The contemporary image of societal mores vis-à-vis the Indian woman, as portrayed in Prakash Jha’s film Rajneeti, is a deeply disturbing experience. Its layered and complex patriarchal narrative is woven around gender and politics. It is, to my mind, the most powerful and problematic comment on societal mores regarding gender, where the four main women characters move within a vortex of violence, attempting to hold a mirror to our times.
There is Mamta, the idealistic child of the leader of the biggest political party who has rejected her father’s politics, but is eventually forced to give up her first-born — conceived out of wedlock — to marry into the right political family. Then there is Indu, the only child of a business magnate, who is also forced into a marriage of political convenience, despite her one-sided passion for her husband’s younger brother, Samar.
There is the woman political worker who, in the hope of a party ticket, allows herself to be subjected to sadomasochistic sex with the party leader’s heir apparent — the same man Indu is later forced to marry. Finally there is Samar’s American girlfriend, Sarah, who walks right into the muck of Indian politics. She is perhaps the only woman in the film who breathes and feels like a normal human being, making her revulsion apparent, despite her love for Samar.
Does this film indeed mirror the times or is it a Dracula tale? The women who are tossed, teased, tasted and twisted by politics onscreen are characters of a drama we see unfold in the media everyday — women who are killed for honour by their lovers or families; victims of acid attacks and revenge rape. The film shows a society as it is, complete with its depravity.
If art indeed mirrors life, then, despite all the efforts of the State and civil society, the dawn for women’s dignity is yet to arrive. What should one make of the fact that the only image of dignity in the film is a woman from an alien land? The question to be asked by all thinking Indians is: what status do they accord to gender? Jha has given us a lot to mull over.
Syeda Hameed is a writer and Member, Planning Commission.The views expressed by the author are personal.