Ms Representation: Quiet Courage
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author writes about Dear Comrade
Rashmika Mandanna’s Lilly aka Aparna Devi is a remarkable young woman around whose dreams Bharat Kamma’s directorial debut Dear Comrade is designed. The film feels like a simple romance, will-they won’t-they type, for a while, until it is not. It is about something else. Rashmika shines in all of these sequences in the film, which allow her to explore a range of emotions. She says less with dialogue for large parts of the film, and more with her action… her smile, laughter, her frowns, her tears and fears. When she’s running around carefree in dresses, playing cricket, when she’s wonderfully balancing her cricket with this new romance with a stunning Bobby (Vijay Deverakonda in stellar form and an utterly convincing performance), when she’s withdrawn, when she becomes a sort of ‘loser’ just hanging around Bobby, when she refuses to stand up to the bully and when she finally does.
The film imagines a sort of catharsis and plays out dramatically, especially in the second half. Is it the first post-#Metoo film that is a call to everyone, the people around those affected and the women who’ve been through sexual harassment, to use the lessons from the ‘Left’, to advocate and fight fearlessly for one’s own rights against the powerful? It isn’t the ideal, and I am not saying the film is instructive, nor is it an example for everyone to follow, but it is a poignant fictitious world that places the onus on the people around a victim (a message card at the end of the film says so, specifically). It breaks the myth that not complaining to the police is what women must do to stay ‘respectful’. What is important? Respect or self-respect? Bobby asks. It also forcefully (a bit too forcefully I am afraid, but Bobby and Lilly perhaps share that kind of a bond? Would I act if I had the support and was urged that way by my partner? Maybe, who knows?) pleads with women to do the thing they are silenced to, conditioned to think they must not, if they are ‘good girls’. Her career (Lilly plays cricket, a traditional male bastion, for the state, and is subject to some patronizing, funny comments from Bobby and friends) is also an interesting addition to the complexity of the situation. Bharat Kamma is nuanced in spaces where one least expects it. Like the way the regional media and the English media report Lilly’s case in the film.Lilly’s cousin, Jaya (Shruti Ramachandran) is another terrific addition to the film. She brings a certain heft to her role. Oh, and it was good to see Divya from Girl Formula (a Telugu YouTube channel whose content I’ve enjoyed, particularly the ones starring this Divya-Vidya duo) in the film, and I am hoping to see more of her in her true spunky avatar.
What I liked the most about Dear Comrade though was despite Bobby’s protestations and eventual exit from this fight, Lilly does not say or do anything until she feels like she should. She tells Bobby in one scene something to the effect of, “All of you (men) are the same. One wanted a sexual favour. My father wants me to keep it under the wraps and move on. You want me to complain to the police. None of you have asked me what I want, nor do you care for what I want.”
Despite some minor niggles, Dear Comrade worked for me. Especially because the scenes that work are far more than those that don’t and ones that do work feel like alchemy. Everything works, the lights, the camera, the intent, the story, the music, the man and most importantly, the woman.