Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Speaking of unheard voices..

Looks like it’s the docu movie season. Last Saturday, I got a chance to watch Anand Patwardhan’s “War and Peace”, with the filmmaker himself, in college. Today again, I had been to the private screening of docu films by Arun Vaidhyanathan, in Chennai. (Acknowledgments again: REFLEX, thanks for letting me know). More on this in tomorrow’s post.Let’s go on to today’s post, which is fairly long!But do read on..as I always say;)
Today, the 8th of March is celebrated as world Women’s day. While all the fanfare that accompanies the day (in celebrating womanhood) is something to feel happy about, I just couldn’t help thinking about the thousands of young girls and women, who are faceless and live the most miserable of lives, in India and many other developing countries.

“Kutty”. This is a tamil movie that I saw in Jaya TV on Sunday. The film literally shook me up for its powerful portrayal of certain grave social problems plaguing this country. This movie won the special jury award for the director, Janaki Viswanathan, in the national awards for 2002 and also the award for the best child artiste, played by Shweta.

“Kutty” is the story of a 10 year old girl called “Kannamma” who hails from a very poor family in one of those many, many villages located in Tamil Nadu. Kannamma loses her father, who sells pots for a profession (who else but the versatile Nasser), in an accident and her mother barely able to sustain herself and her daughter, decides to send the girl to a well-off family in Chennai, as a caretaker and servant maid. The girl, who is taken care of very well, by the husband and wife (played by Ramesh Arvind and Kausalya respectively) there, is ill treated by the man’s mother (played by M.N.Rajam) and his son (nearly the same age as Kutty, as Kannamma is so called). Barring a very few bright moments in kutty’s life, she is unable to live there, decides to run away home, only leading to a shocking climax. The guy who spots her at a “Maligai shop” (grocery shop) near her apartment tricks her into flesh trade, by deceiving the innocent girl that he was actually sending her home. And there the story ends.

Kutty sends strong messages to the audience and these are certain problems that the society just cannot ignore. Firstly, the movie highlights a tendency of certain urban upper class members to look down on the servants and treat them in a demeaning way. It is not a generalisation when I say this, but we can’t rule out this caste differentiation, all together.

The next really significant point that the movie makes is the serious problem of child labour that is widely prevalent in the country despite strong laws condemning the act of employing children. There is this particular scene in the college where Kousalya works – the lecturers describe the mental agony of employing children as servants and also the irony that, they as the shapers of the society aren’t doing anything to alleviate this serious problem. During that time, a boy of about 12 years of age, comes and serves them all tea. The paradox is brought out very well.

Following child labour, the other burning problem that the film addresses is that of illiteracy, especially for girl children. This theme almost runs through the length of the movie. For instance, there is the scene where Kutty gets so hurt by the ill treatment of “periya amma” that she runs to the grocery shop, owned by Vivek and begs him to write a letter. The sequence is wonderfully enacted by Shweta and Vivek. The girl is so desperate that she promises her mom (in the letter), she wouldn’t trouble her and ask for expensive food, that she would do all house work without a fuss and still drink porridge. She ends by saying she is unable to stand the torture at this place. All this with a flurry of emotions that the owner of the shop is dumbfounded and overwhelmed by the girl’s situation. When he asks for her the postal address, she just mentions the name of the village and says it is near Madurai, where she reaches by bus. When Vivek asks for the street, door number etc., she says, “Uncle, I don’t know anything, my parents didn’t let me study” and continues innocently to describe the place saying, there are lot of trees, rocks, here, there..What A subtle portrayal of a burning issue. Amazing! That was one point in the movie, where I broke down.

The interest to learn but the lack of a chance, is obvious in scenes where Kutty would eagerly pour into the books of the son of her employers and get beaten up by the fellow. The last scene, she believes that she is going back home, but as the camera moves up, you see that the train is headed to Mumbai from Chennai. Lack of literacy again, isn’t it serious? While we are left to ponder over the fate of the innocent girl, she actually sits in the train and dreams and smiles over the ‘hypothetical’ situation of going back home. The movie ends with a song, “Enga pora thangachi?” (Where are you going sister?)

There is something that is very basic to all these problems, the very core of it all – Deprivation that is deeply rooted in this country. Deprivation isn’t easily obvious, to people especially in the upper layers of the society. Poverty is definitely a serious cause of most of the social ills in India, where the high order benefits announced at the top level and any big gains made, do not trickle down to the poor and reach the lower strata of the society.

The film only strengthened my belief and insistence on the need for basic education for girls from poor economic background. If only they are educated, it would do them so much good. It would only bring down the number of girls like kutty, who are finding their ways into red light areas, unaware of what is happening to them. All this is easier said than done, and it cannot happen overnight. It needs a transformation in attitude towards women in so many sections of the society, especially the lower ones. And I believe the media has a really big role to play in the process. I hope that would give those unheard voices and faceless people, a worthy direction.


Vani Viswanathan said...

that was really a good description, touching one....
I really hope we'll be able to do something, being in the field of media....we should!

Kay said...


Kasu kudukamaye kutti padam partha mathri irunthathu....

on serious note :

wat u said was absolutely true.
It is not only the gals who need to be educated, even the boys in the economically poor sections of the society has to be educated otherwise he may also become a MAMA in a red light area.

aaaahhhh there comes the story for an other movie "Kutty payan" ....

Im outtie .......

saranyan said...

nice article.

illiteracy is the mother of all evils. basic education should be provided to everyone, so that they can atleast read and write in their own language.

everyone should think about this and do something. people should stop hiring children and instead do what they can to educate them.

manoj said...

insightful post.
you are absolutely right here -- Poverty is definitely a serious cause of most of the social ills in India --
but I don't necessarily agree here -- If only they are educated, it would do them so much good. --
Education helps but only to a very limited extent. If education was the panacea, then kerala with 100% literacy should be a heaven and a place like hollywood should be a hell hole.

-- And I believe the media has a really big role to play in the process.--
Very true but the main problem is in many remote places, people don't have easy access to media and information. Technology can definitely play a big role here - check this out. People can see for themselves whats going on around the world and what they are missing out on.

Amrita said...

Anu, a really good and serious article. Its an issue which should be addressed by all of us. Most of us cannot the drudgery these women undergo everyday in their lives, whereas we are tucked in comfort within our homes.Its horrifying to even imagine something like that happen to someone.i too believe that education is a must for women all over the world

REFLEX said...

Thanx for accepting my invitation. I mailed few and didn't get any reply, so I thot no one attended. Thanx for attending. WIll comment abt ur blog later.

JaganLee said...

Nice post.
When educational institution employs childres for cleaning mess, and hostel, what can u expect from others?

Anupama Viswanathan said...

Vani..tight resolution! There you go!
kay, thatz an interesting comment! I don't know whether the first line is "nakkal" or a compliment..Well, I am being optimistic!:)..and yeah, ur point on even guys being educated is taken, but general conditions in villages indicate that boys are usually given more preference than girls, when it comes to education..!

Saranyan, completely agree with you..but it is yet to be seen as to what educational institutions have done, towards eliminating child labour, like what Jaganlee says..

Manoj,thanks for ur comments.. I think you haven't quite got me here.."If only they are educated, it would do them so much good"..When I say that, I see literacy as a very basic component to lead a safer life..of course, it goes without saying that there are other factors in the picture..But, literacy definitely gives u the edge..and it is often linked to ur economic status in a way..

On ur comparison between Kerala and the Hollywood, I feel that it isn't exactly right to compare these two situations because, we are talking of two totally different economies here...

I read the article you have suggested..Interesting! It does sound encouraging..In a country like India, I have always wondered about the way the potential of a broadcast medium like radio has gone untapped..So much can be done by that medium given the reach of AIR.

Anupama Viswanathan said...

Amrita..I know its ur "covering gender" elective talking!!:)

ammani said...

Celebrating womanhood? What, like this is some kind of special status accorded to a privileged few? Somehow find it hard to accept. Nice write up, btw

Anupama Viswanathan said...

Ammani, first and foremost, Welcome to my blog!!:)
This whole hyped up women's day celebration is not something I really enjoy. As you said, it is only for a privileged few. There are more loopholes than perfection. Thanks for ur comments.:)