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A world without women?

"Matrubhoomi — A Nation Without Women" is a disturbing portrayal of the fallout of female infanticide



FILM FOR A CAUSE A scene from "Matrubhoomi — A Nation Without Women."

"We are all aware today, that tigers are getting extinct. I don't think we are aware that the same thing is happening to our women."

In any other context, producer Punkej Kharbanda's statement would have been startling. At the Tamil premier of "Matrubhoomi — A Nation Without Women," it fitted in with the general mood, post-screening, once people put away their tissues and began to breathe normally again.

Because Matrubhoomi isn't just disturbing. It's the kind of gut-wrenching and soul-stirring movie you watch with your hands over your eyes — if you're faint at heart. But, the film, which has been declared "One of the top ten films of the world" by Time magazine, has won itself a loud round of International applause, (including awards at festivals in Venice, Poland and Florence) and is now being released in six Indian languages in an attempt to reach out to the masses.

The story inspired by a magazine report about a village in Gujarat, which had no women, deals with the fallout of female infanticide. Boney Kapoor, who along with actress-wife Sridevi, is presenting the film, says they got involved "because of an emotional agreement with the subject. Not commercial gain." The team's passion for the subject is understandable, once they reveal the statistics. "According to a recent report by the Ministry of Health and UNFPA, there are around 35 million girls missing from the population of India due to gender discrimination," says Boney Kapoor, adding, "That's as much as the population of the Australian continent."

The movie's set in rural India, in a village that has no women. So, when a family finally procures a bride, for five lakh rupees from her money-blinded father, she is married to all five sons. Then, all the sons and her father-in-law draw up a timetable to exercise their conjugal rights, "to get their money's worth." And that's just the beginning.

"I can't say it's a very enjoyable experience watching the film," admits Kharbanda. But they all feel that this is a story that needed to be told. "And even if this was shot in rural India, this is as much an urban phenomenon," adds Manish Jha, the film's director, stating that women "are treated the worst in the most affluent areas of India: Delhi, and Haryana for example."

But he and actor Sushant Singh, who plays the youngest brother in the movie, do agree it's a rather over-dramatic depiction of what could happen to this country, if female infanticide isn't curbed. "It's definitely over the top," says Sushant, "It's surreal. It's supposed to shock you." "What is the definition of entertainment anyway," says Jha, "Some people are entertained by drinking plain water. Some need whisky."

The team's hoping Matrubhoomi will reach out to an audience beyond the film festival circuit, which is why the dubbing has been done. So the movie's now out in 150 prints, as opposed to the 20 prints that most `serious' films require and been dubbed in seven languages, including French, for a budget of Rs. 3 crore.

"It ran for eight weeks in Paris," says Jha with quiet satisfaction. "And when the first show concluded, a woman came to us sobbing, saying `Just tell me it's not true'. We spent the next 20 minutes trying to calm her down."

He concludes, thoughtfully, "This is like a wake up call. And wake up calls are supposed to be loud, or nobody will hear them."

SHONALI MUTHALALY

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