WTF ASIA 103: Matrubhoomi â€“ A Nation Without Women (2003)
Women: can’t live with ’em…at least not after they have all disappeared.
Free on Einthusan.
A village woman is about to give birth while her husband waits anxiously outside. Once he hears the cry of his newborn child, he immediately starts to celebrate. Then, suddenly, he receives the shocking news: the baby is…a girl. A girl is a burden. A girl means that he will have to pay a dowry to another man to take her off his hands. The man is crestfallen, but does what any father would do. He brings the baby girl to a large cauldron of milk and drowns her in it. Next year will bring a son. Next year. Next Year. Welcome to the Motherland.
The story fast-forwards to the future. Nothing much has changed, yet everything has. The number of daughters aborted or murdered at birth has gone on unchecked for so long that there are no more girls. In fact, there are no women anywhere. It is unclear what has happened to them all, but it appears that they have all died for one reason or another. In one village, there have been no marriages in about fourteen years. It is in this village that we meet wealthy widower Ramcharan and his five adult sons.
The introduction to the family is somewhat humorous. They and their fellow villagers are cheerfully enjoying a song and dance performance by Princess Pinky, who is obviously a man in drag. Afterwards, though, reality sets in again for Ramcharan’s sons. They may have money and a low caste servant to boss around, but they still all remain unmarried. Ramcharan has hired a priest to consult the horoscopes as well as search other villages and cities for women, be they little girls or elderly. There are none.Â
The eldest son, Rakesh, is an embittered schoolteacher who likes to pretend that he is a cop. He is particularly resentful about not having a woman, and even moreso when he learns that one of his friends has found a teenage bride from a neighboring village. It turns out, however, that this was all a scam on the part of the bride’s father and this girl is actually just a boy. The sheer scarcity of women in this society has led to a complete reversal of the dowry tradition. Exactly how this scam was supposed to work beyond the wedding day is a mystery, but the money (and cow) had already exchanged hands before the lie was…exposed.
The priest has been performing other religious ceremonies in outside another village when he hears what sounds like a young woman humming. He sees the woman, but she runs away into the forest. He chases her to a remote house, where he meets her father. Pratab had been keeping his daughter Kalki hidden from the rest of society since she was a baby. The time has come, however, to get her married off. The priest rushes to Ramcharan and convinces him to arrange a marriage for Rakesh before someone else snatches up Kalki. Since Rakesh is in the city doing…something…Ramcharan brings along his youngest son, Sooraj. Pratab seems more willing to marry off Kalki to Sooraj than Rakesh, reasoning that Rakesh looks too intimidating. Kalki is not taking part in this marriage negotiations, by the way. It is agreed that Ramcharan will pay 100,000 rupees and a cow so that Kalki will marry Sooraj. Believing that his reputation will suffer if he gets his youngest son married before any of his other sons, Ramcharan changes the offer: Pratab will get 500,000 rupees and five cows so that Kalki will marry ALL FIVE SONS. Pratab’s greed gets the better of him and he accepts the deal. So Kalki, having previously known only her father, has found herself married to five strange men. Again, without consulting Kalki, the sons negotiate who is going to sleep with her which night of the week. Ramcharan, laying on the guilt trip, gets himself added to the rotation.
This is…a very very difficult movie to watch. Firstly, one may have to get past the deliberately over-the-top nature of the premise. Realistically, it seems impossible that no women (except for one) exist in this world, although this movie was inspired by a story of an Indian village full of bachelors. In any case, the movie is simply taking the unfortunately common practice in India of aborting and killing baby girls to an extreme. If women were considered so burdensome that society would rather not deal with them, what would it be like if that burden was lifted completely?
If one needs a clear reason why all of the women have disappeared, one might be even more frustrated by how the movie ends. The point of the movie is not necessarily to show why Indian society has devalued women so badly, but to show where this devaluing leads. Additionally, the movie shows that such a patriarchal society continues to devalue women even once they have turned into a rare commodity. Instead of being cherished, she is just made to do women’s work.
Since Kalki is the only woman in a world of men, she is made to experience the treatment that many women go through at the hands of various men. If Kalki is the embodiment of the Indian woman’s experience, then it could be concluded that the Indian woman’s experience is mostly extremely negative. With a few notable exceptions, most of the men in this movie treat Kalki horribly. The good experiences are treasured as rarities, but the bad ones are just compounded. And this is where the second point comes in.
When I first heard of this movie, one of the main points was just how much rape there was. I didn’t even get the gist of the story before I learned that there was a lot of rape in the movie. It took me a while to decide to watch the movie and when I did…well, there is quite a bit of rape. Most of it is implied, but heavily implied. Then again, it is also heavily implied that one of the characters has had sex with a cow at least once. And given the status of cows in India, that was supposed to provoke a reaction as well. While the bestiality is another example of the over-the-top nature of this movie, the way that the act of rape becomes normalized and routine in this movie is a deliberately confrontational depiction of real life. Whether it is necessary or utterly tasteless is subjective, but you have been warned.
The opening narration and ending text seems to posit that the main theme of the movie is about the sheer number of Indian women who have disappeared thanks to sex-selective abortions and infanticide, but there are other themes as well. There is, of course, the obvious theme about how a patriarchal society like this has created a people who cannot value women if the existence of said society depended on it. There are also more subtle themes, such as the treatment of religion, which appears to either condone or even exacerbate the problem. There is also the class struggle within the village, which dovetails into a point about how one group of oppressed people can often fail or refuse to draw sympathetic parallels between their victimization and the victimization of others outside of their group. Though the divide in this movie is primarily one of class and caste, it could stand in for ethnicity, religion, language, or any sort of division that have traditionally led to communal violence in South Asia. And guess who always suffers during these clashes.
So…since I have described this movie in a manner that probably makes it sound like a huge misery-fest, why do I recommend this movie? Well, because it is a good movie. It is a pretty feel-bad movie, but it is a good movie nonetheless. Still, once again, I have warned you.
WTF ASIA 104: Sonatine (Japan: 1993, approx. 94 minutes)
WTF ASIA 105: The Story of Qiu Ju (China: 1992, approx. 100 minutes)