Catherine Maria Andrade
Contemporary Critical Theory
Dr. Anil Pinto
A Feminist Critique of Nirmon, A Konkani Film
Abstract: Konkani cinema is a minor part of the Indian film industry, and films in this language have been produced mainly in Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala. It caters to a small portion of the Indian subset, with just about 40 full-length films being produced from its birth in 1950 till date. The text selected for analysis, a film called Nirmon, was one of the highest grossing movies of its time. Feminism is a social movement which has had an enormous impact on film theory and criticism. Feminist film critics try to understand the all-pervasive power of patriarchal imagery. This paper will attempt to look at the text from a feminist perspective, examining the roles of the lead female artist and other minor roles in the light of the patriarchal structure and other existing stereotypes in society.
Nirmon is a Konkani film produced in 1966. It was directed by A. Salam and starred Shalini Mardolkar and C.Alvares in the lead roles, with Anthony D’Sa, Jacint Vaz, and Antonette Mendes, among others. It was remade into a Bollywood movie called Taqdeer a year after its release, retaining the same director and lead female actor. The character of the male lead is loosely modelled on Lord Tennyson’s character Enoch Arden.
The story is one of a happy, middle-class Goan family, consisting of the father Marku, a music teacher; his beautiful and faithful wife Claudia; and their three children, two daughters and a son. In search of better prospects for his family, Marku decides to take up a job at sea, a career option which is well-explored in the Goan society. He entrusts his wife and children into the hands of Rudolph, his friend, who later turns into his foil. This step establishes at the outset that the woman needs to be ‘taken care of’ by some male figure or the other, and is deemed quite incapable of handling affairs by herself.
A ship-wreck at sea, of which Marku appears to be the lone, miraculous survivor, causes him to lose his memory and wander the lands where he is stranded, far from his hearth and home. Meanwhile, hearing news of the ship accident and with no knowledge of survivors, Claudia assumes the role of a widow. With no male member to support the family, they are soon faced with abject poverty, the children going to bed hungry. Claudia is shown weeping bitterly at the sight of her starving children; later desolately stirring a pot of what appears to be simply boiling water, possibly signifying the state of affairs in her mind. Seeing no other option before her, she accepts Rudolph’s offer of marriage, but remains faithful to the memory of her husband in her heart of hearts. Time passes, the children grow up into fine young ladies and a handsome lad, and Claudia, all the while, continues to miss her husband Marku.
A decade later, Marku suddenly regains his memory after hearing a girl play the song Claudia, which he used to sing to his wife. He rushes back to Goa in search of his family, but finds his house in shambles, with no sign of them around. He then lands up as a spectator outside a rich man’s house, which is hosting a grand party. He is shocked to find his family inside, seemingly very happy, his three children singing the very same song. He decides to leave them in that happy state and go away, but a strange turn of incidents brings him into contact with them once more. He chances upon his younger daughter getting molested by a man, and drives him away. His daughter sees him later and calls him home to thank him, though none of them recognize him as their father. His wife, however, is vaguely suspicious of a higher order of things in play, and goes to visit him at his place. There, she realizes that he is indeed her long-lost husband Marku, and faints with the enormity of the impact.
What follows is quite predictable: the family is overjoyed and overwhelmed at the return of their father and husband, but this is where Marku’s best friend Rudolph turns into his enemy. Livid at his apparent return from the dead, he stops the family from reuniting with him, and plans to eradicate him once and for all. He leads Marku to a mine, where he plans to blow him up. However, like all happy endings where peace is restored and good triumphs over evil, Rudolph himself falls inside and gets killed. Seemingly unperturbed by the sight of his death, the family has a tearful and happy reunion, making the troubled events of the past quite inconsequential.
A few observations are due here, regarding the characterization of Claudia, which entirely follows the stereotype of the ideal and chaste Indian housewife. She remains clad in a sari throughout the movie, despite the fact that it is set in a Goan household, which is well-known for its Westernised ways. Also, her daughters and the rest of the female populace in the movie are clad in the usual Goan attire of dresses. Thus, the sari presumably leads to the air of chastity and moral uprightness that surrounds her character as the faithful Indian wife, setting her apart from the rest, showing her in a pure light.
Claudia apparently has no other friends or family she can turn to in troubled times, and is left with no option but to submit to Rudolph’s scheming plans of marriage. This follows the common belief about women that throughout their life, they either belong to one male figure or the other, passing on from the hands of her father to her husband in the event of her marriage. In this case, she is ‘passed’ on from the hands of her husband to his best friend in the event of his approaching absence from home.
Despite all of this, however, she remains true to Marku, never giving herself fully to her new husband, taking the Christian wedding vow ‘till death do us part’ to a different level altogether. She is shown to be mourning the death of her husband right until the time he unexpectedly shows up, unhappy even in the midst of joyous celebrations around her. One would expect her to adapt to her new state of life, but she remains stagnant in times gone by, unable to overcome the feelings she has for her first husband. Here, Rudolph could be looked at with a pitying glance, considering he never got the love of the woman he loved.
The daughters, meanwhile, grow up to be beautiful young ladies, keeping the memory of Marku sacred throughout, respecting the father figure in their lives. In the beginning of the movie, Marku is shown teaching one of them to play the song Claudia on the piano, and she remembers and plays it years later, at the fateful party of which he is a confused onlooker. The elder daughter, having reached a certain age, is shown with a love interest, following the norms of patriarchy. Also, it takes an incident of female subjugation and male triumph for the father to come into contact with his family. The younger daughter is made to play the role of the damsel in distress, and gets rescued from the clutches of the evil man by a kind stranger. It could have just as well happened that one of the children spotted the poor, homeless man being bullied by someone and have invited him over for a meal, thus precipitating the chain of events that would lead to their eventual reunion. However, it had to be a male act of heroism that would light the way.
Coming back to Claudia, when Marku returns to the scene unexpectedly, there arises a true dilemma of what should be done: she has always been in love with him and it is but obvious that they should reunite, but morality dictates that she should spend the rest of her life with the man who she has married. There is no possible way this issue can be resolved legitimately. So, by a lucky turn of fate, her new husband gets eliminated from the picture, leaving the path to her true love cleared. What’s ironic is that the family has an emotional reunion at the mines right after Rudolph has died. One would expect a modicum of gratitude and some amount of feelings towards the man who has, if not anything else, supported them financially all these years.
Thus, in this paper, the researcher has made an attempt to critique the text from a feminist perspective. The Konkani movie Nirmon has been analyzed and the researcher has looked at the female lead role, Claudia, as well as the minor roles of her two daughters. Women in the movie have been depicted as conforming strictly to the norms of patriarchy, subjugating their personal interests in favour of the all-powerful male figures. The research has a scope of expansion by conducting psychoanalysis of the characters, for a more detailed insight.
Cardozo, Tomazinho. “Panaji: Konkani Cinema – A Long Way to Go.” Web.
Smelik, Anneke. “Feminist Film Theory.” Web.