Rudaali: Film Review

Rudaali (1993) is a masterpiece directed by Kalpana Lajmi. The movie is based on Mahasweta Devi’s short story of the same name. The film explores themes of gender, caste, and oppression through the story of Shanichari, a rudaali or professional mourner, in a rural village in Rajasthan.

The film’s characters are intricately woven and reveal the deep-rooted societal and emotional bonds they share with each other. The protagonist, Shanichari (played brilliantly by Dimple Kapadia), is a woman of the lowest caste, who is forced to become a rudaali after the death of her husband. Throughout the movie, she is shown struggling with her identity and societal expectations.

The other main character is Thakur Lakshman Singh (played by Raj Babbar), a wealthy landowner who hires Shanichari to mourn at his dad’s funeral. The two characters, who are from different worlds, form a bond that is both tender and heartbreaking. Bhikni too is a significant character in the movie. The relationship between Shanichari and her employer, Bhikni, played by Raakhee, is one of the central themes of the movie. Bhikni is a wealthy upper-caste woman who has suffered a great loss in her life. She hires Shanichari as her rudaali, and over time, the two women develop a deep bond. Bhikni becomes a maternal figure for Shanichari, and Shanichari finds a sense of belonging and validation in their relationship.

The movie delves into the themes of caste, gender, and power dynamics in Indian society. Shanichari’s caste identity plays a significant role in the story. She is not only ostracized by society but also exploited by the wealthy upper-caste people who hire her for her services as a rudaali. The film highlights the structural oppression and discrimination that lower-caste people face in India.

Another theme of the film is grief, and how it is expressed and performed in society. The rudaalis are expected to express their grief loudly and publicly, even if they do not feel it authentically. This pressure to perform their grief is highlighted in a powerful scene where Shanichari breaks down in tears, only to be scolded by the other women for not crying loudly enough.

The movie is rich in symbolism and foreshadowing. A scene of the movie sets the tone for what is to come, as we see Shanichari wandering in the desert, singing a song about her sorrows. The desert becomes a recurring motif throughout the movie, representing the harshness and isolation of the women’s lives. The scene where Shanichari breaks a pot, a symbol of her own fertility, is a powerful foreshadowing of the tragedy that is to come.

The rudaali, a professional mourner, is a symbol of grief and pain, and is often used in Indian literature and cinema to represent the oppressed and marginalized. The cinematography adds a sense of starkness and solemnity to the film. The use of water as a symbol of cleansing and renewal is also prevalent in the movie.

The director, Kalpana Lajmi, drew inspiration for the movie from the life of Rudaali’s in Rajasthan. Her direction is sensitive and nuanced, and she brings out exceptional performances from the actors. In an interview, she revealed that she had read Mahasweta Devi’s short story years ago and was struck by the plight of rudaalis and their marginalization. She spent time with real-life rudaalis, learning about their lives and struggles, before making the movie.

The movie stands for the dignity of the oppressed and marginalized. It is a poignant commentary on the social and economic inequality in India, particularly the exploitation of lower-caste people. The film also showcases the strength and resilience of women who face adversity in their lives.

In conclusion, Rudaali is a must-watch for anyone interested in thought-provoking cinema and is a cinematic masterpiece that offers a powerful commentary on caste, gender, and power dynamics in Indian society. The movie’s characters and their bonds are beautifully portrayed, and the symbolism and foreshadowing add depth and complexity to the story. Kalpana Lajmi’s inspiration and dedication to capturing the lives of rudaalis on screen are evident in every frame of the film. The movie stands for the dignity and resilience of those who are marginalized and serves as a reminder of the struggles of the oppressed.


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