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Seeking a voice

Hasina isn't just the tale of a community, but also of womankind



MOVING Her daughter Munni is central to Hasina's life

Hasina, Girish Kasaravalli's film releasing today, comes as a breath of fresh air. If at one end of the spectrum we've had the recent spate of violent films — Mental Manja, Jogi, Deadly Soma celebrating blood and gore — Hasina, in spirit and content, figures at the opposite end of it. The film seeks an answer to every form of violence — physical and emotional — through the Gandhian mode of protest, Satyagraha. In this age of rampant saffronisation with hardheaded bigots building fortresses of prejudices, Hasina also comes as an important cultural intervention, an attempt to break the deep-rooted biases towards a community, a way of life.

The film, based on the story Kari Nagaragalu by Kannada writer Banu Mushtaq, is set in the Muslim community. It takes on a linear narrative, with a telling that is multi-textured, sensitive and nuanced. Each movement in the story is powerfully juxtaposed with the five namaz slots — Fazar, Zohar, Asar, Magrib and Isham.

Hasina breaks away from what usually characterises a typical Kasaravalli film, without seeking comfort in the world of symbols. The film also has quite a bit of conversation, though in his characteristic style, there would be greater emphasis on the absence of it. It is yet another film that has a woman-centric plot, continuing in the tradition of his earlier films like Mooru Daarigalu, Kraurya, Thayi Saheba and Dweepa, but make inroads into an unknown world, the Muslim society, with its strengths and flaws, like any other.

The protagonist Hasina, played superbly by Tara, has three daughters and is pregnant with a fourth child, which her husband Yakoob discovers is also female. His disappointment turns into rage. He assaults and walks out on Hasina. Circumstances force her to take up a maid's job with Julekha, an upper-class, educated woman, who is well versed with the holy text and the Shariat.

Hasina's interaction with Julekha changes her perceptions about a falsely constructed social structure and emboldens her to seek justice. She no longer wants her husband back, but only her meher, to fund the surgery that would restore her daughter Munni's sight. The several pleas she makes for justice are a cry in the wilderness, in a set-up driven by entrenched patriarchy. As a last resort, she sits in a dharna in front of the mosque, refusing to budge till justice is granted to her. Hasina does win, but only after a sacrifice, with which she loses reason for her struggle.

Though it is a seemingly uncomplicated narrative, in the course of his telling, Kasaravalli does raise several issues. He exposes the hypocrisies of the people with power who, in a bid to keep their selfish interests at work, craft religion as the tyrant. But through the well-read Julekha, Kasaravalli argues how religion becomes tyrannical only when institutionalised, even as solutions exist within it.

With all her academic strengths, Julekha, however, becomes a representative of an intellectual dishonesty ailing the society, contrary to Ramanna master who is willing to connect with the real world. Her dissemination of knowledge is therefore, clinical, without any emotional bondage.

And so we have her telling the hassled Hasina: "I can advise, but not walk on the streets with the likes of you. It comes down heavily on my prestige." However, Kasaravalli doesn't fail to tell his audience that Julekha does have her uses. Julekha initiates the process of the mind's decolonisation, triggering an act of defiance.

The beauty of the film lies in the fact that no character is left flat, including minuscule ones like Sheriff saab, Maulvi, Ratnakka or child Tarannum. Each is complete with perspective. The flow, however, gets disrupted in the crucial scene where Munni gets killed. Kasaravalli resorts to surrealism, which appears contrived, unnatural and jerky.

Nevertheless, the disturbing story is handled with great dignity, never slipping into melodrama. In his typical style, he poignantly indicates how within a community, Ameena and Hasina who come from different classes, share a similar fate. He establishes this not just in the narrative, but even cinematically. The film opens with Hasina walking out of her home to obtain justice and closes on Ameena who walks out to liberate herself.

Hasina's struggle is a difficult and long (the light and dark shadows as she walks in the long corridors of the hospital are pointers), but is not a futile one. Her act of rebellion is a small one, but revolutionary considering the small town background that she comes from. In upholding the Gandhian mode of protest, Kasaravalli's film comes as a reassuring anchor in these times of sinking faith in a moral order.

It washes clean the colours painted by fundamentalist forces and exposes us to the shades of black, white and grey that exist in every world. The story of Hasina rises above a particular society, to become the story of any other woman who wants to break from the shackles of silence.

DEEPA GANESH

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