The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mother of a stomach-turner


Director: Manish Jha
Cast: Tulip Joshi, Sudhir Pandey, Piyush Mishra, Sushant Singh, Sanjay Kumar, Shrivas Nydu, Aditya Shrivastav, Pankaj Jha, Deepak Kumar


Time magazine ranked it one of the 10 best films of 2003, the year Matrubhoomi was made, and it’s since been screened in international film circuits, to applause and awards, but also to disdain and disgust. And in some places, like the Toronto Film Festival, to protest walkouts as well. Abusing debutant director Manish Jha’s futuristic vision as distorted, exaggerated and surreal. And worse, deliberate, to peddle an Indian image that always works with the foreign markets.

Inspired by a newspaper story about a village in Gujarat where there were no women left due to infanticide murders, Matrubhoomi begins with a girl child being killed and ends with another being born. And what happens in between is one of the most sinister and stark stories of sexual and other tyranny since Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen. The story of a village of depraved men who, having killed all their baby girls down the years, now resort to pornography, homosexuality and cross-dressing.

Till a girl Tulip Joshi (as Kalki) is finally found by Sudhir Pandey, the father of five sons. And sold for Rs 5 lakh and 5 cows as the wife of all the five brothers. Five nights for the brothers, two for the father. And thereafter, chained in the cowshed after she tries to run away with the little servant boy’s help, for just about anybody from the village. Doors open and close, pyjama strings tugged loose. Scene after scene. Through the small window in the cowshed we see the moon- and starlit nights, the rains as the seasons change, birds flying and bright sunny skies.

Where Manish Jha and others err is in calling it a ‘futuristic’ vision. It’s the most stomach-turning tale of our Matrubhoomi today, where according to latest Unesco reports, there are 35 million women missing from the Indian population in the last decade.

And the rape of Kalkis, we read daily, perhaps with our morning tea.

Deepali Singh

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