Trigger Warning: Child Sexual Abuse

Ribbon is a coming of age of sorts for Bollywood, not only in terms of its story, but also the sensitivity with which the characters are handled. Rakhee Sandilya has outdone herself in her debut venture. You see every frame of this movie and you know it’s a woman’s vision, a refreshing and much needed change from the 100 crore clubs of Bollywood masala.

In this fast paced world, where women are joining the workforce in great numbers, Ribbon accurately portrays the concerns of a working woman that we forget to think about. So many women we know struggle to balance their family demands, wellbeing and high pressure at corporate workplaces. While we have been celebrating the rise of women in the workforce, have we taken steps to create workspaces that are sensitive to women’s needs?

Last year, Culture Machine announced a First Day of Period Leave which was met with huge amounts of criticism and contempt. As a cis-het male ex-colleague put it, “Why would companies hire women? There are so many liabilities. They take maternity leave on our money, they always take leave when their children get sick, we have to spend so much time on false allegations of sexual harassment, and now on top of that they get to take a paid leave to enjoy every month? Better not to hire them only.” These responses are typical of the way profit hungry workplaces view women. Ribbon brings out the reality many women face in similar situations where maternity leaves can mean a setback of months or years of work.

Ribbon reminds us that no matter what we say about our progressive societies worldwide, the burden of child rearing ends up on the woman’s shoulders inevitably. In a hilarious testament to irony, the film has a scene where men from Kalki and Sumeet’s family argue the merits of natural childbirth versus C-section. I almost wish Rachel from FRIENDS could have dropped into that scene with a “No uterus, no opinion“.

Sumeet Vyas effortlessly normalises the character of a father as caregiver, making chai and comforting his baby at the same time. In the race for financial security he struggles with being an absentee father trying to do what he deems best for his family. It’s a story we see all too often in real life and it makes us question whether our goals and achievements are more important than time spent with our loved ones. In a poignant moment Kalki asks him, “When will we be a family?

For couples who work full time and do not live with their parents, raising a child is particularly daunting. Ribbon takes us through the trials and errors of finding reliable childcare services and the privilege of being able to afford them. The gut wrenching revelation that their child may have suffered sexual abuse, catapults the movie into uncharted territory. The sensitivity and detail in which the sequence of events is portrayed in the film could be a trigger for some abuse survivors and cathartic for others, making it pertinent to put out a trigger warning.

The movie lays bare the “due process” of our world where the survivor is rarely believed, subjected to traumatic questioning, and of course, no action is taken. Our news channels have debated the sexual harassment cases in various schools across the country, some have been irresponsible enough to interview children who were the victim’s friends, and yet, do we see actual retribution for most perpetrators?

Ribbon takes a long time to build up to its crisis point, and as we go through the journey of a new life from conception to ‘naamkaran’ to first birthday and school, we trace this child’s life behind our eyelids and open our eyes wide when we suspect she has been harmed. That is the beauty of this movie. It makes you think deeply about children in your family, the children you have now or may have some day. How do you trust the world with the tiny life you created? How do you not blame yourself if anything happens to him/her? How do you balance your life with the responsibility of always being on alert to protect your children? The movie leaves you with only this reassurance – you will always come back to the people you love, you will hold them closer, you will be okay, you will survive.

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