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New Tamil short film En Udambu is all about not letting patriarchal narratives about women’s bodies control us.
I remember a particular incident from back when I was in high school. It was theatre class and our teacher had posed a question about the immorality of the disrobing of Draupadi. A male classmate immediately answered that it was immoral because a woman’s honour was being violated. And therein lies the problem.
Harassing women is seen as an issue of honour rather than an issue of consent. People do not have a problem with our bodies being used against us. They only have an issue when they think that our bodies are being used in a dishonourable way. For example, rape is only illegal in India when the woman is not married to (read: not the property of) her perpetrator.
En Udambu (My Body) stands out by being one of the rare films in which the woman’s honour is not placed at her forefront. Her “honour” is lost and yet she retains her power.
We see it all the time – when a man pisses another man off, he will threaten to murder him. But when a woman pisses him off, he will threaten to rape her because of course the worst thing that can happen to a woman is to be “dishonoured” by being made “impure”. Well, men who think that they can force a woman into submission by threatening her honour will have to think again, because we have started questioning these narratives that put our sense of honour above our lives. Who are they to tell us whether we are worthy of respect?
Written and directed by Earthling Koushalya and starring Semmalar Annam, En Udambu tells the tale of a woman who is blackmailed by a man who recorded her changing in clothing store’s trial room. He tells her that he will leak the video unless she pays him money and has sex with him. The woman is having none of it. She uploads the video herself and ridicules him for thinking he could scare her using this, gaining complete control of the narrative around her body.
It is the same video, and yet when she uploads it, there is nothing lost. The problem was never her naked body, but rather his attempt to weaponize it without her consent. In one sweep, she regains control and highlights what the actual issue is. The perpetrator’s plan blows up in his face and the protagonist’s anger is so empowering to watch. The self-hatred that victims are so often made to feel is redirected at the perpetrators. She wears the shame she is supposed to feel as pride instead.
What affected me the most are the lines, “I will not surrender to your decayed oppression anymore. My body is NOT yours. IT IS MINE. It’s not a weapon that you can use against me! MY BODY is my PRIDE, is my PROCLAMATION.” They are words I want to strive to live by.
Watch En Udambu on YouTube for a powerful take on “honour” and women’s bodies!
Image source: Still from En Edambu
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