Posted by Raviteja Rambarki
One thing that is quite alarmingly visible when one looks out for the responses for Majili on Twitter, Facebook or any social media platform, are comments such as “Ilanti ammayi bharya ayithe life inka super” (Life will be so happier if one gets wife of this Sravani kind), Pellam ante ila undali (Wife is meant to be/should be like this) and Sravani is modern Seetha. Majili is a recent Telugu release, directed by Shiva Nirvana that stars Samantha Akkineni, Divyansha Kaushik, and Naga Chaitanya.
Majili is a story of failed cricketer named Poorna (Naga Chaitanya) who goes through heartbreak and depression after his first love, Anshu (Divyanka Kaushik) is forced to leave him by her father. Sravani (Samantha), also his neighbour, has been in love with Poorna for quite some years (Poorna doesn’t know about this love). One day, she overhears the conversation between him and his father (Rao Ramesh) where his father pleads him to get married as soon as possible. Sravani then decides to marry him and she tells her father (Posani Krishna Murali) about her love interest towards Poorna. Poorna, who is caught in the first love syndrome, cannot come out of the depression and accept Sravani as his wife even after marriage. Despite his indifference and negligence towards her, she ‘unconditionally’ loves him and takes in all the mental agony caused by her husband ‘without any complaint’. Rest of the story focuses on how Poorna realises his love for Sravani, after he decides to teach cricket to Anshu’s daughter Meera (Ananya Agarwal), though only at the end of the movie.
The Idea Of Love And The Institution Of Marriage
The central paradox of the film is the following: it invokes the principles of modern marriage, that is, “love and choice” in marriage (unfortunately those principles ends there). And yet, the meaning that the movie attaches to the marriage is largely drawn from the traditional understanding of it (that is, complete submissiveness of Sravani, her unquestioning attitude towards her husband and wanting to bear all the mental agony caused by his husband). This paradox is not only problematic but also the representative of our larger societies. That is to say, historically, there are considerable shifts in the institution of marriage: from, broadly, kinship-based arranged marriages to what popularly known as love marriages. And on the other, the meaning of love and the idea of marriage are largely stuck in the traditional idea of it.
Despite her husband’s indifference and negligence towards her, Sravani ‘unconditionally’ loves him and takes in all the mental agony caused by her husband ‘without any complaint’.
In other words, despite the fact that love-based marriages have been steadily increasing, it isn’t yet devoid of the old modalities and expectations of the marriage. This explains firstly, how is patriarchy so pervasive in our societies. And secondly, how ‘being traditional’ and ‘being modern’ are not exclusive categories that demarcate people into two different sets of people – meaning that the notions of traditional and modern may exist in a single person. It is in this context that the job of any creative person should be to challenge and enlarge the cultural base to accommodate different feelings rather than impose the traditional notions of love over and over again. So, a film that talks about equality, dignity, reciprocity, and fluidity of feelings in a relationship is both empowering and a necessity.
Asymmetry Of Power And Representation
The unequal power dynamics between men and women, which is a dominant and problematic feature of our societies, get translated into the cinematic imagination of a filmmaker and the characters that the filmmaker chooses to create. This asymmetrical representation of characters is also a feature that decides the “gaze” of the audience – through whose point of view, a movie must be watched. This exactly mirrors in this movie.
Also read: 15 Feminist Films We Loved In 2018
Though the filmmaker has given enough space to position Poorna’s heartbreak, he doesn’t provide the same to portray Sravani’s mental suffering. Why does Sravani have to go through all the agony? Is it only because she loves Poorna and is married to him? The filmmaker doesn’t provide enough space for the audience to see the rationale for her agonising decision, other than conveying the fact she loves him and she is his wife.
The movie constantly attempts to almost make you empathise with Poorna’s heartbreak by overlooking the suffering that Sravani is put through. This under-characterisation of Sravani’s emotional journey without giving her an equal space – both in terms of representation of her emotions and her point of view – is an act of unjust that is regularly meted to female characters in Telugu films. The point is not to say that Poorna’s heartbreak should not be portrayed, but that Sravani also deserves equal treatment. And, Sravani can love Poorna however much she wants to. But why is she so inherently submissive? Why doesn’t she question him at all? Is this the filmmaker’s idea of wife?
Heartbreak is not simply an emotional state. This fatality of love or lovesick comes from the cultural belief that there is one and only one for each man and woman in the universe.
Now the critical question is this: do we see what the silent normalisation of a suffering wife has to do with our larger society and the dominant ideology? Or are we to just settle for the simple fact that Sravani chooses to be a selfless wife? As one would know, marriage is a relationship. A relationship that is mediated by cultural inequality and unequal power that run in our societies. So the lame excuse that she chooses to be a selfless wife is inadequate to explain/answer that question. Through Sravani’s character, the filmmaker conveys dual imperative: duty and morality. A dutiful and moral wife. The filmmaker puts her through pass the test of love many a time in the movie. ‘Having a lot of patience’ to take the pain, ‘selfless wife’ and ‘ideal woman’ – these are just the labels through which our histories have constructed woman (or, wife) to be submissive and not to question the authority or behaviour of the husband (note, heartbreak is not an excuse).
If one treats or believes her as ‘an ideal wife’, it is nothing more than simply justifying the hundreds of years of asymmetry of cultural power between men and women than questioning it. She, at best, represents women who want to attain the modern self (with the invocation of the principles of love and choice in matters of marriage than simply obeying parent’s orders) and yet not being able to escape from the traditional understanding of the love and marriage.
The love story between Poorna and Anshu is actually more liberating to watch
– their class positions are different, there is honesty, dignity, reciprocity and also consent. The relationship between Poorna and Sravani, on the other hand, is marked by conservativeness, complicated emotional states, and power inequality.
Manifestation Of Heartbreak
Like many movies in Telugu, this film also juxtaposes the essence of love and heartbreak and ‘not being able to move on’ as its narrative style. Heartbreak is not simply an emotional state. This fatality of love or lovesick comes from the cultural belief that there is one and only one for each man and woman in the universe. (Anshu in case of Poorna, Poorna in case of Sravani). The difficulty to ‘move on’ in life comes from this particular cultural trope. And, Telugu movies, at best, overemphasise this idea than question that narrative. One needs to remember the dialogue of the grandmother in Arjun Reddy when she says “suffering is personal/individual”.
Though heartbreak and suffering are intersubjective (changes from person to person) and are individual manifestations, are they not conditioned by social settings and cultural moorings? And, of late, the filmmakers are turning heartbroken male protagonists into hyper-masculine heroes and their tantrums are being shown as an act of heroism (Arjun Reddy and alike). But this kind of writing is neither the matured way of dealing with the heartbreak nor is a matured take on love. At least, the films like C/o Kanchara Palem and Premam (to an extent) straddle between the essence of love, issues of heartbreak, and importance of moving on in life in a matured way.
Note: The author is aware of the problems of invoking the binary between traditional and modern and debates around it.
Raviteja Rambarki is pursuing Ph.D. in Sociology at University of Hyderabad and likes to write about the interface between cinema and society. You can follow him on Twitter.
Featured Image Source: Great Andhra