In Dasvi, Maharani, Panchayat, the substitute politician tastes power and counterattacks
In all three – Dasvi, Maharani and Panchayat – the real pleasure lies in the discomfort on the men’s faces when – to their surprise – the wives refuse to give up the seat and claim their participation instead.
In the Let’s Talk About Women column, Sneha Bengani examines movies, entertainment and popular media through a feminist lens. Because it matters. Because it is necessary. And because we don’t do it enough.
When Nimrat Kaur’s Bimla Devi takes her ministerial oath after her husband’s incarceration in the recent Netflix India release Dasvi, it reminded me very strongly of another scene from a web show about politics that started airing on Sony LIV last year.
In Maharani, Huma Qureshi’s Rani Bharti becomes Bihar’s surrogate chief minister in situations not too dissimilar to those that led to Bimla’s rise to power in Dasvi. Rani’s chief minister’s husband, Bheema Bharti – played by Sohum Shah with great smug innocence – is incapacitated after being shot during the Chhath Puja, a major festival in Bihar. He announces his wife as his successor to ensure the maintenance of power and position within the house.
But Rani couldn’t be less qualified or less prepared for this new role forcefully thrust upon her. If Bimla couldn’t read her oath properly, her increased inability to laugh, Rani couldn’t read it at all. Because she is illiterate. She attended school until grade 4 and can’t even write her own name. She uses her thumbprint on every document that requires her signature.
Neena Gupta’s Manju Devi in Amazon Prime Video India Show 2020 Panchayat isn’t too different either. The one remarkable irony that distinguishes her situation from Bimla and Rani is that she is not a surrogate policy replacing her unavailable husband. Manju Devi, in fact, is the Pradhan, the elected leader of Phulera village in Uttar Pradesh. But it’s all just in the name. For all intents and purposes, her husband is acting Pradhan as Manju Devi continues to take care of the household.
These stories – of the rise of surrogate women leaders – can take place in different settings and at different times. However, the way their leading women are treated and portrayed is stifling. They are all pawns called into action as their scheming husbands’ last resort to ensure they continue to wield power, even if not directly. Whether they like it or not, whether they are made for it or not, they are forced to assume and realize an ambition that is not theirs, for which they have received no training.
If you stop to think for even a second, you will realize that this is a careful construct to ensure that the patriarchy continues to operate in its own best interests. It’s just another form of care and healing. But here, instead of making sure they have a hot meal to eat, a clean bed to sleep in, and well-behaved children to play with when they get home after a long day, women protect the beloved of their husband. gadi so it’s always there when they’re back, just as soft and cozy, for them to warm up their asses.
In all three — Dasvi, Maharani, and Panchayat – the real fun, if you ask me, is the discomfort on the men’s faces when – to their surprise – the wives refuse to give up the seat and claim their participation instead. Why the disbelief though?
What were these men thinking? That their wives, after realizing what they can do, would go back to raising cattle and children? You wish.
Men know. They always knew. That once outside, women would see everything they’ve been deprived of, discover their true worth, realize their abilities, and never come back. As Rani begins to find her voice as the new CM at Maharani, the Governor says: “Jinn botal se bahar nikal gaya hai. Ab wapas andar nahi jayega” (You can’t put the genie back in the bottle now). This is what men have always feared and tried with all their might to prevent. the jinn must remain in the bottle and serve conscientiously always.
It’s a shame that Dasvi uses Bimla extensively for comic relief and doesn’t give it enough space or thought to flourish. But maharani make no such mistake. It carefully constructs Rani’s evolution from an illiterate village housewife whose life revolved around cattle and children to an independent woman in power with enough courage to send her husband to prison for corruption.
In the climactic sequence of maharaniwhen Rani visits her husband in prison, he, who feels betrayed, discreetly threatens her, “Bohot jaldi bahar aayenge hum. Tongue Bihar ko apne saheb aur rani me se kisi ek ko chunna hoga.” (I will be out very soon. Bihar will then have to choose between King and Queen).
Ouch. That’s how the moan of a spoiled brat sounds when asked to share his candy for the first time. But women, we specialize in treating children, don’t we? Rani looks at Bhima impassively and replies, “Chunna toh aapko hai saheb. Bahar aa ke patni khojenge, toh hum milenge. Aur mukhya mantri khojenge, toh Rani Bharti ko payenge” (The choice is yours. If you are looking for a wife, you will find me. If you are looking for power, you will find Rani Bharti).
Dasvi is streaming on Netflix India and Jio Cinema.
When she’s not reading books or watching movies, Sneha Bengani writes about them. She tweets at @benganiwrites.
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