On a day that specifically honours and celebrates the many identities one carry as a women, as a human being, it is only befitting to remember Bharati Mondol. Neither written as a damsel in distress nor built around the 'mandatory women empowerment' gambit; she carves her own way, fighting to survive in an unjust world. Geeli Pucchi, a short from the anthology Ajeeb Daastans, framed around numerous themes is driven by the trials and tribulations of this educated, hardworking, Dalit queer woman, Bharati Mandal (Konkona Sensharma).
Oppressed within the oppressed, she has been denied everything – from a better position at work to the freedom to happily embrace her sexuality. The everyday-casual-sexism, misogyny and the politics behind gender, caste and sexual identities that by default push her into undergoing differential treatment at work and otherwise, becomes more and more striking with every passing frame. As a 'machine-man' at a factory, she occupies a predominantly male environment. She struggles to find her space, one she aspires to rediscover with a transition, an escape from the factory work into a desk job as a data operator.
But, a novice Priya Sharma (Aditi Rao Hydari), her upper-caste colleague gets offered the job. Like a tiny ray of sunshine, she enters through the wall Bharati has built around to protect and defend herself from the outside world. She makes her way into Bharati's lonely life – an intimate space devoid of a family, a caring friend or even an empathising well-wisher. She turns sensitive and cares for Priya. Together they create "their own small world, their own little corner" that becomes these fragmented moments of love and friendship, lasting only for a little while. A love that could have been so much more.
In a particular scene, Bharati tells Priya, "Tumhe apne sach ko maan lena hoga." Unlike Priya who, in fact, leads a caged existence within a patriarchal set-up, Bharati is someone who is quite certain of herself inspite of being a part of the same patriarchal society. This self-awareness is what makes her striking. She is who she is and does what she has to, unapologetically, without being boxed in as the good or the bad girl.
It's fascinating how she can take the very pain of exclusion and finally turn it around, travelling towards her dream. She paints her feminine rage into her silent strength to fight back as she brilliantly makes her way into the same prejudicial world that marginalized her, without changing herself one bit. In the end, picking up on the dynamics of changing situations, she subtly and confidently establishes her place in a non-confrontational way without any frantic outbursts or dramatized dialogues.
Like the worn-out red cloth she tightens around her wrists, we see Bharati smother the heartbreaks and humiliations she faces, burying and stifling her cries within herself. But, in her solitude, in her resilience, there is an element of self-love. She has found out who she is and accepted it wholeheartedly. This is precisely what I loved about her. Probably because being on her own, fighting her own battles eventually made her more free. Even when Priya hurts her, she could become her own saviour. That is who she is. Picking up pieces and re-crafting herself, learning from everything the broke her in the past. Here's to a woman nurtured by her own love, a woman who completes herself.