Directed by Ravi Jadhav, the Marathi film Nude: Chitraa has had its share of controversies (including accusations of plagiarism), as a movie with such a sensitive topic is bound to have. It was released this April without cuts. The story traces the life of a woman who escapes an abusive marriage with her young son and ends up becoming a nude model for art students at Sir JJ School of Art in Mumbai.

Yamuna, the protagonist, is strikingly emotive right from the first scene. We get a glimpse of her independent thinking right at the beginning when, from a row of women doing the mundane job of washing clothes by the riverside, she jumps into the water and swims away.

She seems to have made her peace with being abused by her husband on a daily basis. But she will not let anything come in the way of her son’s education. When her husband takes away her gold bangles and her salary, instead of feeling trapped and powerless, she escapes with her son to her aunt’s place in Mumbai. Her son’s education is the biggest motivator of her life.

Yamuna’s aunt, Chandrakka, is a practical woman and doesn’t let her wallow in self-pity. She gives Yamuna some much needed tough love. After many unsuccessful attempts at finding a job, Yamuna sneakily follows her aunt to her workplace and is shocked when she realises her aunt is not just a sweeper, but also a nude model for art students.

It’s fascinating to see how differently every single artist has portrayed her body, each highlighting different aspects of it.

Every judgemental comment that such a profession invokes comes from Yamuna’s own mouth. She asks her aunt if she’s ashamed, if she doesn’t worry someone might come to know. Chandrakka, in turn, tells her that she removes her own clothes, as per her wish.

The students are not lecherous gazers of her nudity. In fact, they have an academic interest in the human form. Yamuna looks convinced, and the handsome payment of Rs. 300 per day attracts her to this profession. She has to take care of her son’s education, after all.

Her initial apprehension and the vulnerable look in her eyes as she poses nude for the first time is beautifully depicted. In a fleeting shot, the camera lets you look upon the work of the art students. It’s fascinating to see how differently every single artist has portrayed her body, each highlighting different aspects of it.

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There are many deep and profound statements made in subtle ways throughout the film. When the art school is attacked by a moralist mob for their ‘filthy depictions’, Yamuna isn’t intimidated by it. Deep down, she knows there is no filth in the art. It’s only the onlooker who has judgement in his eyes.

In a cameo by Naseeruddin Shah as a famous artist (loosely based on MF Hussain), she asks the artist why he paints nude models. He tells her that animals painted nude are not looked down upon, but painting nude humans suddenly becomes ‘vulgar’. One can cloth the body, but not the soul, he tells her.

Yamuna forms a special friendship with one of the art students painting her. In her conversations with him, we realise that she has great respect for an artist’s profession. Merely chasing after money with nothing to feed your soul is not a life that she knows or approves of. The only thing that breaks her heart is when her son accuses her of being a sex worker and goes after a life of material satisfaction.

It’s only the onlooker who has judgement in his eyes.

In a compelling climax, we get to see how differently people view nude art and the models behind them. In this scene, the artist and the model need no justification. The only thing under scrutiny here is the onlooker’s view. It’s the viewer’s choice to see a depiction of the human form, or a sexual object.

When a body is out in the open, vulnerable and stripped of any secrets and pretensions, the interpretation is up to us. It’s our decision whether we see a woman as something made purely to satisfy sexual urges and nothing more. It’s our decision if we instead, choose to see the person inside that body: someone worthy of as much respect and dignity as a fully-clothed person.

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Featured Image Credit: The Quint

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