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Dissent in the drawing room

Express News Service

“If I have seen further, it is because I am standing on the shoulders of giants.” Newton’s iconic words have, for long, been used to symbolise progress. But watching Director Vasanth’s Sivaranjaniyum Inum Sila Pengalum (SISP) reminded me of all the battles our women have fought in their drawing rooms. Whatever modest progress we, women, have achieved, is because our female predecessors have fought tooth and nail for it. This isn’t always out of choice; in fact, they happen because there is no choice.

When the space for a woman continues to shrink, at some point, she is forced to fight to reclaim it. Dissent becomes survival. SISP, an anthology, brings stories of three women and how they reclaim their space (all of them are stories adapted from short stories by Ashokamithran, Adhavan, and Jeyamohan respectively.)
SISP’s women are from different periods. Saraswathi is from 1980, Devaki is from 1995, and we see Sivaranjani between 2007 and 2016. There’s a lot that has changed in these decades, including globalisation, development, modernisation… (Vasanth hints at this with a stray line about women wearing jeans in Devaki’s short.) But a lot hasn’t changed, like the familial apathy towards our women.

The director makes an insightful case study of non-linearity in female empowerment. In the 80s, Saraswati is pushed to work after her abusive husband leaves her. In 95, Devaki is financially independent, and works out of choice. Yet, in 2007, we see Sivaranjani, a graduate, give up on her athletic dreams after marriage and pregnancy. These three stories signal women’s fights for life, livelihood, privacy, and agency over their bodies. But even in 2021, for all the ‘progress’, women from different social positions still wage these wars, sometimes all at once.  

SISP is rich with lived experiences, like Vasanth’s films usually are. I particularly enjoyed the equation between Sivaranjani and her daughter Priya, who is more vocal in calling out the patriarchal attitudes of her father and her grandmother. When Ranjani’s husband refuses to let her go out of town because “Priya va yaaru paathupaa?”, Ranjani brings her daughter into the room, who confidently says, “Naane school ku poikaren. Oru naal dhaane? Amma pogatum. Paati paathupanga.” Ranjani wears a hint of a smile, as her 
husband scrambles to find another reason. When she returns, she leaves her bags and walks straight to the kitchen to begin her day. The anthology is filled with such real snapshots. 

Each short in SISP leaves us with striking images. Be it Saraswathi sitting on a chair like a queen on a throne, with a hot cup of tea, or be it Devaki in a tea shop with a glass of tea. The most memorable visual will perhaps be Sivarajani running in her ‘nighty’, carrying a tiffin box like a baton, towards a school bus that seems unreachable. That’s the image of a woman reassuring herself of her identity, of her skills that were deemed ‘useless’. She hasn’t forgotten. And neither will we.

Source: The New Indian Express