Indian cinema is slowly opening up to a more realistic portrayal of women—at least urban women. They may not yet have an idea of what women in the twenty-first century want, because there is only sporadic or scattered conversation about it. Which is why the supposedly bold Veere Di Wedding comes across as shallow, and Lust Stories as flat and boring.
However, in the documentary space there is a Bengali-English film like The Saints Of Sin, directed by Aniruddha Sen, from Swati Bhattacharya’s concept, that talks to women who represent the seven deadly sins—Wrath, Greed, Vanity, Sloth, Gluttony, Lust and Envy. Hollywood has made quite a few films with the sins as a take-off point, but this one is refreshing in its honesty, and when screened for the public, has a lot of scope for discussion.
The eight women (Vanity is, for some reason, represented by two), are articulate and candid, their accounts interspersed with soulful Bengali songs.
Debbie opens with Wrath, with her experience of being discriminated against at home by her mother, who made her preference for her son obvious. Then, when she was subjected to sexual abuse by her brother, her mother refused to act on her complaints, forcing the girl to cope with her trauma on her own. Her rage turned to aggression, then assertiveness and courage to face anything, with the thought in her head, that after what she was put through at home, what could any outsider to do her that was worse?
Sexual abuse by an uncle comes up in the Gluttony section in which Shreya speaks of her compulsive shopping to surround herself with beautiful things, some of which she doesn’t even use. Just acquiring them makes her happy.
Runa says her Greed is not for material things but for space and a life that allows her not to be dependent on anyone or anything. When her marriage broke up, she gave up custody of her children to her husband, because she understands that love is not an adequate substitute for money.
Filmmaker and columnist Paromita Vohra, is now somewhat of an expert on the subject, is a natural choice for the section on Lust, in which she paints her nails and talks of sex without the least bit of self-consciousness, but also shedding a few tears when she recounts how she was misunderstood by friends.
The most outspoken, complex and honest is Envy in which a transgender Pradipta, dressed in an elegant sari, speaks of how he can never be a bride, and about the near impossibility of finding a straight man who will love her as a woman; and not gay man looking for a male partner. But then, there is the fact that s/he is not a ‘real’ woman. Society may be slightly less conservative today, but it is still difficult for a transperson to fit in. So Pradipta is amused by the story about how her mother proudly showed off to relatives, photos of her son dancing to Helen’s songs To wear the slinky silver, backless dress, Pradipta had to go through an hour or more of painful depilation, which made her wonder why god made her a “hairy transgender.” There is humour, self-awareness and just a tinge of sadness in Pradipta’s story, but also a call for acceptance on her terms.
There are now women express their innermost thoughts on blogs or social media platforms, but to lay bare one’s heart and soul in front of a camera is not easy. These women may have been shaped by their experiences, but are not victims. They have turned adversity into a springboard from which to take off in whichever direction they choose. The stories are more inspiring because sharing them takes away their intensely personal and intimate nature and turns them into words of power and fearlessness.