Movie Name: Masaan
Directed by: Neeraj Ghaywan
Release date: 24 July, 2015
Running Time: 109 minutes
The movie shows the lives of a woman called ‘Devi’ and a young inter-caste couple ‘Deepak’ and ‘Shalu’. In Devi’s story, her pre-marital sex and suicide of her partner during the police raid became the main churner of her life. As the police took advantage of the news of her pre-marital sex and the death of her partner to blackmail her father to bribe, resulting in hardships in her life. Whereas in the life of Deepak and Shalu’s story, though their love life bloomed, yet they always had tension because Deepak belonged to a low-caste community of Dom, who burns dead bodies and Shalu belonged to upper-caste community. The main churner in Deepak’s life was Shalu’s death in an accident and when her body goes for burning in the ghat. The movie shows how both Devi and Deepak struggle through their respective lives and end them.
Movie Name: Sairat
Directed by: Nagarj Manjule
Release date: 29 April, 2016
Running time: 174 minutes
The movie depicts the inter-caste romance and marriage struggles through the life of young couple Parshya and Archie. The movie shows how low-caste boy, Parshya falls in love with high caste girl Archie and how they face various atrocities from Archie’s family. The movie ends with honor killing of the couple leaving their kid as an orphan.
Before starting with the review, let me talk a little bit about intersectionality. Intersectionality was first termed by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989 (Vidal, 2014). Thus, it is quite clear that the topic of intersectionality came from a feminist approach. Intersectionality, in brief, means intersecting and connecting various oppressive groups like caste, class, race, gender, etc. But here we will speak about the intersectionality between caste and gender as both the movie majorly covers this. Along with this, we will cover a few more gender issues like women sexuality, power, etc.
Caste and gender are always interconnected and they influence and shape each other. The extent of oppression and discrimination of gender can be understood from caste lens and vice-versa. In both the movies, ‘Masaan’ and ‘Sairat’ it is quite aptly depicted that breaking of the principle of caste as an endogamous group can lead to serious tensions and punishments. The striking feature of both the movies is that an upper caste woman falling in love with a lower caste man. This situation is regarded as Pratiloma/Hypogamy, often regarded as contemptible and leads to punishment, but is an important element in Varnasamkara theory (Chakravarti, 2003). This situation leads to punishment because it is considered that it brings ‘permanent impurity’ to the higher caste. In the movie ‘Masaan’, the boy Deepak was quite skeptical about the future of the relationship with Shalu as he was from the low caste community of Benaras, Dom and the girl was from the upper caste community ‘Gupta’. Often, in India, such relationship where the girl is from upper caste and the boy is from lower caste leads to heinous atrocities on the couple from the upper caste and often leads to honour killing. In India, according to 2010 statistics by Times of India, every year more than 1000 honour killings happens (India, 2010) in the name of saving honour of the caste and maintaining the purity of caste.
 Temporary impurity is related to birth, death, menstruation, food intake, etc. whereas permanent impurity is related to the caste hierarchy (Channa, 2006, p. 34)
It not only ends here, the women’s purity is important to higher caste because the woman’s purity gives them “the power in economic and public domain” (Chakravarti, 2003) and any woman going out of the caste or not conforming to the norms of the community and family is punished or killed because the power and the purity of the caste gets into risk. This point is validated by the movie ‘Sairat’ as Archie’s father stops her education, tries to get her married inside the caste, abuses her, captivates her and performs all the atrocities on her and Parshya, leading to the honour killing of the couple because Archie didn’t conform to the norms of the family and community, which made his political and economic power in the public domain at stake. So, purity of caste does not only affect social status but also to the economic and political power of the caste and family.
As woman is regarded as the honour of the family and “a family can gain or lose honour through proper and improper behaviour-most critically through the behaviour of its women” (Chakravarti, 2003). Also, women’s duty is maintaining purity of the caste by conforming to the family and community norms (Chakravarti, 2003). So, it is considered that any step like inter-caste marriage or pre-marital sex (in context to the two movies) can bring shame to the family and community. In the movie ‘Masaan’, Devi was shamed by the police for having pre-marital sex with her partner and he took the advantage of the situation because her pre-marital sex could bring ‘dishonour’ to the family. It is also seen that how hard Devi and her father try to save the honour of the family by bribing the police to close the case. She is also beaten up by her father soon after coming from police station for bringing shame to the family. She is also seen as a ‘loose woman’ by other man at her workplace because she was considered as a woman without a good character as she had sex before marriage. And in India, female sexuality is confined within the institution of marriage and is subordinated to male (the husband’s) sexuality through rigid norms that insists on maintenance of virginity before marriage and chastity after marriage (Srivastava, 2004, p. 212). Again, in the movie ‘Sairat’, Parshya and Archie were separated soon after Archie’s family find them kissing. Parshya was beaten black and blue along with his friends as he was having a romantic relation with Archie, who was from upper caste. Soon after Archie’s family (especially, brother and father) found out her affair with Parshya, her education was stopped and was decided to get her married within the caste to maintain the ‘purity of caste’ by controlling her sexuality. In one scene, it is also seen that Parshya doubting her chastity after marriage as she was watching movie with her boss and was having a friendly time with her boss. This was because even today women’s sexuality is under patriarchal and caste control which get transferred from father/brother to husband (Chakravarti, 2003).
Another aspect of caste and gender which is shown in the movie ‘Sairat’ is woman and labour. In upper caste, women had the function of reproduction and household chores whereas the lower caste women worked outside the household too (Chakravarti, 2003). As in Archie’s family, Archie’s mother is always seen as doing household works and had very little say in the decision of family whereas in Parshya’s family, Parshya’s mother and sister are seen not only doing household chores but also selling fish in the market. It is also seen in the movie that in Archie’s family, Archie too had less say in comparison to her brother but in Parshya’a family both Parshya and his sister had equal rights in the decisions. For upper caste, the idea of woman and work also maintained the idea of purity and pollution (Chakravarti, 2003).
The monopoly of knowledge by upper caste is another factor of maintaining purity (Chakravarti, 2003). Educational discourse was intimately tied to upper-caste ideology and practices (Paik, 2014). This was also seen in the movie, ‘Sairat’ as Archie was sent for education whereas Parshya’s sister was not seen pursuing any kind of education. Again, it is seen in context to present scenario that the field of educated women is still dominated by upper-caste women in comparison to lower caste women. Because education also allows caste to maintain their social power and education by lower-caste can bring the power on stake.
So, above were the issues of gender and caste intersectionality which I feel are present in the two movies ‘Massan’ and ‘Sairat’.
I feel both the movies are quite successful in penetrating their social message to their audience. I felt ‘Masaan’ had covered very little or could not show all the aspects of gender and caste intersectionality whereas ‘Sairat’ has covered most of it. ‘Sairat’ has covered most of the aspects of aspect caste dominance and caste discrimination. In ‘Sairat’ it is also seen that “dominance is based on wealth, that is, control over land, which also gives the dominant caste access to political power” (Chakravarti, 2003) as Archie’s father and brother have portrayed it very clearly. After watching and then reviewing the movies, ‘Sairat’ and ‘Masan’, it is quite disheartening that in spite of so much of ‘change’ and ‘development’ both gender and caste goes through all sorts of atrocities. The atrocities are so deep-rooted and normalized that most of the time it goes unseen and unreported. It was a real shock to me, when in ‘Sairat’, everything seemed to go on so smoothly; Archie’s family lures Archie and Parshya and finally kills them in order to save their so-called ‘honour’, leaving their child as an orphan. It is really shocking to see that social status, social power and purity of caste is so important in our Indian society that our society forgets all the humanity and rationality and performs heinous crime like honour killings, rape, molestation, etc., to protect their social status, power and purity. And most of the crimes go unreported.
It is really ironical to see that on one side, woman is regarded as the honour and on the other, all the atrocities are meted out on her. Both ‘Masaan’ and ‘Sairat’ have aptly depicted the irony. It was really disgusting to see in ‘Masaan’ that even the state’s protectors, the police take advantage of women sexuality and how Devi is judged by people all across because she tried to take responsibility of her own sexuality and went against the so-called ‘sex norms’ of the Indian society. Both the movies created a mess in my head because patriarchy and caste is not letting women to enjoy her rights and freedom. In both the movies it is quite clearly seen that the caste and patriarchy exerts so much of pressure on women and the legacy so deep-rooted that it will take really long to uproot them and women face dual discrimination of both caste and patriarchy. Though, awareness among people against such discrimination is really less but when movies like ‘Masaan’ and ‘Sairat’ come to limelight, they do their bit really well in creating the awareness and knowledge of such discrimination. Though, ‘Masaan’ was critically appreciated globally but in India, it could not attract much of audience whereas ‘Sairat’ was a huge hit in the country, attracting a huge crowd. So, it can be said that Sairat’s director could portray the whole situation in a better way because he himself has experienced or seen such atrocities as he was from low caste himself and he used the right strategy in respect to the mindset of the Indian audience or it can also be said that the acceptability of the audience to take social message like stop honour killing increased because with the increase of such crimes every year, the frustration and awareness about them is also increasing. So, I encourage more movies like these to come up and create awareness against such discrimination and also make Indian audience feel the importance of human rights in context of women and caste.
Chakravarti, U. (2003). Gendering Caste Through Feminist Lens. Popular Prakashan.
Channa, S. (2006). Women’s Role and Status. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.
India, T. o. (2010, July 4). Retrieved September 13, 2016, from The Times of India: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/More-than-1000-honour-killings-in-India-every-year-Experts/articleshow/6127338.cms
Paik, S. (2014). Dalit Women’s Education In Modern India: Double Discrimination. New York: Routledge.
Srivastava, S. (2004). Sexual Sites, Seminal Attitudes: Sexualities, Masculities and Culture in South Asia. Sage Publications India.
Vidal, A. (2014, January 15). Intersectional Feminism- What the hell is it and Why should you care? Retrieved September 12, 2016, from The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10572435/Intersectional-feminism.-What-the-hell-is-it-And-why-you-should-care.html