Kajarya review: This feisty, hard-hitting film on female foeticide is not an easy watch
Sitting numb at the end of this deeply disturbing film on female infanticide, Kajarya, I was informed that 10 million girls have been killed in our country since the 1980s.
This is no country for women. Think about what girls have to go through, from the foetal position to the missionary. If and when they are born, girl children have to face constant discrimination even in educated, ‘liberal’ families where the male heir is automatically given preferential treatment. When girls grow up they face perverse prejudices, unspeakable harassment and unchecked abuse from a civilisation that seems to think women are prey to every form of unwanted attention.
Given the backdrop, Madhureeta Anand’s film Kajarya is intrinsically depressing. She builds a sense of profound oppression , distrust and foreboding from her female characters’ inability to rise above their lot. You can belong to any social strata. But if you are woman you get seriously stymied in thought and action.
This melancholic drama opens with a visibly devastated women sprawled on a charpai. A man prods her awake, ‘Wake up, it’s time’ From this intriguing beginning the narrative builds surehandedly if somewhat jerkily and unevenly ,into a ghoulish suspense drama in a Haryanvi village, where little newly-born girl children are being sacrificed by heretic ritualists.
Kajarya is not an easy film to watch. With its oppressive ambience of gender atrocities, the other film that comes closest to this one is Manish Jha’s Matrabhoomi. I had sleepless night after watching Jha’s utterly joyless drama of female subjugation. One needs nerves of steel to digest the bitter horrific truth about the plight of the female sex in Kajarya.
The execution of the theme is somewhat self-righteous, reeking more of propagandist martyrdom at times.
Director Madhureeta Anand has our attention by force. She does not allow audiences the luxury to flinch or turn away. The nerve wracking narrative (don’t look for light moments in this grim drama of the damned) force-feeds us with its treatise of gender exploitation to the point when every female character , including the protagonist who has self-admittedly butchered dozens of babies, seem like a victim.
Barring one interesting exception(a Haryanvi man with a little daughter whom he protects ferociously against aggression) every male character here is either a lout or a lech, including a journalist's boyfriend, who is an upperclass brat who pounces on her for sex and demands she wear ‘decent’ clothes work every time they meet.
In one clumsily written but nonetheless effective love-making sequence Nikhil fumbles with Mira’s pants to perform oral sex , and gives up while Mira does the needful smoothly.Ah, what would we do without women!
Women, in Madhureeta Anand’s film are smarter and far more capable than men and yet assigned a subservient status by a social order that sanctions the penis to be the tyrant. It’s all a little lopsided. But then who are we to complain? We brought this on ourselves through centuries of gender inequality.
This is a film that shivers and dilates to a music of simmering discontent. Somewhere in the second-half Lata Mangeshkar’s classic lament of treachery and betrayal "Mohabbat ki jhoothi kahani pe roye," from Mughal-e-Azam surfaces to remind us how time passes by.
The women in Kajarya are doughty victims, but victims nonetheless. Towards the end the director brings together the two female protagonists, the Delhi journalist Mira and the Haryanvi child killer Kajarya, for a confrontation. And that just didn’t move me. Maybe by then I was too numbed to react to the on screen drama. Also, Meenu Hooda, who plays the title role of the rustic Haryanvi woman, was a little too urban and way too old to play the character in the flashbacks.
Riddhima Sud, seen making a pleasant debut in Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadkane Do, is well cast as the annoyingly self-fixated Delhi journalist who throws all caution to the winds for a scoop. Kudip Ruhil as the village goon, who undertakes monstrous manipulations in the name of religion, is suitably squalid.
Kajarya is not quite the long-legged social statement that the film’s well-researched plot would suggest. But it has its heart in the right place.