Phillauri and the Ghost That Haunts Women Writers

Social Commentary

Phillauri and the Ghost That Haunts Women Writers

Illustration: Mandar Mhaskar

F

ive years ago, at Jaipur Literature Festival, seated on the festival’s biggest and busiest stage was Lionel Shriver, a female writer with a masculine name. Shriver, the author of We Need To Talk About Kevin, a disturbing thriller about mothering a teenage mass murderer, was asked the classic festival question by someone in the audience: How much of her novel was autobiographical? While the rest of the audience groaned or tittered, Shriver shot back with a wilting response I remember to this day. “There is a perception that women’s writing is nothing but glorified diary writing,” she told the questioner. “But we can make shit up too!”

I was reminded of this as I watched Phillauri. There are two kinds of ghosts populating the film. There’s the benign sprite Shashi, played by Anushka Sharma (in the vein of Nearly Headless Nick), who lives on a tree and haunts the man who marries it. And then there is the ghost that has plagued women’s writing for centuries that slips in and out of the movie’s frames.

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