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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Kali Jotta: Punjabi Mainstream & Hard-Hitting Feminist Picture That Needs To Be Talked About

Kali Jotta has been playing in UK Cinemas for weeks now and yet receives almost full occupancy. With major pictures like Pathaan grossing millions (if not billions) across the globe, this humble Punjabi film continues to seep into the audience’s minds and hearts. Despite tough competition, it has managed to rake in good moolah at the box office.

The film’s title derives from a marbles game which signifies ‘odd’ and ‘even’. It is directed by National Award winner Vijay Kumar Arora but written and co-produced by women one of which is Neeru Bajwa, Punjabi cinema’s (‘Pollywood’) A-lister. She headlines the film as Rabiya, a kind-hearted and effervescent English teacher. Her only friend and joie-de-vivre Goldy (Nikita Grover) move to London after marriage. Soon her life is turned upside down after a series of patriarchal tortures.

First, her household is threatened by an alcoholic and loafer brother. He poses as a constant menace in her life, resulting in her livelihood. Secondly, Rabiya’s love interest Deedar (Satinder Sartaaj) never seems to profess his love to her. But then later shocks her when he reveals his engagement to another woman. However, the final straw is when she is psycho-sexually harassed by a group of peers at the school, including the head teacher.

We see a horrific transition from a free-spirited girl to a restrained and tormented mental health patent, locked in a four-by-four cell. Her former student Anant (Wamiqa Gabbi) is now grown up and searching for her once-beloved teacher. Despite being a law college sophomore, she is determined to fight for justice.

Although this film, like many other Punjabi titles this too has a strong commercial appeal, the social message screams through the screen. The lead character is so well-written that it explores the drastic change between what her character was to what becomes deeply impactful. As viewers, our hearts break to see how a group of power-abusing men damage an independent woman. Somehow, Rabiya’s vanishing smile appeals to many of us who have faced psychological torture of sorts. We all at some point have suffered mental health issues Bajwa portrays the character in a realistic way that Rabiya comes across as a lady we all know and may have met at some point in our lives.

If we look at other famous stories where there are two actresses and a sole hero i.e. Veer Zaara, Sita Ramam or Cocktail. These are love stories, but if we look at the third leads, most of them are usually women who are not the conventional girl-next-door. There is a fire in them for life, justice and fighting for a cause they believe in. This movie’s Anant character is one such character, though is perhaps an extension of a younger Rabiya. Instead of two women fighting for a man, it empowers females to support and stand up for one another.

Perhaps an issue with the story, well – for all of us as humans, is returning to people who have wronged us. Deedar’s character is all about redemption wherein not everything in cinema is measured by a societal magnifying glass. His character represents the maturing men, who learn that communication is key. Out of all the other roles, he and the father are the sole decent men in the movie.

The solid feministic take is a reminder of powerful movies like Pink and Thappad. In these movies, the onus is on physical abuse awareness. Here, it addresses an important but lesser-discussed topic of mental harassment. This picture also references Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code. The statute criminalises any person who demeans the virtues of any woman intentionally – physically or verbally. It enforces a three-year custodial punishment. This evokes many conversations societally that exceed beyond a mainstream venture.

Of course, this is not the sole Punjabi social drama. There are films like Posti which deal with serious topics by appealing to the masses. But Kali Jotta hits it out of the park when it comes to narrating feminist stories. This reinforces that language cinema can competently helm movies that are not just sole comedies or romances. Furthermore, the earthy and authentic locations help to present such stories that appeal strongly to local and global audiences.

Kali Jotta is running successfully in cinemas. 

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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