How to Write Empathetic Women Characters: A Lesson from Abhishek Chaubey’s Sonchiriya

Bollywood

How to Write Empathetic Women Characters: A Lesson from Abhishek Chaubey’s Sonchiriya

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

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n Sonchiriya, Indumati Tomar (Bhumi Pednekar), a married woman is on the run with a dying young girl in the labyrinthian ravines of Chambal. So is a gang of outlawed dacoits, reeling from the gruesome death of their leader. Breathlessly traversing through the dusty expanse under the glare of the afternoon sun, both of them try to throw off their enemies. And yet they’re on unequal footing. Indumati instinctively ducks under a ledge the minute she hears them. She doesn’t need to confirm whether the gang poses a danger to her – her gender invariably renders her vulnerable to them.

This inequality between them is ingeniously underscored in a standout moment. As Indumati steps out of her hiding spot, she comes face to face with a male member of the gang aiming his rifle at her. Her first instinct betrays the conditioning that decades of patriarchy have bestowed on Indian women: In a split second, she covers her face with the ghunghat before cocking her rifle at him. In that moment, Abhishek Chaubey manages to distil how intertwined the idea of social tradition and honour is with a woman’s right to defend herself. It’s a scene that especially merits praise – it could easily have slipped into Anurag Kashyap territory, where the heroine’s aggressiveness resembles male behaviour. Indumati’s rebellion, on the other hand, is a muted, last-resort tactic that is aware of the boundaries that it can’t afford to cross.

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