Matrubhoomi Hindi Movie Review

Feature Film
Apr 2, 2004 By Subhash K. Jha

Somewhere in the future when foeticide has felled the female population, a group of barbaric, sex-starved men in Bihar marry one woman and rape her night after night in turns in Manish Jha's film...that's when they are not busy making out with boys or whatever outlet is obtainable or available.

Jha's sinister, sordid and ceaselessly appalling view of patriarchal perversity is at once shocking and intolerable. As in Shekhar Kapur's "Bandit Queen", the immediate impulse while watching this film is to turn away and walk out.

As you watch the film's only female character, Kalki, being ravaged in every conceivable corner of the astutely created rustic home, you wonder where the line between social criticism and artistic licentiousness blurs, and how far a filmmaker can transgress the dividing line between aesthetics and realism without seeming to violate the basic codes of filmmaking.

Not that the rape of Kalki is ever titillating...God forbid! If anything, Jha's perception on sexual aggression is so blunt and violent it could put the audience off sex forever.

In sequence after sequence a cloistered and crude family of five men and their father march into poor Kalki's bedroom to get their pound of flesh. In a grotesque parody of Draupadi and her five Pandava husbands in the Mahabharat, Kalki is shown as a playpen of masculine perversity.

Watching Kalki's brutal sexual exploitation by bestial specimen of the male gender is certainly not "entertaining". One isn't very sure how far Jha's tormenting and nightmarish treatise on sexual subjugation and domination could qualify as cinema, let alone pure cinema.

The purity - if one may call it that - of Jha's vision originates largely from his ability to stare unflinchingly at socio-cultural discrimination and barbarism. Scenes of gender and caste carnage are so strongly violent they make similar moments in Prakash Jha's "Damul" and "Mrityudand" look like teaser trailers.

Indeed, the director's perceptions on mob violence are stunningly upfront. Manish Jha goes into lives in rural Bihar and its accompanying anarchy with a frightening detachment. He's neither shocked nor appalled by how cruel humankind can be to its own kind.

Jha never allows us the luxury of a smile. He's dead serious about his grim intentions.

We come out of "Matrubhoomi" battered and ravaged by its oppressive command over the language of sexual tyranny. The sex act has never been more denuded of eroticism. And you applaud the way in which the narrative makes Kalki a force to reckon with, without sentimentalising her plight.

Beyond a point "Matrubhoomi" becomes tortuously redundant in its vision. Watching the woman's relentless rape is tantamount to hammering in a point beyond the desired impact.

Deliberately, Jha desists from softening the blow. There are no 'gentle' men in "Matrubhoomi" except Sushant Singh who plays Kalki's youngest and gentlest spouse. Their moments of shared romantic respite are quickly and cruelly nipped in the bud.

Singh's fratricide - this is the second film in two weeks where a brother slays his own - signals the complete death of compassion in Manish Jha's world of maniacal masculinity. Thereafter Kalki encounters just two affectionate men, both underage and both servants in her high-caste in-laws' home.

What stuns you beyond reason is the director's unblinking barbarism of vision. What makes Jha so passionately cynical about the man-woman axis in rural India? Where does the film's mind-blowing vision of masculine morbidity originate from?

Pictures of a civilisation gone to seed have ranged in cinema from Raj Kapoor's "Jagte Raho" to Steven Spielberg's "War of The Worlds".

It's impossible to categorise Jha's take on sexual terror. Cinema per se entails a sense of liberation, a feeling of lyricism, if you will. Even the raw and real "Bandit Queen" was at the end of the dread a vendetta tale where the casualty of oppression finally got her revenge.

Subhash K. Jha