Another important characteristic of toxic masculinity is the incessant need to ‘protect’ women because they are not capable of doing it themselves. ‘Protection of women is necessary for the overall wellbeing of society, and also to uphold principles of morality’. This only proves the imbalance of power dynamics between both genders. Very often, women were beaten up and assaulted, ‘for their own protection’, and to ensure that they stayed within the limits that society had already prescribed for them. The Mukhi beats up his wife for the same reason. Also, he never supported Sonabai’s decision of standing up for herself, because he felt that it was disturbing the social equilibrium, and wanted Sonabai to remain in her limits. He insisted on ‘settling matters’ and wanted to ignore the injustices that had been done by the Subedar.
To bring out the true meaning of toxic masculinity, the contrasting character of Abu Mian is introduced in the film. He, is in the true sense, a real man. He does not possess any toxic traits which further his masculinity. He believes that true masculinity is doing right by the women in the community, not being complicit in things that are morally wrong, and having the courage to stand for causes that are right, even if one faces opposition. He could have easily let Sonabai go, and could have avoided the commotion that ensued. However, he felt that his religion would not allow him to be complicit in such a heinous crime. He makes the men in the village question their own masculinity, since they were hell bent on ruining a woman’s life for another man’s spite.
The movie also highlights the courage and the tireless spirits of the women in the village and Abu Mian, who relentlessly fought against the Subedar and his men. What was surprising to see, was that even when some of the women were on the verge of giving up, and tried convincing Sonabai to go back to the Subedar, it was Abu Mian who confronted them and convinced them to believe in their cause. The scene of women beating utensils as a sign of protest against the decision of the men to go and get Sonabai, is both iconic and revolutionary. It conveys the idea that the women are no longer puppets in the hands of men who will blindly follow and do what is commanded of them. They are living beings with separate identities who have a voice of their own. Their opinions need to be heard too. The Mukhi’s wife, Saraswati led the protest. This is also iconic, because it symbolises the fact that women are not afraid to speak for themselves anymore. Even though she was beaten up by her husband later, she found peace in the fact that she had been able to express herself after years of holding back.
The idea of women standing for women, has also been beautifully displayed in the film. No one could have achieved anything alone. The only reason they were able to achieve the desired consequence was because they supported each other, both physically and mentally. They had the option of not standing for Sonabai, and not fighting the Subedar and his men when they came to the factory. However, they chose to stand for her and the entire community, because what was being done by the Subedar was morally wrong. They stayed together, till the very end. It is only when people collectively stand against something, does the desired change come about. The unity of the women is truly commendable.
Apart from the aforementioned themes of oppression of women, toxic masculinity, and the strength and unity of women, the film also throws light on structural issues of caste and the problems associated with it. The inability to accept inter caste marriages, and using caste specific slurs and abuses against Sonabai (‘Kaamjaat, Daayan’), points to the fact that caste-based issues have been engrained in our society. The film has also explored the conflict between Gandhian ideologies and the ideologies of the Subedar. The Headmaster is the voice of reason and rationality in the film, which goes against the thinking of the Subedar and many villagers.
The film is relevant, to a certain degree, in today’s times. Many have argued that it is a must watch, especially in the #MeToo era which also talks about oppression, resistance and assault. The patriarchy, along with caste-based issues, is still present in our society, and is particularly seen in rural areas. The film has been inspired by the stories of many such courageous women, and till date, serves as a reminder to collectively rise against what is wrong. The director has successfully been able to blend and synthesize the elements of character, plot, and emotion, and covey the underlying message to the viewers. The film is appreciated till date, and has won many laurels and received a lot of appreciation for the strong message it delivered, and the perfect delivery by the actors. In the course of the film, the Subedar had referred to Sonabai as a ‘Masala’ in Jeevan Seth’s factory which he liked. In the end, we get to see that this very statement has an ironic twist to it, because it was the ‘mirch’ and the ‘masala’ from the factory which blinded him, since it was thrown at him to stop him and teach him a lesson.
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