Contemporary Critical Theory
Dr. Anil Pinto
Housewives are no bonded slaves: A Reality check based on the Malayalam Movie ‘Veruthe Oru Bharya’
Since the time of Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, Alice walker and the like, we women have been told the heroic saga of women’s right struggle and women empowerment. Stories of battles against all odds to survive in this patriarchal world have been told for ages. The 2008 Malayalam movie ‘Veruthe oru Bharya’ directed by Akku Akbar, starring Jayaram and Gopika as the lead actors visualises the concept of Women equality and recognition. The Malayalam film, which won many accolades for portraying one of the sensitive problems that woman faces, subtly traces the nuances of feminist theory. While providing a critique of social and political relations, much of feminist theory focuses on the promotion of women's rights and interests. Themes explored in feminist theory include discrimination, stereotyping, patriarchy and objectification (Sexual objectification also). The theme of this movie is akin to the themes in feminist theory where the protagonist is a prey of patriarchy, object of sexual pleasure and stereotyped Indian housewife.
This visual text which was released in 2008 explores the life of a middle class housewife who is enmeshed in a web of domestic complexities. The film is one of the best movies narrated with great intensity and integrity throughout and thereby sending a strong message that a wife is not a bonded slave to husband. The film echoes the woes of many housewives in need of equality and recognition in the family.
The movie revolves around the life of Sugunan, Bindu and their fourteen year old daughter Anjana. Sugunan is an employee with Kerala State Electricity Board and Bindu is the typical Indian housewife who is denied the freedom of economic independence by her chauvinistic husband. Her daughter too takes advantage of her. The daughter takes her mother for granted knowing that Bindu is emotionally vulnerable. Sugunan is a typical Malyali husband who habitually underestimates his wife’s capabilities. He takes pleasure in finding fault with her and takes pride in dominating her. In fact he flaunts his dominance to an unbearable extent. He is an egoistic person who finds pleasure in taunting his wife and treating her as a mere living thing that obliges to his commands and pleasures. He contradicts his name which means the one with good qualities. She finds solace from her parents but unfortunately Sugunan forbids her from going to her parent’s house. He is seen as tyrant by her family. If Sugunan is the typical male chauvinistic pig, Bindu is the docile Indian wife and mother who is the epitome of tolerance and endurance.
The film ‘Veruthe Oru Bharya’, which in English translates as ‘a wife for nothing’. The title of the film is well justified with the protagonist (the wife) who is a victim of domestic disharmony. She is a mere puppet in the family whose life is confined within the four walls of the house. Her existence considered trivial and her labour unacknowledged by her husband and daughter, she is the sitting duck of her family’s hypocrisy. Her loyalty towards her husband and love towards her daughter forbids her to taste the fruit of independence .Bound to mundane domestic chores of her life; Bindu (the wife) wants to break free from the stereotyped world of condescension. As household chores keep her occupied all the time, Bindu does not have the leisure to go out and enjoy with her friends or attend public functions. On a trip with friends and families Sugunan forbids her from enjoying with others and embarrasses her in front of them. Also meeting the growing demands of her teenage daughter escalates her trauma. Her domestic drudgery begins at 5:00 am to 11:00 pm and when she goes to bed after the day’s ordeal she is forced to quench the carnal thirst of her sex-hungry husband. When things reach a saturation level (that is when Sugunan in a fit of rage phyisicaly abuses her) Bindu determines to leave the house and free herself from household duties. Like every women she too longed for freedom. Hers is a story of many untold tales where the underbelly of marriage is exposed.
The second half of the movie is a self realisation for the father-daughter duo. The
sudden decision of Bindu to leave the house and stay with her parents brings an element of surprise to them. Never in their dreams had they thought that Bindu would leave them and become a rebel. Years of taking her for granted gave them the power to underestimate the real woman in her. Though the father and daughter struggle hard to manage the household , the pride in them prevents them from admitting and realising the worth of Bindu. Sugunan single-handedly tries to bring up Anjana but all in vain. The daughter again becomes the next vulnerable women. Brimming with adolescent beauty and fantasies she becomes an object of every male gaze. She is seen as an object of sexual pleasure by the male servant who comes to take care of the household in the absence of Bindu. With no mother to protect and care her security is questioned. A series of tragedy befalls this young woman after Bindu’s exit. The daughter falls for the lust of the neighbourhood boy. Her innocence is exploited with the carnal appetite of the male servant and the rogues who tries to sexually exploit her. The timely intervention of her father and policemen saves her from being exploited. All this substantiates the point that a woman is never safe anywhere, neither in her own house nor inside her mother’s womb.
Women unlike men are mentally strong; Bindu shows immense mental strength when the tragedies befall the family unlike Sugunan who becomes paranoid. The pride and ego of Sugunan diminishes with the unfortunate incident. At the end of the movie Bindu has become the liberated woman who is no longer submissive. Her silent struggle for equality and recognition did prove fruitful. Both the father and the daughter realised her worth and gave her the respect that she deserved. The tragedy in the family becomes an eye opener for Sugunan and his daughter.
Overall the film ‘Veruthe Oru Bharya’ with an undertone of feminism is one of the best thought-provoking movies released in the twenty first century. Also the movie sends a strong message to all male chauvinists in not to underestimate the capabilities of housewives. They are instrumental in keeping the family rooted and bounded. The fall of
women results in the fall of the family.