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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



UnWoman, Review: What if the bride turns out to be a eunuch?

UnWoman, Review: What if the bride turns out to be a eunuch?

Sounds far-fetched and implausible, but if you watch UnWoman, it seems possible and even probable. A taboo subject, made by an unknown/little known unit, UnWoman raises your curiosity by the title itself. Grammatically incorrect, UnWoman makes sense in the context of the film. In spite of the gender-related story, it shows practically no nudity, leaves a few questions unanswered, yet gets a Censor rating of A (for adults only), with cuts. Sticking to its theme, the unfolding narrative of the film comes as a pleasant surprise. Watch UnWoman, and get surprised.

Opening with a slightly misleading scene, in which a human trafficker totes a pistol at his captive eunuch, UnWoman gets into its act very soon afterwards. Bhanwar a simple man from a village in Rajasthan leads a lonely life. He is further burdened by the overpowering shadow of his dominant uncle Bhairo, who takes most decisions on Bhanwar's behalf. The two live together, with no female in the home. To improve their living conditions, Bhairo coaxes Bhanwar into buying a bride. Bhanwar sells his piece of land and Bhairo contacts the human trafficker. They decide on a price of Rs. 50,000. But the human trafficker dupes them and, instead of a woman, sells him Sanwri, who is an Transgender/Intersex person, a female gender identity, born with no vagina and reproductive organs.

Stuck in a strange situation, at first they think of getting even with the trafficker, but Sanwri warns them that the trafficker is extremely dangerous. After some thought, Bhanwar and Bhairo decide to keep her in their home for household work, and withhold Sanwri's actual identity, since Transgender/Intersex people are looked down upon in Indian society. Sanwri's gentle demeanour and sweet nature soften Bhanwar's heart. Their bond, based on necessity, gradually turns into love. But for Bhairo, Sanwri and Bhanwar's relationship is anything but normal. Bhairo treats Sanwri as an object, who is only there to serve his needs. He wants Sanwri to satisfy his lustful needs too. When Bhanwar objects, tension brews between them.

Since there is no material on the Internet about Pallavi Roy, one must assume this is her debut film. Besides directing, she has co-written the story with Susheel Sharman, and contributed the screenplay and dialogue herself. Dialogue is effective, with a dash of adages. It is in a Rajasthani dialect, though I was unable to discern whether the dialect was Marwari, Mewati or Shekhawati.

A handful of films have been made on gender issues, with varying success. Here, the writers have decided not to go over the top. It is a bold film, by any standards. A man accepting a transgender/intersex person as his wife, and actually falling head over heels in love with her…how much more revolutionary can you get? There are scenes that can be predicted and areas that could have been better handled. Both, the opening and the pre-climax panchayat scene needed better writing. There is no mention of females in the house, and somebody says that women only come to the village as brides, never go out in that capacity. Some explanation was needed for this phenomenon. Obviously, there is an acute scarcity of women in the village, but this needed to be dwelt on.

Kudos to Pallavi for creating totally credible characters. They act most realistically and their get-ups look convincing too. The landscape has been well-exploited. While capturing the movements and expressions, the camera is unhurried, often waiting for the character to react or mouth a piece of dialogue. One particular scene, when the camera pans right to left and again left to right, at a gentle pace, lingers long after seeing the film. As does the scene where Bhanwar and Sanwri roll on the ground and also get drenched in a sudden shower. Passionate love-making scenes are an integral part of the narrative, but there is little or no skin show. Bhanwar unravelling Sanwri’s blouse strings happens twice, which takes away a bit of the mystery. It is not explained whether Bhanwar and Sanwri get into a sexual relationship, and if so, how. Seeing the thrust of the story and it candid approach, one would have thought the makers would go that extra mile. Guess any more details, and the Censors would have banned the film.

Personifying Sanwri, Kanak Garg immerses herself in the part and hands herself over to the director. Results are more than satisfying. Bhagwan Tiwari as Bhairo exhibits very dark traits, which turn into real black towards the climax, with occasional flashes of normal human behaviour. He sails through effortlessly. Sarthak Narula is the third main actor, essaying the part of Bhanwar. The self-conscious, permanent half grin works in his favour, and in spite of little misdemeanours, he emerges as a man with a heart. Coming to the climax, they all are a little short of their best, but the actors are not to blame for that. Other actors in the cast are Karan Maan, Girish Pal Sing, Pramod Deshwal, Vikas Kumar, Parminder Singh Shah and Mamta Vaishnav.

Cinematography is by Shakil Rehan Khan, the original music composer and background music scorer is Abhay Rustum Sopori and the editing is by Gunjan Goel and Mohammed Firoj Aalam. At 1 hour and 52 minutes, UnWoman is a bit longer than recommended. Nevertheless, it comes as a breath of fresh air. This review reaches you late, a little too late, due to totally unavoidable circumstances. But I felt I would be doing injustice if I did not publish it. UnWoman is a tender film, for everybody, irrespective of gender.

Rating: ***



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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