Kajarya, a disturbing tale by Madhureeta Anand about female foeticide practiced in a representative unnamed village not very far from Delhi, is a stark reminder of the poor living conditions for women, and the existing danger to the girl child from foeticide and infanticide prevalent in both rural and urban India. Kajarya lifts the thin veil of a progressive India on the surface, and critiques the rhetoric of progress both in rural and urban areas.
The film begins with a village ritual where Kajarya, the village witch figure is sitting under a Banyan tree in a recognisable state of frenzy. The goddess Kali is supposed to have descended within her, firing her up entire body into that state, with long entangled curls to her rolling eyes. Villagers sitting under the tree in a circle surrounding her come and take her blessings. Cut to a Delhi office, where Meera Kapoor, reporter at a newspaper is annoyed at being sent to cover a full moon religious ceremony in a village close to Delhi, incidentally Kajarya’s village. When Meera reaches the village, she realies that everyone over there — from the village chaupal to the local police station— is being secretive about the rituals of the ceremony. After the village ‘dimwit’ tells her about sacrifices being made there, only to be shushed by the local pundit, she decides to stay on and investigate further at the risk of her life.
The film depicts a dsystopian world, where there exists a nexus between the patriarchal media run by privileged male editors who do not care two hoots about the disappearing baby girls beyond it making headlines, and the male (clearly upper caste) leaders of the village who pin down all the blame behind the killings on Kajarya, making her a scapegoat for their villainy. Kajarya is considered an avatar of the goddess, and the village folk regularly come to her for blessings and leave their new born baby girls with her if her promise of a baby boy doesnt bear fruit.
This film is a linear narrative following what happens when the reporter Meera and Kajarya’s lives intermingle. It subtly comments on the socio-political situations that conspire to make this village the crime scene of female foeticide. Existing problems in Haryana of brides being bought from other states in conditions resembling slavery, child marriage and dowry, all of which come together to give women little to no agency in society are touched upon.
While the whole village can be implicated in the crime of killing their baby girls, they find the channel of an unbalanced Kajarya whose shoulders they can put the blame for the deaths on. Kajarya, already on the sidelines of the society and friendless except for the local sweeper Shambhu and his little girl Shanti, hardly disturbs anybody in the village when she is jailed for the crime, even as the story of the dead girls takes the world outside by storm.
The fear of the independent thinking woman being a danger to society is brought up time and again in this film. Kajarya plays the role of the wanton woman, desexualised and manly in her morals on one hand as visualized by the village, and rotting away as opposed to the meek, nubile woman that she was pictured to be when she was married off to an elderly man in the village.
The theme of the independent thinking woman being a danger to society is brought up time and again in this film. Kajarya plays the role of the wanton woman, desexualised and manly in her morals on one hand as visualised by the village, and rotting away as opposed to the meek, nubile woman that she was pictured to be in flashbacks .
Curiously, both women Meera and Kajarya are similar, in the sense that they have rejected basic markers of patriarchal life at the onset, in their attitudes and attire, or as perceived by the parochial world in which they move. The film tries to show how both of them are involved in a mesh of patriarchy.
Kajarya gets drunk and regularly challenges her tormenters who blackmail her into being an avatar of the goddess Kali at the village square, while Meera braves the many threats and warnings she gets to let sleeping dogs lie, to get to the crux of the story.
Instead of being satisfied by any one version, it is Meera’s part to keep an open mind as she unravels a series of twisted lies that the village folk feed her. There are two categories of village people whom she comes across, the ones painted absolutely black in the narrative, the ones who conspire to blackmail Kajarya, and the other mute in their silence towards the unfair practice of female foeticide. Meera’s life is different yet not necessarily better than Kajarya’s, a commentary in the film about the prevalent hypocrisies of urban society, that looks at villages and socio-economic problems as reasons behind India’s lackadaisical attitudes towards women. For instance, Meera mother-in-law to be asks her whether the women in the village who give up their daughters for foeticide do not have access to ultrasound tests, suggesting while it may be fine for families to commit infanticide (like everyone does in Delhi) it is not acceptable to kill them once baby girls are born. “Ameer logon ko ladki paida karna chahiye, gareeb logon ko ladki paida karni nahi chahiye”, is an argument put forward to her in defence of the argument.
Apathy is another issue addressed in the film — while gruesome, violent imagery is commonplace as part of regular reports, it is unfortunately matched by an audience who has got used to it. Kajarya is not an easy film to watch, for it hits exactly where it hurts — and thereby lies its strength — in its capacity to disturb you out of a complacent stupor.