Nathicharami is a convoluted journey of a widow who is rediscovering her sexuality and learning to get over her husband’s death. We are introduced to her loneliness right off the bat, in not so subtle scenes of her craving touch.
Sexual deprivation as the driving force of the movie propels the protagonist Gowri to try various things like sex toys, online dating, among others. She’s very clear that she’s only looking for a physical relationship and not an emotional connect. There’s an unintentionally hilarious sequence where a man she brings home thanks to online dating, recites mediocre and meaningless Hindi poetry (in a Kannada film) and refuses to sleep with her, as she seems too in love with her dead husband. He says, “I can’t sleep with another man’s wife.” I almost burst out laughing at the loyalty of bros to even dead bros. Also male poets, take note, your mediocre poetry is not doing any favours to anyone’s libido.
It is telling that this moralistic posturing comes from a man to show men are incapable of separating their feelings from sex (wonder if they know about fuckbois?). With this exercise the film tries too hard to break stereotypes and ends up looking like an apologist agenda.
There’s yet another male ‘guide’ character borrowed from Dear Zindagi as an unconventional psychologist who helps Gowri see that sex is a basic biological need which she can fulfil. The scenes are uncomfortable as Gowri’s loneliness, insomnia, and survivor’s guilt are condensed to her sexual deprivation alone.
are we moving towards a world where in the name of equality, women become as insensitive as men?
Enter the third male character – a boss/senior colleague who makes sexual overtures at Gowri. She creates a scene in her workplace idealising how a woman should react in such situations. Great tip, but not sure if all women are in a position of power at work to shout publicly and not get fired.
The film tries so hard to portray Gowri as the quintessential independent, morally correct, modern woman, and then leaves the viewer confused when she makes a move on a married man without one thought about his very much alive wife. One argument is that her morality cannot be questioned as it is the prerogative of that married man as an adult to make the decision of infidelity. Why blame the ‘other woman’?
This causes the biggest rift in the script. The entire film spoon-feeds you Gowri as a woman to be empathised with and then tries to rattle you by letting her be flawed and selfish. This is both a merit and demerit. The overall tone of the movie seems to target audiences who are not evolved enough and need to be preached to, and then suddenly expects the audience to be non-judgemental, woke, and capable enough to peel the layers of their own conscience to empathise with a character that is actively ignoring the impact of her actions on another woman.
And finally we come to the married man she’s interested in, Suresh. The way she propositions him is completely inappropriate and if the genders were reversed – for example if a male friend had propositioned me for sex, unsolicited, the way she does, I would be furious. But then are women not allowed to be as inappropriate as men frequently are? If so, are we moving towards a world where in the name of equality, women become as insensitive as men? This film left me baffled and frustrated as a woman. I had to keep reminding myself to be non-judgemental every 10 seconds.
He gaslights her, calls her stupid, treats her like a cook/ cleaner/ sex-slave, and finally only repents because of an attack on his own conscience.
The real truth depicted in the film was the way the said married man treats his wife. He gaslights her, calls her stupid, treats her like a cook/ cleaner/ sex-slave, and finally only repents because of an attack on his own conscience, in order to reassure himself that he’s a good person rather than out of respect for her. I wrote “such an asshole” in my diary every time this man appeared on screen. The way he could be a monster to his own wife and be a nice good guy for Gowri, made me want to pull him out of the screen and give him a week long lecture. Clearly, this was the most convincing character in the film.
In the end, the film left me angry, extremely angry, with both the protagonists. Rather than make me think about the sexual awakening of a widow, I was left seething with indecision about the characters. On one hand, it is good that Gowri, and Suresh’s wife, both find the voice to express their sexual needs – in an amazing scene, Suresh’s wife tells him she’s not a TV he can turn on and off – but on the other hand, the film fails to bring out this message because of all the clutter of male presence and their moral posturing. Either you will love the film, or you will hate it, or, like me, you will be left with an indescribable feeling of dissatisfaction.
Nathicharami left me feeling uneasy and undecided. The film tries to make all the right moves, give all the right messages, and yet the whole film as a package rankles as something that is clearly a man’s vision.
Though the director claims the movie was written by Sandhya Rani (script and female dialogue) and had creative input from female crew and cast, it just doesn’t sit right. Somehow, as a woman, you know appropriation when you see it even if you can’t put a finger on it.
Verdict: Watch the film in a group and inevitably a debate will unfurl. Maybe the debates can do what the film intended but failed to do or maybe causing debates is what the film was going for, in which case – kudos, mission accomplished!
Featured Image Source: Cinestaan