Sthal review: A brutally honest portrayal on arranged marriages in India, colorism, dowry and many other vices of our society

Aishwarya Srinivasan
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Sthal review

Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival: In our Sthal review we talk about how the film keeps you hooked from the first frame to the last with some really hard hitting facts!

Sthal review: Sthal starts with its protagonist Savita (Nandini Chikte) sitting with her friends, and all the women in her family to interrogate and choose the groom of her choice. As an audience you feel excited but curious to see this role reversal, that too in a small town like Dongargaon. But then literally the next minute you realize it was just a dream and like Savita's, even our bubble bursts. And of course something like that could only be possible in a dream because how dare we want to choose who we marry! Sthal by Jayant Digambar Somalkar indeed shows patriarchy as it is and how it branches into many more malices further. 

Savita is the daughter of a farmer. They have a cotton field and live within whatever comes from selling that cotton. She's a young girl in her B.A. final year who is aspiring to be independent and have a life of her own. It’s ironic though how she is pursuing a major in Sociology but at home she does all the household chores including serving food to her good for nothing brother. While she is determined to give her MPSC exam, her parents are determined to get her married and that severely gets in her way. But they’ve not had any luck so far. Each time a potential groom comes to her house, they ask her the same set of questions and she repeats them like an automated machine. It breaks your heart everytime she is dictated to by men about what to do; when to sit, when to go back inside, and the amount of times she is expected to touch random people’s feet for no reason is insulting to say the least. But this is the truth about arranged marriages in India, is it not? Parents would rather get their daughter married than actually support her to fulfill her dreams! Their biggest duty as a girl parent is to get her married at a young age so she's 'settled'. And so far, Savita has either been rejected because of her dark complexion or her height. And we’ve all heard, seen or lived such stories! Colorism is still a major issue in India and the film sheds light on that too.

Also Read: Sahela review: Raghuvir Joshi’s debut feature unveils issues of intimacy, desire and the burden of familial expectations from a newly married couple!

Savita loves going to college though. She loves being around her two best friends. She has a crush on her professor, Sandeep and in fact he likes her too. When he finally comes to her house, after multiple rejections, she finally has hope of someone saying yes. You as an audience also feel happy for her until yet again, Savita’s dreams are shattered when his family demands a dowry. It's not something her father can afford and that creates a lot of tension. And it's ironic because the scene where her father comes to know that they want a dowry is shot in a school where a kid is dressed as Savitribai Phule, who fought for equal rights for women. But it feels like we’ve only gone backwards since then. They don’t know better, they’re taught to live a kosher lifestyle and that’s how it's always been. 

Sthal stars all first time actors which is the biggest reason why this film works, IMO. Their accents are heavily rural Marathi, and they’re well versed with what the story is also trying to say. It’s authentic which is why it's relatable. Even if you’re a Maharashtrian from Mumbai, there are certain parts you know occur or are said here as well. The story was also shot at all real locations. The small houses, the wedding hall, the college, we’ve seen all of it in various parts of Maharashtra. 

While the story’s main goal is to strike down patriarchy, it's also not very preachy, there’s no dramatically long speech. It trusts its audience to learn the lessons from the incidents shown on-screen. There’s also so much comic relief for a sensitive issue like this! Be it the Whatsapp-triggered brawl in the village or how Savita and her besties have fun in college. The film also calls out the blatant hypocrisy of some things like how Sandeep’s father cannot stand paying an extra 5 bucks for baingan but he’ll ruthlessly ask for 5 lakhs in dowry. Which also highlights the many issues farmers face in our country!

There is no fixed conclusion for this loop and obsession of finding a suitor but the ending is still so satisfying because just like Savita, we too want to slap patriarchy in the face! Sthal definitely lives up to its hype and you see why it was one of the selections for Cannes Film Festival this year!

Sthal has its Indian premiere at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival this year!

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