While Phoolan Devi failed as a biographical drama to represent the real accounts of Devi’s journey as a dacoit, what it offers is a victimised Phoolan Devi who takes up arms as a result of repeated sexual assaults and abuse. Phoolan’s struggle is not just against her rapists but also against the upper caste men and local authorities who strip her off any dignity she had gained with the title of ‘Devi’. But one also questions why ‘Devi’ was a necessary suffix for the upliftment of her status. The film offers an easy conclusion to why Phoolan Devi becomes a dacoit, i.e., due to constant sexual abuse and her vulnerable position as a woman from a non-dominant caste, who separated from her husband.
(Source: Google Images)
The film portrays local authorities who only answer to upper caste men, as is most often the case, and who do not much care about a non-Savarna female. They rather see her as a sexualised body for their access. The Thakurs (upper caste men) are the archetypal villains and Phoolan is our hero who fights for justice. We are swayed by her intense suffering and end up celebrating the public humiliation of Phoolan’s husband and abuser. We are also reminded of the fact that ours is a country where marital rape is still not recognised.
The personal becomes the political as Devi’s next target are the Thakurs whom she is not able to catch. Therefore, as villains run loose, innocents are killed while the viewers are compensated with the joy of seeing Phoolan entering into politics. However, there are no answers offered by the film towards the overall safety and protection of women neither is there a debate on our social justice system. While Phoolan may be reckoned as a symbol of female strength in Indian films, hers is a personal battle as she does not offer any solutions to overall problems of women being treated as sex objects. But yet the significance of this film is humongous in the history of Indian cinema. This was one of the earliest films which contained nudity and had a cast full of actors (and not stars) led by a glorious woman.
(Source: Soham Sen)
Dibyaudh Das for TheNewsMakers