My Beef with Mazumdar

“Bhumika” was an interesting movie about feminism in the 1970s. What I found captivating about the film was for a movie made in 1977, the movie seemed ahead of its time, especially for Indian cinema. The conflicts and relationships that are shown in the movie with Usha and her male counterparts highlight that. For example, her scenes with Amrish Puri and Naseeruddin Shah in the bedroom display this theme of sexuality. Although the director fast-forwards over the sex scenes to the aftermath, the viewer is clearly aware Usha is having sexual relations with these men. When I think of Indian movies, I think of the idyllic 90s and early 2000s of Indian cinema, where SRK always comes and saves the day. Movies like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Lagaan signify that happy “cookie cutter” ending that I see prevalent in a great deal of Indian cinema. However in “Bhumika” , the viewer is left with something totally different when Usha answers the phone at the end. This ominous and ambiguous ending struck me as quite unique for Indian cinema.

Also, I think the movie did well to show how women are objectified. The scene that is repeated many times from the beginning, which is the opening scene with Usha where the male actor is lusting over her from afar, encapsulates this. In Mazumdar’s article he argues, it is because Benegal has a weakness for women as objects. Is that what the scene is showing us? No. The scene is bringing the viewer into the world of objectification of Usha. If the director was just concerned with her body, there would be no cut away to the gentlemen looking at her. It is important that we view the scene from his eyes then we see him gawking at her. The scene is continuously repeated to show the objectification of women and gives a sense from the very beginning where the movie is going.

When I read the Mazumdar article for this week, I totally disagreed with the argument put forth in it. The article argues that Bhumika is less effective in its portrayal of feminism because it is liberal feminism, instead of social, but I thought it succeeds in portraying its message. We talked about this in class, but Usha’s plight is a broader message for women as a whole. The movie conveys that moving castes, and money are not solutions.  I recall towards the end of the film there is a scene where Amrish Puri’s grandmother says to Usha that Kale has all this money but no happiness. When I heard this I thought, well here is why Kale and Usha are similar. More broadly, this theme of isolation becomes prevalent in the movie. Yes, many women do not become actors or breadwinners in Indian or patriarchal culture, but the film gives some sense of hope for women to not be isolated in the fight for freedom. In a way, the movie takes feminism and turns it on its head. What is Usha fighting for in the end? She does not want to act anymore, and she wants to be a housewife. This goes against the conventional wisdom of feminism, but the theme is still there. Usha just wants the freedom to choose.

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