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Prajakta Koli’s ‘Khayali Pulao’ is a subtle reminder that the empowerment of women is in the little things we change, the small ways in which we break status quo.
*Mild spoilers ahead. It’d be nice if you watched the short film before reading this because, trust me, it’s worth a watch.
A pair of shorts might seem like something trivial to you, but when you’re oppressed throughout your young life — made to wear ill-fitting salwar kameez, not allowed to talk to boys, not allowed to learn swimming or dancing (because any bodily expression by a girl is suggestive and provocative), prohibited to leave the house alone, while your younger brother is allowed all this and so much more (this double-standard is addressed by just one line so beautifully in this film) — these simple freedoms might mean the world to you.
I know this because I used to be that girl once.
When the Indian women’s cricket team won the World Cup there were some comments floating on the internet that said, “Save the girl child, she can be the future world cup winner one day.” I wondered why she had to achieve something extraordinary to be allowed to live. Why can’t she just be ordinary and still have the freedom to choose the life she wants to live?
That’s why Khayali Pulao stole my heart. It reflected my own yearnings from the past, as I’m sure is true for so many young girls even today. It didn’t try to overshadow (or justify) the protagonist’s desire for wearing jeans or shorts with bigger dreams or ambitions. It didn’t try to validate her freedom to choose something apparently “superfluous” by giving her a more noble goal.
Because if things like what to wear and whom to befriend were so trivial, then why are there so many rules regarding the same meant only for women?
Asha joins her school’s handball team just to “earn” the freedom to wear a pair of shorts.
I had tears in my eyes when I watched that. I had to travel thousands of kilometers away from home to study in Delhi to “earn” my right to wear shorts. Unlike Asha, I didn’t solely come to Delhi to wear shorts, but the sense of liberation I felt was the same as hers. I understood her happiness as I’ve experienced it myself.
I wish for a society where we didn’t need to go to any lengths in order to earn basic rights and freedom as women, but till then, may we keep resisting in our own little ways.
Prajakta Koli’s short film, Khayali Pulao, is spectacular because of its quiet subversion of patriarchy.
What I liked most about the movie was its subtle messaging of how women empowerment need not always come in the form of a huge revolution, sometimes, it can also mean showing apparent allegiance to the status quo while breaking it with wit and enterprise.
Everything about the movie is stellar — the acting, the direction, the dialogue, the cinematography, the symbolism — but what hit me most was the protagonist’s longing for something so simple.
I could personally connect with the protagonist, Asha, very deeply. Her quest wasn’t shown as something “noble” for it to be validated by society (or the audience). It wasn’t like she wanted to study further or join the sports team and had to fight against society to earn those rights. In fact, from what’s shown in the film, her parents supported her in her studies and in joining the women’s handball team at school.
But Asha had a rather simple yearning, which wasn’t morally proper in their eyes, to wear clothes of her own choice. And why shouldn’t that be valid? The movie leaves you with this question, a question that I too have asked my entire adolescent life.
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