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Konkona Sen Sharma’s Bharti Mandal doesn’t hesitate to throw punches at the man who harasses her. She doesn’t hesitate to speak up and ask for the role she rightfully deserves with her qualifications.
Bharti Mandal is a multi-dimensional character that faces society with her conflicts of caste and sexuality, but takes everything in her stride and keeps moving. Konkana Sen’s portrayal of Bharti is a masterpiece is every frame – deeply moving, and touches a depth never even attempted by characters before.
She doesn’t hesitate to throw punches at the man who harasses her. She doesn’t struggle to fit in- remains stoic with her identity. She doesn’t hesitate to speak up and ask for the role she rightfully deserves with her qualifications. (The line on artisan vs workers is cleverly planted!)
Starting with Bharti’s reaction to how the new girl got the job she wanted for skills unrelated to the job itself, is the first in the series of unsettling things in the plot line. Just watching it on screen is hurtful, and shows the real emotions of any woman overlooked for wrong reasons instead of any lack of qualifications.
Just as we think that Bharti needs someone to give her a hug and say everything will be alright, Priya enters like a silver lining.
Priya is naive, good-natured, uneasily stuck in web of patriarchal issues challenging her from understanding herself as an individual. Though she is stark contrast to Bharti’s resolute personality, they strike up beautiful relationship lighting up the story for few minutes.
Priya strives to carve a comfortable space for herself in the masculine work-environment, unknowingly accepting the boundaries set around her. Though Bharti clearly reads the signals, Priya believes these restrictions don’t affect her.
Its disturbing to see her acceptance of her own small world or little corner where men are not allowed, even as Bharti swiftly points that they are anyway surrounded by men! Inclusivity in the workspace is more than just adding female employees to the headcount – if they are going to be constrained within their secret corners, probably they should not even be there.
More unsettling things surface as we enter Priya’s household, and understand that she hardly has the liberty to chose her own friends for she might ‘put the family name under risk’. She is unable to free herself from her seemingly rocky marriage, and society has pushed her to space where she questions “Do I have any defect?”
Guilt hits women stronger, and drags them down at every stage in life– be it a newly married bride worried about adjustments, a home-maker who is juggling everything that comes her way, a working mom thinking about her kid in daycare, or even a mom whose daughter is yet to be married. Right when she needs someone to stop this guilt trip, Bharti steps in with wise words to embrace the truth.
But the tale takes a turn when Bharti opens up with her true identity, and it’s painful to watch Priya take a step back from Bharti, whose ancestry lies in a noble profession whose value is best understood by women. Her connection with Bharti is suddenly skin-deep; she clearly has decided to stay on the ‘right side’, the side that family and society had chosen for her.
The wound Bharti Mandal has deepens when Priya signals to her best friend to stay outside while she joins the birthday celebrations in her cabin. Despite her good nature, we can’t give her benefit of doubt, that she’s shielding Bharti from a company where she is unwelcome. While Priya wants Bharti to help her face her demons, does she want her to enter her exclusive realm?
The real conflict arises when Bharti puts Priya on a path which she clearly is not prepared for, but her uncertain thank you, and holding back the hug makes us feel that the fragile connection is lost forever. Priya has decided to do what is right according to her, without the slightest thought of how Bharti feels now that she knows more about her.
This stretch continues as her mother in law serves Bharti in a different cup while she sits there with just a slight hint of discomfort. There comes a time when Silence is betrayal – much more exasperating one when a woman lets that happen to another woman.
Finally the time has arrived. Time for Bharti Mandal to turn the tide – who assertively stood up to demand a job she rightfully deserved, lent a shoulder to cry when Priya needed, and silently tolerated the way society treated her.
Though its tough to watch her play the last card, it was justice served, to Priya and the caste-biased society that nurtured her. While the pain in Priya’s eyes is evident and relatable, Bharti’s determination is salute-worthy for she is no longer taking it lying down.
She finds a way to get what she always wanted – manoeuvring the society’s unreasonable nature, discrimination, and demands.
She silently puts her priorities upfront, and it doesn’t seem self- centred for her victory belongs to larger set of people suffering. She wins gracefully, and walks away in glory.
First published here.
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Electrical engineer turned into Marketer. From heartland of Tamilnadu but almost Mumbaikaar.
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