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First Person


Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women


Hindi, Drama, 2003, Color

The film explores a futuristic rural India wherein due to rampant female infanticide, women are practically extinct. The impact of the absence of women on men sees them finding alternative sources of release - pornography, homosexuality, bestiality, violence, the works. When a girl is actually spied, she is promptly sold and married to five brothers. All five - and the father-in-law-exercise their conjugal rights in turn. She starts coming closer to the youngest brother, the only one who treats her as a human being much to the chagrin of the father and other brothers. The eldest brother has the youngest one killed. She turns to her father for refuge but the father blinded with money too lets her down. After her attempt to escape with the low caste family servant boy unwittingly triggers off a caste war, she is clapped in iron chains in a cowshed and raped repeatedly by her family and the low castes as well. When she finally becomes pregnant, everyone claims paternity. In the throes of the devastating caste war that ensues over her, she gives birth to a girl.

Manish Jha, Director

It all started when I read an article in the magazine about a village in Gujarat where due to female infanticide, the lack of women have lead to a serious threat to men in their marriageable age. I then researched the reasons behind the constant decline in the sex-ratio in India and was shocked from a UNESCO report which says that around 50 million women are missing from the population if India due to gender discrimination.

Once I started writing the script, with all I had in my head and all that I wanted to say, I realised that some point of time it went completely out of my hand and became a 200 pages long script. I took a day's break, thought it out, focused and worked on it again and chopped it down to a very workable 70 pages.

As far as actors are concerned I had them in my mind while writing the script (at least the main cast). But yes, many a actress shied away from Kalki's role which I found rather difficult to fathom. Here was an author-backed role for any actress or so I thought but now I think maybe it was the brutality with which she is treated by the men that shocked them while reading the script itself. Finally just before we were to roll, Tulip Joshi took on the challenge and I can comfortably say that she more than met up to my expectations.

I was a bit uncertain about my technical crew as it was my first film and was being made at a time when I was still quite new to the Indian Film Industry. Hence I did not know too many people. But thanks to my producer and the executive producer I think I managed to get the best technical crew a first time director can ask for - It was most interesting to work with multiple National Award Winning Cinematographer Venu who has definitely lifted the film up several notches with his evocative camerawork. His sense of lighting and composition are to put it quite simply spellbinding! Resul again was an obvious choice for the audiographer since we were opted to do the film in synch sound because I feel that one can never match the beauty and authenticity that synch sound gives you and somewhere dubbing I feel kills the emotions and takes away a lot from the naturalness of the film. Resul has been behind the sound of earlier synch sound films like Rahul Bose's Everybody Says I'm Fine! (2002) and the upcoming Boom.

The film was shot in a remote village called Renai in Madhya Pradesh doubling up for Bihar. I was amazed as I visted this location for a recce trip. The Houses of the high Castes, Low Castes, the Village school, the landscape around - it was as if it all existed just for my film and just what I had visualized. The location is in fact very much a character and contributes much to the overall look of the film.

Once we began shooting, I made a deliberate attempt to have as little dialogues as possible as I personally do not like films that are verbose (thanks to Iranian cinema I feel my writing style has been greatly influenced by them) and instead prefer to let the visuals and silence to do the speaking. Also since most of the actors in the film were from theatre it was also a decision on my part to have as little cuts as possible to maintain their spontaneity. Hence I designed the film more as longer takes combining both character and camera movements often treating entire scenes in a single or maximum 2-3 shots. I must say the actors responded and I am pretty much satisfied with all their performances.

We finished the film 2 days ahead of schedule (29 days instead of 31 - a single start to finish schedule) and here I must commend two departments - The costumes (Pass outs from NIFT - Isha Ahluwalia and Darshan Jalan who have done an amazing job considering this was their first film) and the Art Department. They were always ready in case the schedule was altered and we had to do an alternate scene and hence shooting went on uninterrupted and smoothly.

With its long takes style of shooting, there were no real surprises in the editing as much was taken care at the shooting stage itself. But yes, a particular sequence that I call the montage (this really irked Venu - he disliked this series of short scenes being called that!) - this looks at the treatment Kalki is subjected to by Ramcharan and four of the brothers as against her growing close to the one brother, the only one who treats her a human being - the youngest one Suraj. This entire sequence was re-cut in a different manner but I must admit for the better. That way editing is the biggest learning experience a director can have as he sees his film being put together. It is here that one comes face to face with one's strengths and mistakes as well.

I think I been honest enough to make the film from my heart. I hope the audience would appreciate the honesty and the hard work we all have put together in the film. We are planning to release the film by September or October in India and around the same time in Europe (we already have a distributor for France, Belgium and Switzerland) and America. Meanwhile I too have to move on - I am working on couple of concepts right now but I know that every thing depends on the success or failure of Matrubhoomi - A Nation Without Women

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