UnWoman review: Pallavi Roy's debut film sensitively and delicately handles a hard-hitting subject!

Sakshi Sharma
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UnWoman review

UnWoman review: If Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui was a mass commercial step toward the representation of transgender people then UnWoman tells the ground reality of a real world beyond our tainted walls of social media.

UnWoman review: "Duniya aapke Twitter ke liye badali hogi humare liye nhi", a dialogue in Jasmeet's Darlings, says everything about the society that we are all currently living in, in one sentence. Pallavi Roy's debut film UnWoman will also make you realize the same, that there is a world beyond our own where intellectualization and discussions don't bring about any change, heck they would hardly even reach there. In the extreme sand dunes of Rajasthan, where marriage is still believed to be pure and legitimate only when the relationship is formed between a man and a woman, will an evolving love story between a man and a transgender person be accepted? Never!

The story follows a simple 35-year-old man from a village in Rajasthan, Bhanwar (Sarthak Narula) who with his uncle Bhairo (Bhagwan Tiwari) is duped by a human trafficker and is sold a eunuch Sanwri (Kanak Garg) as a bride for 50k. After a bout of frustration, anger, and a series of ideas, Bhairo and Bhanwar decide to keep Sanwri because at least she can take care of the home and the two men. Bhairo believes that women only have two jobs - to satisfy a man in bed and to take care of his home, and if she can cook, clean, and provide homely care than at least he can get half his money's worth.

And with a secret hidden under the four walls of the house, and under a ghagra, all goes well. Slowly even the considerate Bhanwar starts falling in love with the mature and kind-natured Sanwri. Everything comes crashing down when one day Bhairo tries to get physical with Sanwri and when met with violence from Bhanwar, he spills the beans to the entire village. Then comes the larger-than-life question - can love be enough or will Bhanwar succumb to society's idea of a man and can't stand with his love?

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The rustic essence of the film with the Rajasthani accent, costumes, eating roti with namak and pyaaz, selling carpets in the mela, sunsets on sand dunes, and traveling on camels paints a beautiful picturesque portrait of the dessert without comprising on its real roots. Shakil Rehan Khan’s magnificent cinematography is nowhere too aesthetic nor too real. It finds the right balance through the colors and desert sand dunes of Rajasthan, silhouettes in the sunset, and the warm lighting that helps build an entire world that we can enter into. Probably you and I are not used to seeing such a world in our everyday lives. But Pallavi Roy with her screenplay and direction brilliantly balances out the tender tone of the film with the matter-of-the-fact reality. Like how Bhairo's conditioning as a patriarchal man and his male ego constantly butting in between break the fictitious world that Bhanwar and Sanwri live in with their all-consuming fairytale romance.

The film delicately handles the sweet, tender yet heartbreaking romance between Bhanwar and Sanwri just like any other love story and doesn’t take an over-dramatic and preachy down-the-throat approach to showcase the relationship between a man and a transgender. The chemistry between Sarthak and Kanak is oh-so-seductively beautiful! Kanak has beautifully essayed the scared, helpless, smart, dreamy-eyed Sanwri who just wants to be loved and be in love rather than being an invisible sold from one hand to another. Whereas Sarthak's kind-hearted and compassionate role of Bhanwar who is burdened under the weight of his own gender and its expectation in this patriarchal world is heartbreaking. Both these heartbroken souls find solace in each other when they start being fully vulnerable with the other. Even their intimacy has tenderness and consent.

The way the film handles gender and its branches of misogyny, sexism, and patriarchy is what can be called layered and intelligent filmmaking. One of the major reasons why Bhanwar isn't married and has to go out and buy a bride for himself is because there is a dearth of women in their village because of female infanticide. The film is not just battling the acceptance of transgender people in this society but also against what constitutes a man, and in turn a woman. Bhairo is essayed so wonderfully by Bhagwan Tiwari that I loathed him by the end of the film and that’s the epitome of a man conditioned and hardened by a patriarchal society. He makes sure that Bhanwar is forever financially dependent on him and believes that since Bhanwar is always under his thumb then he has every right to even his wife, Sanwri. Since he is the elder of the house he makes her massage his legs every night, serve him food, water, or anything that he might need. He doesn’t let her go out at all and his idea of a man constitutes dominance over women as they since they’re just made to cater to men.

Bhairo and the village's misogyny make it harder for Bhanwar to take a stand for Sanwri. And the ending of the film if anything is a masterclass in reality. Because no matter what we tell ourselves we can't outrun the fact that we live in a male dominated world. This highlights the point that in order to empower and work towards transgender people or women, men need to work on themselves. Because until and unless men are taught differently and freed of their own chains, how else will women be freed?

UnWoman is an important tale to be experienced and appreciated in all its essence. It will be one of the films that will be spoken about in onscreen queer representation for its effortless and sensitive layered manner of teaching of a lesson without being condescending, over-dramatic, titillating, or preaching.

UnWoman is currently streaming in theatres!

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