Director: Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari

Cast: Sakshi Tanwar, Anurag Arora

Streaming on: SonyLIV

I’m not big on the concept of Friendship Day, Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day or Women’s Day (is there a Film Critic’s Day?), which is why I’m also wary of the tokenism of occasion-themed films. Such shorts tend to spell out their moral worth, thereby defeating the purpose of subtextual storytelling. Ghar Ki Murgi, an 18-minute film directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari (Bareilly Ki Barfi, Panga) and written by husband Nitesh Tiwari (Dangal, Chhichhore), mostly falls into that category.

For instance, the film opens with the shot of a whistling pressure cooker. Given that the short is about an undervalued housewife (Sakshi Tanwar), the metaphor is clear – the steam is building up inside her, and she envies the cooker for its dramatic release. Yet, midway through Ghar Ki Murgi, the woman absent-mindedly looks at the cooker and voices precisely these words to the housemaid. At another point, in one of the deftly cut morning-routine montages, we see the maid telling her, “Didi, you’re the only one who understands a maid’s problems” – a line that leaves no doubt in the viewer’s head about the homemaker’s status in her household. At another point, the husband mocks her part-time parlour job in front of his friends, before asking for more pakoras. When the woman explodes and decides to book a solo Goa trip for a month, the following scenes are supposed to demonstrate the discomfort of a household coming to terms with her indispensability. Shots of the family trying to condition themselves to a wife-less house, the husband having to chaotically drop the kids to their school bus, the old in-laws looking worried in bed, the group doing the monthly budget and discussing the chores – these images are effective ways of conveying the message.

The title – Ghar Ki Murgi – might sound regressive, but this short goes beyond the euphemistic connotations of the term

But sure as daylight comes a needless sequence full of exposition: The kids wonder aloud “Who will make our breakfast? Who will wash our clothes?,” the mother-in-law wonders aloud “Who will massage my feet?,” the father-in-law wonders aloud “Who will make my morning tea? Who will take me for an evening walk?”. Aloud, aloud, aloud: Hindi cinema and its literalization of thought bubbles.

But if Ghar Ki Murgi falls into some traps, it avoids a few others. For example, it understands that not every housewife is Shefali Shah in Juice; not every woman is driven hard enough by everyday patriarchy to make a bold statement. For some like Sakshi Tanwar’s excellently performed character, it’s all about being acknowledged within the existing confines of patriarchy. She books a Goa trip to respectfully escape for a month, not to teach them a hard lesson (which they learn anyway). Just the concept of being able to make her own decision, selfishly for once, is empowering enough – she will return to them at the end of the day. As a result, none of the family members are obviously demonized: Their ignorance is relatable without being arrogant. They aren’t painted as the kind of family that no woman should have, because for better or worse, most modern Indian homes – across small towns as well as big cities – operate with an inherent sense of male entitlement. And for better or worse, caretaking is (mis)construed as the currency of domestic affection.

When the female protagonist refuses to be a heroine, and instead chooses to rebel for her own sanity rather than for the sake of defiance, we get a rare and modestly relatable character like Tanwar’s. It’s a fascinating tightrope act, one that I haven’t seen many black-or-white stories attempt. Most female protagonists “break free,” but others are merely happy to break even. The title – Ghar Ki Murgi – might sound regressive, but this short goes beyond the euphemistic connotations of the term. After all, domesticity is only a different degree of wildness. There’s always a “home” in “homebird”.

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