Ms.Representation: Children of hell
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week it is about Majid Majidi's portrayal of women in Beyond the Clouds
It has been a hard couple of months for women in India. Brutal stories of rape, even little girls haven’t been spared, are everywhere we look. Watching Majid Majidi’s Beyond the Clouds, in this context made me wonder if, in fact, the world has begun to see the Indian woman’s experience as one that is inextricably linked to the larger rape culture that has, at last, refused to stay under the carpet and is now leaking, stinking up our collective conscience.
I couldn’t help but compare the film to Kaaka Muttai for the way it positions the innocence of children against the big bad world out there, fragile things that could break any minute now. Indeed, many a subcontinent director has captured the human story at the heart of the chawl or the Thideer Nagars that pop up in our cities. Though I couldn’t make up my mind about this one thing – whether Majidi was paying a tribute to all those films, already made, with the ‘akka’ sentiment, exploitation at the hands of traffickers who buy young girls for prostitution, adolescent boys forced to sell drugs, men who try to rape women, and women who hit them and end up in jail, and mothers dying in jail… or if I was the victim of clichés. “I have already seen this,” I said to myself. From Visu to Mani Ratnam. This isn’t to say no one should make movies about all of these, but just that nuance was amiss. It was as if a broad canvas had been populated by the clichés we have seen about the poor, especially in Mumbai. I wondered how they felt about this, even as they continued to set an example for slums all over the world making sure their kids get a great education, and as youngsters quit well-paying jobs to teach the kids out there.
What I did like, of course, was the fact that apart from Ishaan Khatter, who plays Amir, and the little boy Chotu in jail, the film belonged entirely to its female cast. Be it Malavika Mohanan as Tara or the veteran actor GV Sharada as Jhumpa (I did a double take when I heard that. Which Tamil paati is named Jhumpa?), or the kids Asha and Tanisha, with whom Majidi creates some typical magic. And that magic is special. Be it when the kids and Amir (inside whom despite life’s hardships a kid awaits) take over a wall and draw on it with crayons in a manner most delightful, or when Amir traces the trio’s (Paati, Asha and Tanisha) silhouette against a wall, or dances to Muqqala Muqqabla…
While Tara’s outbursts felt a tad over the top, Amir breaking the news to Paati and her little gang, even as we do not see them at all, about Akshi’s assault on his sister, and Paati’s subsequent reaction are all poignant. They showcase how the extremes of outbursts and stoic silences can be used to convey what endless chatter cannot. Jhumpa’s understated reaction is wonderful and what she does subsequently showcases the difference between the young and the old – especially older women. They may not know how to navigate the new world, buy medicines or talk English, but navigate they can worlds of morality.
Beyond the Clouds was a mixed bag; there was enough goodness in there for one to pick and choose, and yet somehow, the satisfaction of having watched something truly ‘cinematic’ was always out of one’s grasp, despite all that it did for its women.