How An Indian Marriage Crushes Dreams Of Every Woman, Even The Extraordinary, Talented Ones… Like My Mother

Sivaranjiniyum Innum Sila Pengalum (SISP) is an ode to all of the lost women, who could have been sports stars, singers, bankers, lawyers, doctors, just... happy, if they hadn't been enslaved in matrimony, and then forgotten all about.

One of the cool things about my mother was that she was an ace athlete and a champion sculler as a young woman in the 1950s and 60s. I only found out about this side of her a few years ago. I imagine her in a paavaadai dhaavani, taking on the mighty Kaveri river so many decades ago.

I recently watched a Tamil film anthology on SonyLiv that she would have liked to watch – Sivaranjiniyum Innum Sila Pengalum, (SISP) that has 3 stories of 3 different women – Saraswathi, Devaki, and Shivaranjini.

Like all the heroines in the anthology, my mother’s talents were sacrificed at the altar of matrimony. She pawned her gold medals and silver cups one by one to pay for expensive textbooks for us or a gift for a niece on her wedding, money for which she didn’t dare ask my father, because it was her niece… I remember how she caressed the cups and how her face hardened as she shoved them into her bag to take to the jewellers.

Sivaranjiniyum Innum Sila Pengalum (“Sivaranjani and a few other girls” in Tamil) is a 2018 anthology that was released recently on Sony Liv, written by Ashokamitran, Adhavan, and Jeyemohan and directed by Vasanth. It traces the lives of three ordinary women Saraswathi, Devaki and the eponymous Sivaranjani in three short films.

Men’s comfort, men’s sleep

The first film opens with Saraswathi carrying her infant daughter and a couple of enormous bags, while her husband races towards the bus that’s about to depart from the bus stop. It doesn’t occur to the husband to lighten Saraswathi’s load by either taking the bags or the baby, instead he yells at her for making them miss the bus with her dawdling. And our hearts start beating hard in anticipation of violence, and it does come, when Saraswathi is not able quieten the baby, whose crying disturbs the sleep of her father.

The theme of men’s sleep being more important, more valuable than women’s is picked up once again in the final film of the trilogy when Sivaranjani’s mother-in-law gently admonishes her about waking up her son: “Let him sleep a few minutes longer!” she tells her daughter-in-law who has been slaving since the wee hours of the morning, cooking, getting the the daughter ready for school, making the kaapi for the mother-in-law and the husband, making sure the it’s not boiling hot, lest it burn the tongues of the drinkers.

Sivaranjini is constantly in motion, fetching, packing, remembering, taking criticism from her mother-in-law, bullying from the husband without once looking up. Her speed and her grace would be surprising if we hadn’t been shown that Sivaranjani had once been a champion athlete, the fastest runner in her university, with a ticket to the Nationals, when she’s married off. That and a quick pregnancy ends her nascent sporting career. But we don’t see her complaining or challenging the existing power structures. Neither Saraswathi nor Sivaranjani are feminists, unlike Devaki, the protagonist of the second film of the anthology.

Being a strong, talented, or working woman doesn’t make it easier…

Devaki is a boss. She’s an important official in the central government. She sits in the driver’s seat on her scooter. Her husband rides pillion. We see her journey through the eyes of her young nephew who is so proud of his accomplished aunt, a particularly nice touch by the writers/director. As opposed to Saraswathi and Sivaranjani, Devaki takes a stand and draws a firm boundary and pays for it with her marriage. That is expected, women drawing their own boundaries and transgressing those carved by others has always been a costly affair.

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Saraswathi’s life eventually changes for the better, perhaps Devaki’s does too. But Sivaranjani’s life would never. It will continue the way it has, the way of most ordinary women’s lives. Unchanging in its drudgery.

The only time she does something out of the ordinary is when she lies and goes looking for the cup, the trophy she won at university. And she breaks when she doesn’t find it. But it’s not a breakdown like a man’s breakdown. She’ll not hit the bottle like Devdas; nor will she walk off into the sunset to look for Nirvana like Siddhartha when he encounters harsh life truths. There are no such reference points for ordinary women.

So Sivaranjini wraps up her breakdown quickly and returns home, and the woman who was the fastest runner of her college resumes her ceaseless marathon around the four walls of her home. A cheetah who was born caged, who knows nothing of the vast plains her ancestors raced on. And yet she still has a bit of the wild left in her, as we are shown, in her last sprint. So what if it is a mundane run, with no one to cheer her but school children. We got to see the cheetah run and what a glorious sight it is.

IMO, this feels much more real than The Great Indian Kitchen

We have seen this kind of intense attention to women’s work in that other, now iconic film, The Great Indian Kitchen. The comparisons are inevitable of course. But if anything, Sivaranjiniyum Innum Sila Pengalum (SISP) is even more humble, realistic in its lack of ambition. There is no slow build up to a dramatic takedown of patriarchy. Things like that seldom happen in women’s lives. Perhaps Sivaranjani’s daughter might have a better chance at dismantling patriarchy.

I wish my mother had been alive to watch SISP. If one sewed bits and pieces of each of the three short films, you’ll get a rough composite of my mother’s life. I wish she were alive so I could get her to relive her girlhood, tell me about her dreams. SISP is an ode to all of the lost women, who could have been sports stars, singers, bankers, lawyers, doctors, just… happy, if they hadn’t been enslaved in matrimony, and then forgotten all about.

What a dirge, a lament of a film SISP is. It’s taken the makers four years to find a release on the OTT platform. Do watch, even if it requires you to take the Rs 299/-, month long subscription to Sony Liv.

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About the Author

Hema Gopinathan

Hema Gopinathan left a blight of a corporate career to homeschool her two children. A teacher trained in the Waldorf/ Rudolf Steiner pedagogy, a writer, an artist, a crocheter, Hema spends half her time in read more...

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