When I found out that the only fiction film made by Dilip Chitre was available on Mubi, there was no stopping me from watching it. It follows the story of Yesu, an underage girl who is wedded off to a man with cognitive disability in rural Maharashtra in the early 1980s. On the very first night of their marriage, her father-in-law tries to rape her. She pushes him off but unfortunately for her, he gets hit on the head and dies. The police start to search for her but it isn't a witch hunt: there aren't any scenes with the police in the whole film! Anyway, she decides to hide in a warehouse that stores rotten grains while the search is on. The warehouse is guarded by an urban man named Edekar and his peon.
This film wants to say that in India, women are forcefully thrown into things that they don't want in the first place. And it doesn't end there. We always want them to keep grinning to make it as obvious as possible that they are happy. In this case though, that trick has already failed. The marriage has gone horribly wrong but even in the refuge, the prerequisite to getting help is to start acting like she is already receiving loads of it. Even though she is treated with only a little more attention than the rotten grains. The irony of the whole thing is shown in a scene in the warehouse, where the peon makes a swing for Yesu and forces her to ride it and laugh. She starts laughing but you can't make out if it is genuine or she has just gone crazy. Edekar exploits her sexually. There are shades of a Stockholm Syndrome between them. But the attachment here is a little different. It is not even an illusion of love or infatuation. Love requires optimism. Here there was a prerequisite 'make up your mind and deal with it' shoved down Yesu's throat from the word go. It is like a business exchange in order to be treated like a near-human for a few more days. Yesu has to do it because in our hypocritical country, even if you are brave enough to escape the abuse of a man, you need another man to initiate you back into society. You can't be on your own. You need a saviour.
In Yesu's case though, the saviour constantly has second thoughts. He lacks moral fibre. He wants to have a 'clear' conscience by helping her and taking her to another city and help her settle. But he does not want to lose his job either. Even if he hates it with all he has left. Chitre comments on the unwritten rules that govern the Indian way of earning a living. You have to let go of the pricks on your conscience until you become one. It is made evident that the one who tries to be benign does not keep being benign. He stops being benign when it hurts his own cause. That is when he becomes exactly like the oppressor. And the oppressed are left hanging in the middle. That 'hanging in the middle' is as good as being dead. Maybe that's why Yesu hangs herself when Edekar announces in a drunken moment that he can't be her saviour. In that moment, you realise that you cannot trust the saviour. Then isn't the saviour responsible too? That is the question that Chitre begs to ask. Should they be treated like the Seinfeld group for not being 'Good Samaritans'?
The film succeeds in showing the disparity between the struggles of Yesu and Edekar. His is the classic problem of the mundane nature of a village where there is nothing else to do. It drives him insane and he wants to get away. Yesu's struggle is a primal one of survival. She would be gracious even if something that basic was allowed. She would sacrifice all her dignity for it.
The worst part is that even her oppression is visible only when a truck from the 'city' (carrying new grains to be stored in the warehouse) comes with its headlights to illuminate the village that has no electricity. Without the headlights, Edekar would not be running frantically towards the warehouse in paranoia to stop them. He runs for himself. Not for Yesu. He can't bear the thought of living another day there. He is shocked to see Yesu's hanging body, courtesy the spotlight given by headlights. Otherwise she would have buried in the dark of the night like all the other injustices.