Despite 'Baabul', widow remarriage still a far cry

Dec 8, 2006 Arpana

New Delhi, Dec 9 (IANS) BR Films, one of the prestigious banners in Bollywood, has spewed several socially relevant films like "Ek Hi Raasta", which was about widow remarriage, and almost after five decades its torch bearer Ravi Chopra once again stresses on the rehabilitation of widows in his just released "Baabul".

The film starring Amitabh Bachchan, Rani Mukerji, Salman Khan, Hema Malini and John Abrham highlights the fact that widow remarriage pattern is still a taboo in the so-called modern Indian society.

The film revolves around Amitabh, who tries to bring joy and colour in his daughter-in-law's (Rani) life after his son's (Salman) death. He convinces Rani's old friend (John) to marry her. However, Amitabh's elder brother opposes it.

"In 'Sholay', there was the effort to rehabilitate the widow. That sentiment continues in 'Baabul'. It was initially tried in Dharamji (Dharmedra) and Meena Kumariji starrer 'Phool Aur Patthar'. Now widow remarriage is the theme in films like 'Water' and 'Baabul'. Good cinema needs to raise the collective conscience level of the audience," said Amitabh.

He is glad that a film stressing Indian values has been made.

"Television is so full of family dramas that this genre is hardly attempted in today's cinema. 'Baabul' is very traditional and close to our hearts. It addresses the sensitive issue of a widow remarriage. Why does a young widow become a victim of ridiculous customs, almost an outcast? Like all the films from B.R. Films, it addresses itself to a burning social issue," added Amitabh

Films were always considered a medium, which possessed great power to mould the perceptions of the society. However, it hasn't achieved much success in changing the attitude of people towards widows.

Old customs and belief are still deeply rooted. According to a survey conducted by India's national census in 2001, there were more than 34 million widows in the country.

The 1856 Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act gave women the legal right to remarry and the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 gave women the same inheritance rights as men. However, those rights are rarely put into practice. Widows are still seen as a curse.

Apart from BR Films, south based AVM Films known for making thought- provoking films with a social message, also touched the issue in their film "Kuladeivam" produced in 1956. In "Subha Ka Tara", V. Shantaram took up the cause of widow remarriage and tried to change the perception of the people.

In the recent times, Canada-based India filmmaker Deepa Mehta's bold film "Water", which is also Canada's official entry for Oscar this year, examines the dilemma of widows living in Varanasi in pre-independence era.

The film, starring Lisa Ray and John Abraham, faced opposition from the Hindu fundamentalists who felt that it is anti-Hindu and destroyed the sets of the film in 2000 and burnt Mehta's effigy. But Mehta was determined to complete the film and finally shot it in Sri Lanka.

Dharan Mandrayar, a California-based Indian director, was deeply affected by the ill-treatment of widows and made a movie "White Rainbow" on the continuing maltreatment of widows in present-day India. Set in the Hindu holy city of Vrindavan, the film focuses on widows.

In Mandrayar's film each character represents a different kind of widow abuse that is still experienced: social ostracism, abandonment by children, rape by in-laws, and financial and sexual exploitation by priests.

"Many Indians shrug off widow abuse. It's been like this for centuries as the accepted way of life. The husband is called a god and the minute a woman loses her god, she becomes a zero," Mohini Giri, a leading Indian activist for widows' rights, was quoted as saying.

Giri, herself a widow, founded the New Delhi-based Guild of Service in 1972, a volunteer organisation that helps widows and organises classes to teach them various skills so that they can support themselves.

Even today widows seek salvation either in Varanasi or Brindaban, which is about 120 km away from Delhi. According to a survey conducted by a social worker, there are more than 9,000 widows in Brindaban and most of them either survive on charity or pension from the government.

Many filmmakers had tried to brig forth the issue like Raj Kapoor did in "Prem Rog", Govind Saraiya in "Saraswatichandra", Rituparno Ghosh in "Chokher Bali" and Ramesh Sippy in "Sholay".

Young filmmaker Kunal Kohli also dealt with the sensitive issue deftly but subtly in his directorial debut "Hum Tum" starring Rani and Saif Ali Khan.

All said and done, widow remarriage still seems a far cry and one hopes Chopra's "Baabul" succeeds in penetrating and changing the orthodox mentality.

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