Sivaranjani And Two Other Women (Sivaranjiniyum Innum Sila Pengalum) is a Tamil anthology comprising of stories of three married women from different class and caste backgrounds, living in three different decades, but fighting the same enemy within the confines of their homes – the patriarchy.
The first short is about the wife of an abusive factory worker. The movie, directed by Vasanth Sai, starts with shots of a haggard women carrying an infant and heavy bags while trying to keep up with her husband who walks empty-handed, steps ahead of her as if he doesn’t even know her. It is clear from the first frame that this is a tale about all the unpaid labour women do. The camera’s focus on the kitchen work and child-care, all undertaken by the wife alone, is discomforting because of it’s realism. So when the emotionally and physically abusive husband vanishes, there is a sense of relief.
A similar theme is tackled in the third story of the anthology, with a similar treatment but different resolution. The wife, Sivaranjani, wins a prestigious sports award as a school girl at the beginning of the short, but is married off to a man of her parents’ choice before she graduates college. Soon after, she get pregnant and has to drop out of her college athletics team altogether.
Again the hyper-realistic focus on the morning rush of sending the husband and daughter off for their days does its job of highlighting the microaggressions in daily home life. Neither her husband or her overbearing mother-in-law go anywhere though. She finds herself, even if for a few moments, when her daughter forgets her tiffin box and Sivaranjani runs after the school bus in full speed, catches up with it, manages to get it to stop, and hands the tiffin box to her daughter, who immediately becomes the girl with the mom who ran faster than a bus.
The camera’s focus on the kitchen work and child-care, all undertaken by the wife alone, is discomforting because of it’s realism.
The second short doesn’t show the woman involved in house life much. She goes to work, drives a scooter that her husband rides pillion and has an affectionate, playful, romantic relationship with him. The lack of independence, financial and intellectual, is what entraps the other two women. But financial independence and education is the bane of all troubles in this case.
It all starts when the woman’s favourite nephew spies on her through her window and tattles to his mother about her writing a secret journal that she keeps locked in the cupboard. Word spreads through the entire joint family. The father-in-law and older brother-in-law confront her husband when she is not around. He meekly protests the decision of reading her diary. And when the woman finds out that it was her nephew who betrayed her trust, their relationship is never the same. In the last frame, the nephew watches her silently drinking chai from a distance as he is sandwiched between his dad and her husband on a scooter.
Apart from the tight stories and the crisp storytelling, one of the most striking features of the movie is the use of silence. All three women lead very lonely lives. Two of them do not have a voice, and the family of the third squashes it the second they get a whiff of her individuality. Silence not only works to highlight the mundane domesticity of the daily routines of these women, but also serves as a powerful symbol of their isolation.
The women aren’t treated as equals by their husbands, or any other men or boys around them. They aren’t even treated right by the women surrounding them, courtesy of internalised misogyny. Leaving each with their own thoughts, that they either don’t know how to have or aren’t allowed to have. The silence works as a double metaphor for the internal emptiness. The lack of background score works as an instrument for forced empathy to this one plight of each woman.
Another imposing cinematic tool is Sai’s use of objects to define, push, and even alleviate, in some cases, the sexist tropes that play out in each household. For the first short, the tiny house of the factory worker has only one dilapidated chair. Unsurprisingly, that chair is reserved for the man to drink his coffee. Even after he leaves for work, his wife cannot find the courage to sit on it. For the wife in the second one, it’s her cupboard where she locks her diary that wreaks havoc around her privacy. And for Sivaranjani, it is the the cup that she had won at the beginning of her story.
The nuances and microaggressions in the cornerstone of home life aren’t lost despite the writers and directors being male.
After the factory-worker husband vanishes, his wife takes charge of her life, and is fittingly seen sipping on coffee seated on the same chair in the last frame. In the case of the secret diary, the woman burns the pages of her diary in front of the entire house, which is basically a symbolic fuck you. She also gets rid of the cupboard entirely. Does the only way of not being intruded upon mean that we don’t have anything private to be investigated and invaded?
Sivaranjani, on the other hand loses her cup. After lying to her family, she takes an overnight bus on a weekday (a major point of contention for her family – who will send her daughter to school?), to visit her old school. She requests to see her cup and is directed to a dusty old storeroom. The staff at the school don’t understand her dejection when she can’t find the one with her name on it. The first woman owned her power when she sat on the forbidden chair, but Sivaranjani lost her past glory and doesn’t know how to find herself in her domesticated life.
In an interview with Bollywood Life, Sai said that the movie is a tribute to women fighting the patriarchy. His use of stifling silence, poignant camera angles, but mostly his focus solely on the journey of the women made it a successful one. The movie’s intersectional nature, and attention to the intricacies of how the lives of women interact with not only men and women but also objects around them makes it worthy of applause.
The nuances and microaggressions in the cornerstone of home life aren’t lost despite the writers and directors being male. And the movie leaves behind a feeling of uncertain hope and unsettling dejection. Will women’s lives at home ever be free of misogyny? If not, is the only way for women to escape the drudgery of daily sexism for them to leave their homes and make new ones on their own terms?
Sivaranjani And Two Other Women 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: Mumbai Film Festival