Let’s face it: the world that we live in does not shy away from the glorification of motherhood. I mean, recently someone even managed to circulate a photo of a woman on the support of oxygen cylinder cooking in the kitchen, with the caption “Unconditional Love = Mother”. The people, and by extension mainstream cinema, believe that motherhood is a magical purpose bestowed upon women. The newly-released Malayalam film Sara’s (available on Amazon Prime) takes up the challenging task of shaking this perception from its very core. With a strong protagonist, unconventional narrative and a sense of humour, thus making it a delight to watch.
The protagonist, Sara (Anna Ben), a 25-year-old assistant director who dreams of making a film of her own. She’s been working as an assistant director on few movies and while writing the script for her dream project, she meets and falls in love with Jeevan (Sunny Wayne). What draws them together is their shared belief on not wanting to have a child. But soon societal pressure catches up to them, leading to complications.
The movie starts with Sara in school, and within a few minutes into the movie, we see the Biology teacher skipping the chapter on sex education, a commentary (with a dash of comedy) on how neglected this facet continues to be, in the Indian educational system. It is ironic how the Indian society likes to glorify motherhood, but at the same time doesn’t like to educate about sex at all.
As the story moves forward, we see Sara working as an assistant film director, and just as firm in her decision of not wanting to have kids as she was in school. Jeevan and Sara get married, resolute that they do not want children. Theirs is projected to be a marriage based on equal partnership and equal sharing of responsibilities. One quite refreshing take in Sara’s was how the parents, although fervently hoping that Sara and Jeevan would reconsider their decision about parenting, are not typecast as stereotypically conservative. Even as the ‘nagging aunt’ taunts Sara’s decision saying, “Idu matteda, feminism!” (This is that other thing, feminism!) the gaze on Sara’s choice of clothes is completely normalised. This, when we see women and even young girls in our homes asked to cover their legs or wear bras because there are men in the household.
However, once Sara and Jeevan get accidentally pregnant, things start to change. Seeing Sara stand up for what she believes in no matter who opposes her is truly liberating. The movie very realistically portrays how Indian families pressurise women to have kids. The question of why parenthood, specifically motherhood, is deified so much, is one question that no one generally asks. The normativity of assigning reproduction as the primary goal of a woman is deeply problematic.
Even Jeevan, who was on board with Sara with not having kids, eventually gives into it after their accidental pregnancy. However, Sara stands her ground. The simple portrayal of Sara not feeling any guilt while choosing her own happiness and her dreams feels so fresh. After all, contrary to what mainstream cinema and society in general tell us, women’s existence is more than just their families, their happiness has got to do with so much more than bearing children.
While Bollywood films like Sultan glorify the act of a sportswoman abandoning her career because she is pregnant, in contrast, a film like Sara’s brings about the much-needed alternative perspective on the issue.
It was also refreshing to see a gynaecologist who did not try to force the age-old notion of abortion being something against nature. He educates Jeevan and Sara on abortion being the legal right of the woman, who could, in fact by law, go ahead with it without her husband’s consent. He gives Jeevan the perspective to look at parenthood as a responsibility. Like he said, it is indeed better not to be parents, than being bad parents.
The film treats the subject with tender care yet lightness. The result is that the movie does not feel preachy or too overwhelming, but at the same time, one might feel a lacuna in the development of plot at times. Other than Sara, it feels like other characters lack depth.
Transformations in some characters appears too quick without explaining the arc to the audience, especially as we near the climax, which seems a bit rushed. The result is that you don’t get to relish the relief of Sara and Jeevan‘s resolution as much as you would have. The resolution felt too simple, a little far away from the real world. Yet the movie always keeps Sara’s character well-defined, keeping her intense wish to be a filmmaker at the forefront.
At the end the movie is a brave step in breaking the narratives of deification of motherhood in the mainstream cinema. It never diverts from what it sets out to do. It is Sara’s choice at the end that’s the deciding factor. Despite a few glitches, and the points where there are not enough character development, the movie does a commendable job. Anna Ben’s portrayal of Sara is top-notch performance. The movie does a good job at trying to break unfair societal norms and giving us a protagonist who does not give up on her dreams.
Image source: Stills from the film