Natkhat movie review
Cast: Vidya Balan, Sanika Patel
Director: Shaan Vyas
‘Boys will be boys’.
Few phrases could perhaps have the corrosive power of these four words. Rephrased, recalibrated and retreaded, the phrase has explained away aggression of men throughout history. In Natkhat, it is brought out for airing early on by the family patriarch, as he blames testosterone for his 7-year-old grandson abducting his female classmate. He can barely keep his pride under control; the boy is alright, his demeanour seems to say.
For a country that has spent a large part of the last decade debating if capital punishment for rapists will deter sexual crimes, we always seem to forget how we spoon-feed toxic masculinity to young, impressionable children. We wrap it up in ‘boys don’t cry’, we serve it with chapatis on dining tables, where women wait on men.
Shaan Vyas captures this brilliantly in Natkhat, where women are shorn of agency and men get their power from displaying naked machismo. Perhaps understanding the significance of the dining table in the male-female power dynamic, the film’s most impressive scene is set on one.
Vidya Balan doesn’t even get a name in the film, she is simply defined by her roles as ‘maa’ and ‘bahu’. Covered in a ghoonghat every time a male member of the family is around; she is aware that her 7-year-old Sonu is being sucked into a world where gender roles are set in stone.
In a delicious twist, Natkhat casts a female child actor, Sanika Patel, in the role of Sonu. Bright-eyed and feisty, Sonu aims to be like the male role models he sees around him. In a grotesque replay of local teenagers planning rape, he abducts a female classmate but is nonplussed about what to do after pinning the child down. This does not stop him from casually bragging to his father and grandfather about ‘teaching the girl a lesson’. He tells the male members of his family about how to solve the problem of an abrasive woman: ‘Toh usse utha lo na!’ In one horrifying moment, we see the man this boy will become.
As the excuse of ‘boys will be boys’ is brought out again, his grandpa believes it is the influence of TV – isn’t it always? His mother, however, turns her gaze inwards. As a victim of abuse herself, she explains what could be to Sonu through a fable. Through kings and princesses, she talks of a world without women, of a world rotting and dying due to its own insanity.
Vidya, who has also co-produced the short film with Ronnie Screwvala, brings simplicity and nuance to the role. Dressed in nylon saris with a mangalsutra in place, her character’s arc runs parallel to her son’s story. With bruises that are harder to explain with each passing day, she is both the victim and harbinger of change in this story. Her vulnerability is matched by young Sanika, who goes from entitled to empowered in the space of half an hour. The moment it dawns on the child that his mother is the victim of the same patriarchy that he is so actively espousing is particularly evocative.
Natkhat, the title, is a direct reference to Krishna, a god who steals butter and clothes of gopis. Sonu’s grandfather also mentions how he should be allowed to watch only Ramayan and Mahabharat after his transgression with his classmate. However, the only fable that sits right in this short is the one told by his mother. Maybe women should be writing the new stories of a new world.
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