Examining patriarchy through ‘Notes on Marital Violence’

‘Notes on Marital Violence’ is a plain title for a film of great depth. This is the sort of film young people across India must watch, for there is much in it that is worth pondering about

Examining patriarchy through ‘Notes on Marital Violence’

Rosamma Thomas

Bindu Nair-Shah’s new documentary film Notes on Marital Violence is a deeply moving account of violence in families. The filmmaker features her own mother, husband and children too, and puts her own childhood experiences under the lens. From these deeply personal notes, she pans out to cover the experiences of a childhood friend, a man left unnamed, and several others, including her domestic help.

The ubiquity of violence in marriage is remarkable. Many of those featuring in the film are from Shah-Nair’s own city of Pune. Reena Ginwala, businesswoman and counsellor, talks of the infidelity of her husband, a period of calm and togetherness after that, the birth of another child, and separation. “I told myself I wanted to thrive,” she says, adding that many others do not make that choice. She wears her grey hair stylishly, and it is evident that she has indeed gone on to thrive.

The account by the childhood friend, a man who feels a failure in his profession and personal life, is touchingly told. He mentions several failed relationships with women, and he seems to remember it all like it happened yesterday. One girlfriend remarked that he “looked like shit” – he had put on weight from excessive drinking and had begun to bald, and the sincerity with which she remarked about his appearance struck him like a bolt from the blue. He reacted in anger and abuse, and that was the end of that relationship.

Asked why he was aggressive, he responds with touching candour that his parents were strict and would beat him, and he quietly got beaten up as a child. As an adult, he rationalised that if he kept quiet, he would just get beaten. So he turned aggressive. And his sense of failure too made him react angrily, he said.

It was remarkable how self-aware a man could be, and still see himself as a failure!

The film features a young woman with a small child, who complains about how her college sweetheart was constantly falling for other women and giving her a hard time. She said the man now pleads with her to stay on, but she had come to a point where she could no longer trust him.

She worked as a social worker, educating women about their rights and preaching equality of the genders.

Yet, in her own home, she had no experience of friendship or equality.

One member of the audience stood up later to say the woman in the film was his classmate! “And when the two of them fell in love, they seemed like a couple descended from heaven!”

The film pans out also to an examination of the causes of the violence, with Manisha Gupte of NGO Masum explaining how one woman who approached her for help had been so badly beaten up, it was evident from the scars that she had suffered much.

Asked why she had tolerated it so long, the woman said, “Find me another man I can sleep with openly. Is there anyone? I long for that touch, even if only very rarely.”

Gupte remarks about how violence is so normalised in routine life in India that it is inevitable that it should exist also within the four walls of the home.

Notes on Marital Violence is a plain title for a film of great depth. This is the sort of film young people across India must watch, for there is much in it that is worth pondering about. For older folks, the film is a sorry account of the mess many of us have made of intimate relationships.

Maybe, watching it, however old we are, it will prod us to greater self-actualisation.

Students of St Mira’s Girls’ College in Pune, where the film was screened as part of a seminar on Indian Cinema on January 24 gathered around the filmmaker after watching the film, sharing personal experiences and seeking advice.

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