Natkhat (A Short film produced by RSVP)
Starring Vidya Balan, Sanika Patel
Directed by Shaan Vyas
Rating: *** ½
It’s not so much about what men do to women, as what women allow men to do by accepting the tyranny of patriarchy as the norm. Natkhat, a short film produced by Ronnie Screwvala’s RSVP, deserves a deep and attentive dekko just for being what it is, an unflinchingly brutal critique of the male gaze.
The setting is some kind of a mofussil North Indian backwater where the musk of masculinity can be smelt all the way from the children’s school to their parents’ bedroom. The main characters are a little alert vulnerable and thoroughly corruptible little boy named Sonu (Sanika Patel) who hears and sees the female gender being abused everywhere. The film opens with Sonu swaggering and swearing like the louts who hover around his school. It’s a performance by a child who doesn’t know what he is doing. Not yet.
The scenes of little boys playing rape-rape behind trees in lonely fields would have been gut-wrenching were they not so innocent and denuded of permanent damage. Pinning down their female classmate the boys wonder what they are supposed to do with her.
“I don’t know,” little Sonu shrugs, as the manual on How To Subjugate Women is not yet ready and ripe in his tender mind.
Blessedly, Natkhat is not about the loss of innocence but its redemption. Standing tall as Sonu’s mother is Vidya Balan a silent sufferer in a family of boorish men who has no function in the family except to roll out rotis as the men sit chomping and chewing on what to do to further flex their empowered muscles.
Silently Vidya Balan takes charge of Sonu’s future, and by extension, the film itself. Every silent closeup of her ravaged face and dream-less eyes scream a thousand protests against generations of patriarchal tyranny. It takes a fable about a kingdom where the despotic ruler bans all birds, to bring little Sonu back into Mommy’s favour. The redemption of little Sonu is celebrated with a sparkling juicy plate of jalebis.
In serving up the saga of Sonu’s sobering up, Natkhat tells us how important it is for the mother to teach their sons to respect women other than the matriarch. In less than half an hour of playing time Natkhat walks us through a complex, ugly and morbid maze of mardangi and how it spreads its tentacles in the male gender from a very young age. Vidya Balan validates every moment of her screen presence. But the film belongs to little Miss Sanika Patel who plays Sonu with such heartbreaking sensitivity. It takes a woman to let a man know how to respect women.
Natkhat wins our unconditional respect for its validation of matriarchy as a pertinent antidote to male toxicity. If only every woman had Vidya Balan’s strength of will.