Shevri – Wisp of Cotton

Noted Marathi actress Neena Kulkarni‘s maiden production venture, Shevri (wisp of cotton), is a sensitive portrayal of the havoc played by divorce in a simple middle-class woman’s life. The ‘shevri’ in the title is embodied in the film’s protagonist Vidya Barve, ably played by Neena herself, a helpless little soul drifting along with the winds of change in her life, without a strong will or desire of her own. A perfect description of the stereotypical Indian wife/mother perhaps?

On the face of it, the movie is a simple tale of a single night Vidya is forced to spend on the streets of Mumbai, but carefully woven into the narrative is a series of brilliant flashbacks as Vidya looks back onto the tangled threads of her troubled life, the relationships that more or less define her as a person. Excellent acting and crisp editing apart, I found these relationships intriguing and thought-provoking and basically the reason I liked the movie so much.

The relationship that stood out for me was Vidya’s silent bond with her mother. Strong and stoic, the mother is a perfect foil to Vidya’s far more emotional and excitable character. In a telling scene towards the beginning of the movie, Vidya is shown voicing her suspicion that vahini (brother’s wife) did not seem appreciative of her presence in the maternal home. ‘Why does she run off to her mother’s home the moment I visit?’, she asks. The mother is quick to downplay the melodrama.

‘She might have her own problems, how would you know? Besides, leave me out of this, it’s time you learnt to sort out your own problems’, she advises. What a refreshing change from our usual cloyingly sweet or overtly dramatic screen mothers! A woman of few words, she nevertheless stands strong behind her daughter and her choices, supporting her in times of need, yet giving her space to deal with her issues in her own way. I am pretty sure Vidya would have completely broken down were it not for this silent support in the background.

Surprisingly, although all the other relationships in Vidya’s life are played out against the backdrop of her marriage, the husband’s character is the most weakly defined of the lot. Suffice to say that their marriage is the stuff nightmares are made up of. A direct victim of this abusive marriage is Vidya’s relationship with her son. Battling her demons of (perceived) failure and abandonment and craving for emotional sustenance, Vidya is overprotective and clingy as a mother, smothering her teenaged son with emotional and physical affection.

Throughout the movie she is unable to initiate a meaningful dialogue with him – not once is she shown discussing the divorce and its fallout with the boy – and naturally the son is sullen and non-responsive for the most part. It is so obvious to the viewer that her insecurities and sense of failure as a wife are destroying her relationship with her son, yet Vidya fails to recognize this till the very end. Just goes to show how easy it is to lose one’s sense of perspective, doesn’t it?

And then there is the sweet side-story of Vidya’s friendship with her ardent admirer and colleague Shinde, delicately portrayed by my favorite Marathi actor, Dilip Prabhavalkar. This is perhaps the only relationship in Vidya’s life where she is cherished and understood, where she is the one calling the shots. And it is a welcome change to see her bask in this little love coming her way. A bitter-sweet almost-love story, this friendship does a wonderful job of tempering the mostly mournful note of the rest of the narrative.

The only jarring note in this movie for me was the lecherous boss angle. This was so clearly a case of sexual harassment, why couldn’t Vidya speak out for once? My mother reminded me this is not the IT industry we are talking about, that there are no sexual harassment policies in place in most other industries, that Vidya is from a middle-class family and has no financial support etc., basically that she is a helpless and lonely woman and has no choice except to put up with this sort of nonsense.

Which to me seemed to beg the question – why was Vidya helpless? Why couldn’t she shake herself out of her sorrow and look at life afresh? She seemed to be educated and had been living independently for some time now. Why couldn’t she show some initiative or imagination? Had divorce sealed her fate forever? Why was marriage being portrayed as the be-all-and-end-all of her existence? Surely this was not the message the filmmakers set out to give us?

Just as I was beginning to tire of this movie for all these reasons, dawn broke, both literally and metaphorically. ‘If this is the path life has chalked out for me, why don’t I make the best of it?’, Vidya muses aloud, seeming finally at peace with her situation. We leave her at this point to walk on, a smile on her lips and a new spring in her step. She is still alone but no longer lonely. A subtle distinction perhaps, but one that makes all the difference in the world!

Edited to add: My family (who I watched the movie with) had several pertinent comments on this post which I felt were worth putting forth here.

Both my dad and the husband commented that I had completely missed the important dimension added by Vidya’s friend and roommate Maya, a ‘bindaas’ and ‘modern’ single girl who lives life on her own terms and is a complete contrast to the staid and timid Vidya. While Maya seems outwardly happy, they felt that she was even more riddled with insecurities and demons than Vidya and that Vidya with her strong middle-class values was better off in many ways than Maya.

My mother interpreted the ending to mean that Vidya had given up her lonely struggle to take up the easier but not-so-honorable path, an interpretation I do not entirely agree with. But hey, that’s the beauty of open endings, isn’t it?

Finally, in case you are intrigued by my post and wish to watch the movie (please do!), I believe it is available on youtube.

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20 responses to “Shevri – Wisp of Cotton

  1. A very good review. I had not heard of the movie, but I will now look for it and watch it.

    I guess the questions you felt in your mind about her lack of enthusiasm towards life at the given juncture were pertinent but when you empathise and see the whole situation first hand, you think differently. Sometimes there are no clear cut solutions, there are no clear cut pathways to walk down or up. Sometimes it takes another person to show that way – someone who looks at the situation from a distance. And then, as you say, dawn breaks to show a path that had been there all the time, only was not visible.

    And Thanks for the cute award – it means a lot, it being my first, LOL. But honestly, What is to be done about it, how do we go about it? Am I to post it on my blog? and then do what??

  2. Yes, please do watch it Manpreet. And I’d love to hear your take on it too.

    About the award, you are most welcome. 🙂 It’s kind of like a tag passed around, so you might want to acknowledge it on your blog and/or pass it on to others who you feel are nice enough. (So one can play at being a judge for once!) But these are just suggestions, not *rules* really…

  3. What a lovely review, I also checked out the movie link, and I do like Neena Kulkarni. I liked her in ‘Nayak’ as Anil Kapoor’s mother. I also like Meeta Vashist!
    I am glad the movie has subtitles…..I will watch it this weekend. Have a good weekend!

  4. Pingback: Shevri Review | DesiPundit

  5. Liked the review. Might watch the movie. I have been thinking along similar lines lately – why are girls and women in India conditioned to believe that getting married and staying married are the only two criteria for having lived a successful life?

  6. Loved the review! I haven’t seen a Marathi movie in ages. This review makes me want to watch one. I particularly liked the character of the mom; wish there were more moms like her in real life India.

    Thanks for your comment on my blog. And also for the good wishes. It meant a lot to me.

  7. Yeah Manpreet, not exactly biking but lots of roaming around. My parents are here for a short trip, so taking them around and all!

    Hey CeeKay, nice to see you here after a long gap… yes, our views are quite similar on this subject. I cannot understand this ‘traditional viewpoint’ much myself.

    Glad to see you here Chakli. (Love your handle btw!) Yes, do watch Shevri, it’s definitely worth a watch. I’d like to hear your point-of-view too.

    About moms, what can I say? My mom reads this blog too! *Wink wink*

  8. Oh, it means your name in the blog world… or so I think. Don’t know how good I am at these things myself 😉

    Chakli sounded nice and cute and unique to me!

  9. I love book tags Chakli, was especially eager for this one. Thanks for tagging me! Just that life is VERY hectic right now, so it might be a while before I get around to it, but I will for sure!

    Welcome here, nidsonline! It is a Marathi movie unfortunately, but perhaps you might find a copy with subtitles? I know there is a free version of the movie on Rajshri, just not sure if they have subtitles…

  10. Hi watched the movie, and I liked it. Good review too.
    I agree that there is a lack of dialogue between mother and son. However, the son is shown to be mature, and is not won over simply by the lavish treats his dad is hinted to offer.
    But then the movie never mentioned that the dad wouldnt have been responsible enough for the son’s education if he had the custody (or did I miss something?)

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