Monday, April 30, 2007

"Matrubhoomi" -- Brilliant, Flawed

It took us a long time to get around to seeing the film Matrubhoomi -- it didn't screen in many theaters in the U.S. when it first came out in the U.S. in 2005, and it just generally looked a bit depressing. For those who haven't heard of it, Matrubhoomi takes the severe gender imbalance in certain Indian states (including Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, UP, and MP), caused by sex-selective abortions and female infanticide, and takes it to an extreme level. The result is a dystopian future village environment -- where there are no women at all.

Jai has a smart review of the film at Jabberwock, where he admires the brilliant concept and accurately notes the film's flaws. Jai finds that the film's actual plot ends up failing despite a provocative concept, because it's dominated by "cardboard cutout stereotypes" of rapacious men. One woman, played by Tulip Joshi, is "bought" by a wealthy Seth with five unmarried sons. She ends up being handed off from one son to the other each night, with the father sleeping with her on the other two nights of the week.

I did want to register a minor defense of an admittedly flawed film, precisely over the way in which Tulip Joshi's character is treated in the family after her marriage. Instead of treating her as a valued member of the family, the men in the household only intensify her suffering and subjugation, which is consistent with the misogynist logic that has produced the gender imbalance to begin with. The fact that she is purchased by her husbands (bride-price) rather than subsidized by her family (dowry) doesn't improve her status, since the patriarchal structure in which the "traffic in women" is conducted is controlled by men purely out of a twisted concept of self-interest. It isn't important whether a woman in this system is understood as an "asset" (bride price) or "liability" (dowry); as long as they are traded (like farm animals, the film repeatedly suggests), there can be little respite.

In real life, one has to wonder whether the current cultural norms preferring sons to daughters present in states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, and Haryana will start to shift as the gender imbalance becomes an entrenched fact of life -- and the number of men living lives without women continues to grow.

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Qalandar said...

Nice review Amardeep: check mine out at as well.

Re: "...the fact that she is purchased by her husbands (bride-price) rather than subsidized by her family (dowry) doesn't improve her status..."

This statement assumes that "bride price" brides fare worse off than "dowry" wives; I question this assumption; in many parts of India (such as Hyderabad), marriages among Muslims are governed by the "groom's family pays" regime, not the "dowry" regime. The same is true in Sindh too, and of course on the Arabian peninsula. I don't think there is any evidence that the status of women in, for e.g., Hyderabadi/Deccani families is lower than, e.g., in Muslim families from Lucknow, or whatever example one wishes to use.

10:56 AM  
Amardeep said...

Qalandar, thanks for the link to your review -- I'll certainly have a look at it.

I wasn't trying to say that women under "bride price" systems have it worse than women under dowry systems. Rather, my point was that the transition from dowry to bride price ends up *not helping* women, despite what you would expect from crude patriarchal economics (in which "value" is associated with "price").

11:36 AM  

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