By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
Somewhere in the future when famale foeticide has felled the female population a group of barbaric sex-starved men in Bihar marry one woman and rape her night after night in turns in Manish Jha's film… that's when they are not busy making out with boys and cows or whatever outlet is obtainable or available.
Manish Jha's sinister sordid and ceaselessly appalling view of patriarchal perversity is at once shocking and intolerable. As in Shekhar Kapur's BANDIT QUEEN the immediate impulse while watching this film about male-maid madness is to turn away and walk out…. Jha turns the gender corkscrew so hard that you, the audience, go beyond squirming to a region of response to the visual stimuli that borders on the repugnant.
As you watch the film's only female character Kalki (much in demand, though for only sexual gratification) being ravaged in every conceivable corner of the astutely created rustic home, you wonder where the line between social criticism and artistic licentiousness blurs, and how far a filmmaker can transgress the dividing line between aesthetics and realism without seeming to violate the basic codes of filmmaking. Not that the rape of Kalki is ever titillating… God forbid! If anything, Jha's perception on sexual aggression is so blunt and violent it could put the audience off sex forever.
In sequence after sequence a cloistered and crude family of 5 men and their father march into poor Kalki's bedroom to get their pound of flesh. In a grotesque parody of Draupadi and her five Pandava husbands in the Mahabharat Kalki is posturized as a playpen of masculine perversity. Watching Kalki's brutal sexual exploitation by bestial specimen of the male gender is certainly not "entertaining". One isn't very sure how far Jha's tormenting and nightmarish treatise on sexual subjugation and domination could qualify as cinema, let alone pure cinema.
The purity-if one may call it that-of Jha's vision originates largely from his ability to stare unflinchingly at socio-cultural discrimination and barbarism. Scenes of gender and caste carnage are so strongly violent; they make similar moments in Prakash Jha's DAMUL and MRITYUDAND look like teaser trailers.
Indeed the director's perceptions on mob violence are stunningly upfront. Manish Jha goes into the lives in rural Bihar and its accompanying anarchy with a frightening detachment. He's neither shocked nor appalled by how cruel humankind can be to their own kind. Jha simply gives the picture, unexpunged and unalloyed. A sequence such as the one where the 'bride' is exposed in full view to be a boy is too cruel to be comic. Jha never allows us the luxury of a smile. He's dead serious about his grim intentions. The impact is lethally lacerating. We come out of MATRUBHOOMI battered and ravaged by its oppressive command over the language of sexual tyranny. The sex act has never been more denuded of eroticism. And you applaud the way in which the narrative makes Kalki a force to wreck-on with, without sentimentalizing her plight. Beyond a point MATRUBHOOMI becomes tortuously redundant in its vision. Watching the woman's relentless rape is tantamount hammering in a point beyond the desired impact. Deliberately Jha desists from softening the blow. There are no 'gentle' men in MATRUBHOOMI except Sushant Singh who plays Kalki's youngest and gentlest spouse. Their moments of shared romantic respite are quickly and cruelly nipped in the bud. Sushant Singh's fratricide (this is the second film in two weeks-after Sarkar-where a brother slays his own) signals the complete death of compassion in Manish Jha's world of maniacal masculinity. Thereafter Kalki encounters just two affectionate men, both underage and both servants in her high-caste in-laws' home from a lower caste, who assuage the weltering wounds in her womb.
What stuns you beyond reason is the director's unblinking barbarism of vision. What makes Manish Jha so passionately cynical about the man-woman axis in rural India? Where does the film's mind-blowing vision of masculine morbidity originate from? Pictures of a civilization gone to seed have ranged in cinema from Raj Kapoor's JAGTE RAHO to Steven Spielberg's WAR OF THE WORLDS. It's impossible to categorize Jha's take on sexual terror. Cinema per se entails a sense of liberation, a feeling of lyricism, if you will. Even the raw and real Bandit Queen was at the end of the dread, a vendetta tale where the casualty of oppression finally got her revenge.
Though Matrubhoomi ends on a positive note (absurdly penciled in to avoid charges of excessive pessimism) it remains, to the end, dialectic on doom. From the time the unpoilt Kalki is spotted by the predatory pundit (Piyush Mishra, doing a flatulent take on authenticity) to her marriage to five husband by her avaricious father (spotted later in brand new red Maruti talking into a mobile phone, collecting an extra lakh from his daughter's in-laws as they had never mentioned the father-in-law would be taking turns with her) to her repeated rape by her in-laws and disgruntled sections of the caste-pillaged village… MATRUBHOOMI remains a saga of the damned.
You can't take away a single bright moment from this film. There are none. Hence the disturbing thought: what purpose does the cinema of social conscientiousness serve without a cathartic counter-point? And the lush ripe over-saturated cinematography by Venu… what purpose does it serve except to amplify the horror and trauma of the woman's violation as weighed against the uncomplaining rusticity of her surroundings?