Love’s Warmth Tirelessly Dampened in a Polity Turned Cold towards its People
Fahim Irshad’s Aani Maani is a film showing lower middle classes’ struggles, their financial troubles and women’s economic dependence. Everything is amplified and complicated due to their minority status in an increasingly majoritarian country that is steeped in state-sanctioned violence. It explores serious issues like identity, morality and majoritarianism through graspable catalysts, and traces subtle resistance by individuals in their everyday lives.
The film lets the audience taste the banal suffocation felt in traditional regimentations of family and society, and the normalcy of lies to hide the apparently abnormal. Aani Maani’s young couple have a relationship that is sanctioned by religion, family, society and the state. Pre-destination of marriage and sacredness of procreation justifies their relationship, it does not however allow for love. They say they are going to the doctor when they are just going out.
Fahim Irshad’s protagonist, Bhutto, in the context of financial troubles says to his mother that living requires a lot of money these days. His mother, with prayer beads in hand, calmly assuages him, proclaiming that one can survive on less money. Bhutto, wearing the face of a helpless man who has lost hope, asks her to pray for that then, for survival to be possible. This brief exchange brilliantly captures the problems of the unprivileged of any kind- economic, religious, casteist, racial, gender, sexual, and so on. Only survival is allowed, living is not. Every time characters commit the public offence of breathing, they lie. And of course, all this happens unquestioningly because we should be grateful for our allowances.
Aani Maani’s protagonist is a man bearing the financial responsibility of his entire family which includes his parents, wife, divorced sister and her daughter. The source of his puny income is kebab-selling. He has spent the last eight years getting tortured in jail due to a false conviction. After coming out, he has to bribe the same authorities to let him earn a living.
When he dares to share his predicaments due to a beef ban and ask what to do, a routine exchange among equals, he is told to go to Pakistan. Female characters of Aani Maani, especially Naazo, Bhutto’s sister, show in non-declarative terms that marriage is a source of livelihood for women. Naazo sees herself as a financial burden, transferred from parents to husband and then brother upon divorce. No man or woman in the family is the perfect image of toxic masculinity and repressed femininity, but all of them are conditioned by patriarchy.
When Naazo raises alarm on the shameless parading of Tarannum’s (Bhutto’s wife’s) underwear on the clothesline, and hides them under other clothes, Tarannum argues and hides Bhutto’s underwear too. Later, with the innocent incredulity of a man whose body is not a source of honour or shame, Bhutto asks how they will dry. His bathing in the courtyard raises no eyebrows, but when a female guest does not cover her head upon the arrival of men, it perturbs even Tarannum who generally offers challenges to gender roles. Bhutto and Tarannum’s story is a story of love and frequent straying away from the socially acceptable.
Their marriage seems to be between equals until Bhutto slaps her, and Naazo who was earlier complaining about Tarannum’s influence over Bhutto, intervenes and chides him. The scene that follows is camaraderie among women, weak, as they huddle together in the background sound of one of them weeping. Bhutto’s apology is testimony to the normalcy of domestic violence, his anger and helplessness made him lose control. Endless troubles turning life into a pit of restlessness is unimaginable pain, the impulse of violence against a woman, typically wife, should be unimaginable too.
Aani Maani successfully captures the nature of a joint family. Characters go from bickering and back-biting to singing together, caring and saving for each other in a matter of minutes without the glamour of talking about feelings. The modest house in which they live is picturesque. Its blue paint is peeling off under saplings in plastic bottles and flowering climbers. Rooms open their windows and doors into a central courtyard through ageing and darkened wood.
Aani Maani gives a disclaimer in the beginning that it is inspired by true events but is not a documentary. Irshad is aware of the tiny gap between the film and reality. The film doesn’t let you win, if you predict the end, congratulations you are accustomed to the murdering of peace. If you don’t, then as climaxes go, it’s a good climax, an axe to the almost restful air filling the theatre. Throughout the film, characters will hold you with their relatability and their modest bearings, Irshad lets you go on your own in the end. The thread is cut, who cuts the thread? Predictability of lynching mars the climactic element in it. It testifies to the war on humanity that has become the norm of the world’s largest democracy.
Featured Image Source: The Hindu