I also clapped loudly for here was a true hero, in real terms!
As I left the theatre, the entire cast of Prathy Poovankozhi,’ continued to pass by me. I thanked Roshan Andrews, the director, and who also played the role of Antappan, and Unni R, the writer of the film for the new hero and for the climax scene which hitherto was reserved only for muscular male leads. Manju Warrier, deservedly known as the lady superstar of Malayalam, now had one more role in proving why she deserved the title and why now one she should be known as ‘superstar,’ without the ‘lady’ prefix.
Crimes against women won’t stop unless there is combative action from all quarters, from society to the legal system. It may take a long time for it to fructify, but can we afford to wait till then? For all of us who have to get out of our house to learn, earn and live, we need a ‘Madhuri’ in all of us. The men who dare to touch a woman in public places aren’t very brave, and one tight slap may deter them from attempting such a heinous act next time. One answer, one retaliation, from one of us, can help many of us!
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Rajlakshmi Kurup is a freelance writer. When she is not writing, she is day dreaming
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