Soni Review: Empowerment is an Everyday Struggle for Indian Women and This Netflix Film Gets It Right

Bollywood

Soni Review: Empowerment is an Everyday Struggle for Indian Women and This Netflix Film Gets It Right

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

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here’s a poignant scene in debutante Ivan Ayr’s Soni that underscores the blurring chasms between being an Indian woman and an empowered Indian woman. One night, Kalpana (Saloni Batra), the superintendent of Delhi Police, appeals to her newly promoted cop husband – positioned higher in the rungs of their professional hierarchy – to reinstate Soni (a terrific Geetika Vidya Ohlyan), a junior woman officer punished with disciplinary action. Making his reluctance known, the husband chides Kalpana for getting too attached to her juniors. She bends her head down, swallows the criticism, but presses on; he eventually gives in. But their body language reveals a significant detail: The couple aren’t on equal footing, even inside the confines of their bedroom.

In this fleeting moment, Ayr manages to illustrate the distinct shades of powerlessness that come with being a woman in India. Kalpana’s daily fate – not unlike Soni’s – is coloured by the whims of powerful men, like her husband. What differs are the shades of their dependance: Kalpana’s stature as an upper-class woman and her authority at work guarantees that she is better equipped to protect herself. Soni, a rebellious lower-class officer, on the other hand, is used to consistently being punished for protecting herself. Yet both of them, like so many Indian women, must adhere to the demands of the patriarchal system designed to work against them. With Soni, Ayr examines the embedded power-structures in our society and poses daunting questions: Can women really be empowered in a country where patriarchy is the mother tongue? What is the point of women defying expectations, when the society thrives on turning them into submissive puppets?

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