Rough Cut

Ahalya, devi or devourer

In which Sujoy Ghosh plays mind games with men.

 |  Rough Cut  |  2-minute read |   23-07-2015
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Depending on which retelling of the Ahalya epic you believe in, the sage Gautam's wife knowingly sleeps with Indra who assumes her husband's form, or unknowingly does so.

The punishment though of this trangression is the same - to be turned into stone, who will come back to life only when touched by the foot of Lord Ram (a god who knows all about spousal fidelity, I presume).

What is constant though is that Ahalya is always portrayed as a great beauty, who draws men to her like a great siren.

Which of course can only mean that beautiful women bring sexual infatuation upon themselves. Men, poor men, know no better.

So it is interesting that Kahaani director Sujoy Ghosh has chosen Ahalya for a retelling in his new, cheeky 14-minute film.

But Ghosh can only think of women as dualities, devi or devourer, as he has shown in Kahaani as well.

So here Ahalya, a provocatively clad, gorgeous Radhika Apte, is married to the much older Goutam Sadhu (please note the name, played by a fantastic Soumitra Chatterjee), an artist who likes to drink whisky in the middle of the afternoon instead of ''pansy tea'', and likes to talk about his performance in bed. But because Ahalya cannot be a devi, she has only one recourse, to be a devourer.

ahalya-3_072315105710.jpg Tota Roy Chowdhury plays inspector Indra Sen (left) and Radhika Apte portrays Ahalya.

So men are drawn to her, to their doom.

Goutam is not the cuckold but a willing partner. Indra (Tota Roy Chowdhury) is not turned into a cat, as in the epic, but something else altogether.

And Ahalya is not punished for her sexual abandon like her mythical namesake, which I suppose is the modern twist to a very alarming myth.

But the man is.

Like most movies which are ostensibly about women, it tells us more about the anxieties of being a modern man than it does about what it is to be a modern woman. It taps into their deep-seated fears and insecurities.

Ahalya is comfortable with her body, the man is not - and interestingly it is the younger man, Indra, who is not. Goutam, her husband, revels in it, possibly only because he sees it as a celebration of his masculinity.

Ahalya is comfortable with her sexuality, the man is not - thinking that he has to use deception to lure her.

For Ahalya, Indra is a toy (a very specific kind of toy), and sex is pleasure that ought to be taken when it can.

For Indra, sex is an act fraught with as many complications as women are. The consequences of being ''naughty'' are greater for him than they are for the woman.

Now that's a role reversal, is it not?


Kaveree Bamzai Kaveree Bamzai @kavereeb

Consulting editor, India Today Group

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