Ratna Pathak Shah, Konkona SenSharma, Ahana Kumra, Plabita Borthakur
I am biased perhaps, but it makes a world of a difference to have a woman tell you a story of other women, as compared to a man telling you his perspective of what he thinks women feel. There are so many times when men in Bollywood have tried making films about repressed women, and have barely even managed to scrape the surface of it. It is not out of the unwillingness to go beyond that they fail, it is merely the fact that beyond a certain point they can empathize, but not understand.
Alankrita Shrivastava wins hands down in her attempt to tell us the story about what women want, what women feel and what they are capable of. Her story is situated in a quaint, rather archaic old building in the crowded streets of Bhopal. In a building owned by Buaji (Ratna Pathak Shah), who has a very no-nonsense exterior, but a desperate woman, waiting to blossom on the inside; Hawai Mahal (as the place is ironically called) is where many others are living a suffocating life. Buaji has been carved by the morals of society for so long, that she has almost forgotten what it was like to be Usha – the woman who might have wanted more from life emotionally and physically. It is while we see her struggle to get back the person she once thought she was or rather she has wanted to be, we are introduced to others with some or another invisible shackle holding them imprisoned.
Amongst people who are renting Hawai Mahal is Shirin (Konkona Sen Sharma) and her brood of three children. It is obvious that Shirin wants to be more than a mother in life, but in the eyes of her brutish husband (played by Sushant Singh) she is nothing but a companion in bed. Her opinions don’t matter, her say doesn’t matter and if she gets impregnated again, that’s just the way of life for ‘wives’. But Shirin wants more and finds a vent in being a saleswoman.
Then there is Rehana (Plabita Borthakur) who, while tailoring burkhas for people, quietly wants to lose herself in music. Neither do her parents want to give in to her dreams, nor do her peers find her cool enough, yet garbed behind the façade she listens to Miley Cyrus and Led Zep (A diverse choice like most of us are unabashedly, guilty of), succumbing sometimes to shoplifting in a bid to find a way to find herself.
Leela on the other hand, is not happy to be suppressing what she wants in anyway. She might be on the brink of a marriage, but that doesn’t stop her from having an affair with the wedding photographer. The scene where she escapes her own engagement party for a quickie is hilarious and yet, liberating for the audience too because suddenly the pretenses are lost and yet, the apologies are not coming.
Be it the masturbating scene or the lackadaisical coupling that is showcased in the film, Alankrita manages to state what a woman feels without an apology. Not once is there an over explanation, not once is there excuses made – NO! these are woman who have been forced to hide behind a façade for the society they live in, but there is nothing the people of the society can do to smudge those scarlet lips that play peek-a-boo under their burkha. With sterling performances by all, Alkankrita deserves a standing applause. Not only for conceiving a film like this but ensuring it gets an all India release. Kudos, ladies!
A special mention to the men behind these successful ladies, Prakash Jha - thank you for backing this beauty. Akshay Singh for the impeccable cinematography and Rohit Chaturvedi for the costume design.