Ms Representation: Pataakha - A cracker of a film
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author writes about Vishal Bharwaj’s 2018 film, Pataakha
Pataakha, Vishal Bharwaj’s 2018 delightfully loud film about sibling rivalry, was perhaps his first one in a long time to receive very little buzz. Surprisingly so. Perhaps because of the disappointment of his Rangoon that preceded it. Pataakha, based on a short story — Do Behnein (Two Sisters) by Charan Singh Pathik — likens the rivalry between two daughters of a mother to the rivalry between India and Pakistan, and their inability to find happiness unless they are fighting each other.
Looking beyond the commonplace symbolism of portraying countries as ‘mother’ or ‘daughter’ figures, there’s a lot to love in Pataakha. Starring Radhika Madan, who was brilliant in Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota recently, as Champa or Badki, and Sanya Malhotra, who played Babita Kumari in Dangal and a quiet, charming and introverted Miloni in Photograph, as Genda alias Marigold alias Chutki, in superb, physical, and fun roles, Pataakha’s women are not your typical cinematic, village belle types. Their hair is unkempt, they are loud, smoke beedis, they fall in love and elope, and have dreams of their own — Badki wants to be a dairy owner and Chutki wants to be an English teacher.
Though the women in the film seem like marionettes at the hands of a man — their friend, confidant, and troublemaker Dipper (Sunil Grover), who rakes up fights between them for his entertainment, like the sage Narada — there is something about the cheeky Dipper that is disarming and likeable. He isn’t just trying to get them to fight, he is also there to help them on their way to chasing bliss. Their single father, Shanti Bhushan (Vijay Raaz) though is trying to get them to co-exist peacefully.
Pataakha is the voice of the brat let loose. Its women run and yell, hit each other, swear, call each other names, make mistakes, and chase happiness. They are unabashedly passionate about listening to no one but their own selves. The two siblings are constantly at war, but as siblings do, are also always keeping an eye on each other, trying to outdo or copy one another. When Chutki hides a beedi in her bag, Badki steals it and smokes it in private. When Chutki finds a boyfriend, Badki too finds herself one. They are also fairly evil to each other. Badki elopes, leaving Chutki to marry a ‘pervert’. Chutki too elopes only to find out that she is more tied up to her sister after marriage than before.
After a lot of ups and some downs, the siblings have to face the fact that their peace actually lies in their rivalry. That without each other, they are lost. They can see nothing and say nothing, unless they are fighting each other.
I found myself laughing out loud many times while watching Pataakha. It is playful, low-stakes, harmless, amusing, good old-fashioned storytelling. Like a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film. On steroids. And the best part about the film is its leading women, on whom the story stays focused unwaveringly.