Movie conversations – Provoked (2006)
What would you do if you were her? – by Christina
In the year 1979 at the age of 23, Kiranjit Ahluwalia leaves Chakkalal, a place in Punjab, to start her new life in the United Kingdom. Her new life with her British-indian husband Deepak! Ten years later she kills him. She drapes a blanket soaked with gasoline around her sleeping husband’s feet, ignites it with a candle, and runs into the garden with her three-year-old son. Trial and life imprisonment follow. But about three years later, she becomes free, totally and truly free!
The movie ‘provoked’ that fictionalized this episode in Ahluwalia’s life was first screened in April 2006 at the Cannes film festival. It was directed by Jagmohan Mundhra and starred Aishwarya Rai as Ahluwahlia.
I wonder how people responded when they saw this movie. I wonder if it hit home for some. The opening scene is almost mysterious. You just see a ‘murder’ happen and a little while later, a woman, with a glazed look in her eyes. No amount of questioning gets anything out of her. But doesn’t one always know? Doesn’t one always know how to sense victimisation? Ahluwahlia after having been a victim of intense domestic violence for 10 long painful years finally puts a stop to it. But nonetheless she is charged with murder by the court and sentenced to life imprisonment. She abides and begins her life in the prison. And surprisingly, she starts to like it there. She befriends her cell mate Veronica Scott (Miranda Richardson) who in turn introduces her to her other friends in the prison and starts to teach her English. Finally, her free life as Kiran begins.Whoever thought that freedom happens to some in the weirdest of places
The incidents of the domestic violence slowly unravel and we get to realize why the prison was a place that proved to be the first step in Kiran’s liberation. “I feel free”, She says, when asked how she feels to be in prison. And it is not hard to understand why.
Tears well in my eyes even as I see the fear in Kiran’s. Naveen Andrews (the character Deepak) brings alive the anger and hatred. The violence include regular physical and mental abuse (of ‘profound severity’), and even rape! The real life of Ahluwahlia recollects the last abusive episode, when her husband had threatened to break her ankles and burn her face with a hot iron. The night that followed fated his death.
Her life in the prison stretches and by the end of three years, Southall Black Sisters, known for their work on black and asian women, take notice of her case. Nandita Das (who plays the part of Pragna Patel and Rahila Gupta) takes the intiative of meeting Ahluwahlia and restarting the trial. The fight for Ahluwahlia’s freedom takes them on a road where they discover how even in a system that is apparently patrichial, truth can win. A retrial for her case is won on the grounds on diminished responsibility.
And within me, an optimism surges. A realisation, however weak and frail, dawns.
I start to realise how real and stark is this issue of domestic violence. Not long back I heard one my guy friends tell me that his mother was beaten up by his father quite regularly. And despite that she did not choose to defend herself, let alone retaliate. And I wished (in vain of course!) he wouldn’t tell me that it was Christian of her to have done that! I left fuming, maybe even crying!
The statistics are more than just alarming. Almost 70% of married women in India, between the age of 15 to 49 are victims of domestic violence. But worse than the numbers is the attitude, ‘No matter what, the woman keeps quiet’. It appalls me to realise that almost all of the media elements that I have been exposed to, from my childhood, had been supportive of domestic violence. A tight slap, just like that! The parhead shoves the woman aside…the brother-in-law can beat his brother’s wife…the son-in-law has all the right in the world to slap in mother-in-law.
Do we once stop and see what’s going on? How would it feel for a person to anticipate actual abuse every/any day/night? What does it mean to be in fear all your life? How does it feel when one’s stomach is constantly churning out of fright? What does one do when even the most private spaces of her life is being barged in by force? What does love, marriage and companionship mean to her? What is there to live for, when one realises that her very children can turn to be violent towards her? And what would such victimised women do when they realise that they can be inspired from Kiranjit Ahluwahlia?
The movie raises many questions for Christian men:
- What does God say about this? Doesn’t marriage make the man and woman one flesh? Can a man afford to abuse his own flesh?
- Is a Christian (man) allowed to lose his temper and thereby justify domestic violence?
- Is he still Christian after that? Is he still human after that?
- Does ‘subservience’ and ‘silence’ mean passive acceptance of domestic violence?
- Would God be judgmental about such women who are forced to go to extreme measures?
Finally, the question that stares us in the eye is: What would you do if you were her? or may be What would you tell her if she was your sister?
The movie ends with Ahluwahlia’s words,
“In life, there is no honor in silent suffering. There is no affection, no comfort to be found in love that is abused. It is our responsibility as mothers to raise our sons to treat women with love and respect, not violence and anger. Only then will this suffering end. My story is just part of the picture. I am not important but the issue is. Please don’t forget that there are many women who need help from you. Please…”
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