Musings after watching Pataakha

Genda Kumari is fondly called “Marigold” by her English-speaking boyfriend. In one scene, he also addresses her as “Bloody Mary”.

I happened to chance upon Pataakha (PT) – the movie, which is now available on Amazon Prime.

Vishal Bhardwaj is an immensely talented director, and PT did not disappoint. I gather that it did not perform well at the box-office, primarily due to the release of Sui Dhaaga (SD) during the same time. SD had bigger stars – Varun Dhawan and Anushka Sharma, thereby causing the downward turn for PT. I have not seen SD so I will not be able to comment on the comparison, however, I am surprised that PT did not perform well.

You could think of it as a rural Veere di Wedding. Two sisters Badki or Champa and Chutki or Genda (Radhika Madan and Sanya Malhotra), sibling rivalry on speed, their frustrated father (Vijay Raaz), a crazy village, and the very funny character of Dipper, played by the supremely gifted – Sunil Grover, make a powerful combination of plot and performance.

Grover’s character Dipper, in particular, reveals Bhardwaj’s love for Shakespearean characters, here the mischievous Puck who although likeable causes trouble. Narad muni, too, comes to mind. Bhardwaj uses Dipper to narrate, take the action forward, and provide solace to various characters at different points in time. His advice seems to always unravel situations, but he also offers timely help that resolves affairs. Thus, a large chunk of the movie rests on his shoulders, and Grover delivers his acting with panache.

The sisters continually pound each other throughout the film, both actors do so in a rather convincing manner.

We have in the tightly written script the wishes and aspirations of two women, one who wants to become an English teacher and open her own school, the other who wants to run a dairy cooperative. They scheme and plot with Dipper in order to reach their goals, and in doing so cause friction. The movie manages to highlight how difficult it is for women to find or carve a space of their own. In working towards achieving this, Genda and Champa are fiesty, fearless, and ambitious women, who won’t let any patriarchal institutionalized normative stand in their way.

The script was developed from Charan Singh Pathik’s short story Do Behnein (Two Sisters) published by Sahitya Kala Academy. Bhardwaj bought the rights for it and converted it into a film-length project. His attention to detail is evident from the sisters’ frizzy hair and stained teeth, the accessories (especially the jewelry) the characters’ sport, and the locations captured. It is raw and rooted; making the subject local, however, the themes the film addresses are universal.

The roles women need to perform and their function, across geographies, remains fixed to home and hearth. These two characters (Champa and Genda) are outliers. They smoke, cheat, hit, talk back, and are unabashedly “unladylike” or if I may say – “unheroinelike”. They revel in their imperfections, and are willing to take risks. Perhaps, that’s where the problem lies. Maybe, audiences are not ready to see women in such light. Or, I could be wrong, and the root cause of the film’s box office performance could lie elsewhere.

The men in the movie, apart from Dipper, seem to be either woe-begone and harassed, or lecherous. The brothers who marry the sisters are easily manipulated, and rather flimsy characters. I wish they had been better etched, more than mere foils for their spirited wives.

In the end, I can’t wait for Bhardwaj’s next venture – Sonchiriya. I hope he continues to bring such offbeat stories to life.

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