Imago, directed by Karan Chavan and Vikram Patil, is centred around the life and experiences of the protagonist Namrata Deshpande, a teenager who has vitiligo – a skin condition where patches of one’s skin lose pigment permanently – and how feeling like a sore thumb among her fellow classmates has pushed her to live a life of solitude.
The story begins with Namrata going about her day before heading to school. She wakes up, bathes, gives breakfast and medicines to her grandfather, and heads to school. Her only salvation is her friendship with her neighbour, Salim, a child she walks to and from school with. Namrata is in her last year of grade school; close to starting college in the city. She is shy and socially awkward owing to how different she looks from the others. The negative image she has of herself runs deep – walking with her head hung low on the streets, never participating in class, refusing to go to a coaching class filled exclusively with boys, and running on the sight of boys on the street who tease her. Namrata’s condition plays a mammoth role in how she sees herself and how people see her.
She is shy and socially awkward owing to how different she looks from the others. The negative image she has of herself runs deep.
The film not only captures the naivete of being a teenager but also shows the struggles of being a youngster who doesn’t fit the norms of beauty, which is something not depicted often on screen. She steals magazines from her mother’s shop to later gaze at the women confidently wearing short-sleeved clothes – something she thinks of doing only in her dreams. She stares at girls in school beautifying themselves with kajal, lip balm and rolled up sleeves and harbours a general sense of envy against the one girl in class who has a boyfriend.
Her already complicated relationship with her body changes further when she starts developing feelings for her school teacher, Mr. Anand. His interesting ways of teaching make him a favourite among all the students. However, his benign intentions of making sure that a shy Namrata builds confidence by commenting on her intelligence take a different turn when she starts falling for him. Her life changes in an instant – she spends longer in front of the mirror, tries to find the courage to wear short-sleeved kurtis, smiles more around him, and seriously contemplates spending the rest of her life with him.
In her fantasies, she imagines herself to be the open-haired, short-sleeve outfit wearing girl walking towards the man who considers her beautiful just the way she is. Her infatuation with him also makes her more in touch with her restrained self – her anger and jealousy become more visible through the course of the film. Being a teenager is difficult; the film depicts it perfectly.
Her already complicated relationship with her body changes further when she starts developing feelings for her school teacher, Mr. Anand.
The concept of beauty standards is also treated with a nuance, as is evident in several places in the film. For example, Namrata’s relationship with her mother is that of cordial silences – her mother is aware of her condition and the way it affects her, but she continues to perpetuate shame around it by making clothes for Namrata that cover her body. What makes the film interesting, though, is its treatment of characters. Namrata’s character, though defined by her condition, is not limited to it – which comes through especially when her anger and jealousy are explored. The film talks about the problem with beauty norms, but Namrata does not come across as a ‘victim’. The agency given to her character is what makes one empathise with her, not pity her. The subtle twist at the end is proof of the strength of the character and the storytelling.
Another notable thing about the film is her relationship with other men in her life. She was comforted and enabled by her grandfather, which made their relationship more dear to her than with her mother. Apart from Salim, another boy who was often around them when they hung out (who clearly harboured feelings for Namrata) was in the picture but Namrata was comfortable around his presence. This may have something to do with the fact that he belonged to a lower social stratum, similar to Salim – he fixed bikes and de-feathered meat. The subtlety around class is present.
Imago, a term used in the process of metamorphosis in caterpillars that turn into butterflies, is an apt title for the film because it not only follows Namrata’s journey through her time as a teenager but also because the process of metamorphosis is not simple. At the start of the film, the definition of metamorphosis is displayed, “The process of transformation of a thing or person from an immature form to an adult form in mainly three distinct stages.”
The transformation from immature to mature often involves pressure, even biologically speaking, and the metaphor fits perfectly because the pressures Namrata knowingly and unknowingly puts on herself help transform her. The film puts forward a layered and complex topic in a seemingly simple way, and that is remarkable.
Imago is one of the nine films shortlisted for the Oxfam Best Film on Gender Equality Award 2018 at the MAMI Film Festival.
Featured Image Source: Film Freeway