Improbable theme with
THE turn of the century, rather the millennium, is also the year of women’s empowerment. Hence, coming at this point of time, Santoshi’s Lajja is a well-timed cinematic launch.
Vaidehi, Maithili, Janki and Ramdulari —all four characters are named after Sita and yet they question all that Sita stood for.
Through the hard glitter of New York, through mainstream Mumbai and Nagpur, through a back-of-beyond village in Uttar Pradesh, through a dacoit-infested jungle and full circle to New York again, Lajja traces a woman’s journey towards emancipation...and towards herself.
Madhuri, Rekha...all shape up as protagonists in their own
right...each crusading for a woman’s self-respect and
self-dependence. We are led through the story by Vaidehi (Manisha),
whose eternal escapism keeps leading her towards truth...She travels
across air, land, water and woods, running away from, and yet leaving
destruction and chaos behind her through each phase of the journey.
Sharing the high points of their lives with the other three as she
passes through their lives, she finally comes into her own.
The male is shown as the evil party though occasionally he is painted in a kinder light. There is Jackie Shroff hunting for the very wife he sent away, to salvage what is left of his manhood and indeed to validate it. Then there is Madhuri’s weak-spirited boyfriend who would rather she abort their baby than take her word that it is his.
There is Mahima’s fiancee, the typical daddy’s boy who can talk about honeymooning in Mauritius but can’t take a stand against dowry. She finally chooses to surrender her marriage rather than surrender before his father’s demands.
And finally, there is the lecherous boss who thinks all women, except his wife, are easy lays and his for the taking. All this shows the ease with which man takes control wherever he goes... the entire social set-up is designed for it anyway.
Ramdulari’s story is the one being touted as a true incident in most news dailies and this is indeed the one character that stands out in the film. Rekha epitomises the new woman emerging from the backwaters of our vast rural landscape. She is forward-looking and progressive. She shuns female infanticide, speaks English with a winning smile, leads her own cooperative society, educates her fellow women to attain self-dependence and even winds up with a computer to boot — all symbols of empowerment.
The prime charge that can be levelled against Lajja is that it is a bit too improbable. Even if these things do happen in real life, all of them happening in front of a single woman in the space of a few months is a bit far-fetched.
What has helped Lajja reach out
to a wide range of audience is its commercial format. These established
actresses with their screen presence, the hip-jerking Sonali and Urmila
with their sheer feminine energy, Johnny Lever with his evergreen comic
relief(?) and the skyscrapers a la Manhattan, all save Lajja from
being another Astitva told in an arty format.