Review of Chhatriwali: A film about safe sex that doesn’t embrace its message fullyChhatriwali movie review: Rakul Preet Singh delivers a perky performance in a film hamstrung by a script that is afraid to fully embrace its message.
After Karnal’s world-famous Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian origin woman to go into space, we have Sanya Dhingra who wants to raise the status of women in this bustling Haryana town. The reference to Ms Chawla comes up a couple of times in ‘Chhatriwali’, clearly the writers of the film are proud of this real-life Karnal-ki-beti.
But Ms Dhingra (Rakul Preet Singh), the film’s fictional chemistry whizz, is no pie-in-the-sky dreamer. All she wants is for people to practice safe sex — men to use condoms so that women are saved from unwanted pregnancies and health hazards. Going by the difficulties she faces, it’s clear that an astronaut’s job is easier.
Just a few months back, we had Nushhratt Bharuccha doing almost the same thing in ‘Jan Hit Mein Jaari’. Many elements of ‘Chhatriwali’ remind you of the earlier film, but given that it’s such an important subject, there’s no harm in more films focussing on it. But the same problem that beset ‘Jan Hit’ overpowers this one too: why should any conversation around condoms and safe sex lead to tired, jaded lines about how these are ‘ashleel’ things, not only not appropriate for young boys and girls, but also in bedrooms where ‘respectably’ married couples presumably engage in mutually pleasurable copulation? Why, in the guise of being progressive, is the treatment of the film so backward? Why so coy? Is this the 60s?
Here’s what an initially reluctant Sanya (Rakul Preet Singh) has to face when it is revealed that she works as a quality control expert in a condoms factory run by a good-hearted gent (Satish Kaushik), who calls it a ‘nek kaam’ (noble work). She is roundly berated by Bhai ji (Rajesh Tailang), elder brother of her husband Rishi (Sumeet Vyas), who stands by mutely. She’s yelled at by the ladies she has been trying to convert, telling them that if their men will not use those ‘chhatris’, they should not put out. A prissy chemist (Rakesh Bedi), horrified by the sudden spurt of condom sales by the husbands denied their rights, takes up cudgels against her.
A film which has a character use the line ‘ladka ladki mein koi pharak nahin hota’, also cravenly balances it with calling a new daughter-in-law, ‘ghar ki izzat’. Singh is perky, Vyas is reliable, but the duo as well as the other characters struggle against a script which is afraid to fully embrace its message. It’s the women who are made responsible for their reproductive status, because men only want to have fun. And just because a female character (Prachee Shah) suffers from ‘a headache and stomach ache’ after using them, doesn’t mean that all women will: this messaging is both irresponsible and dangerous.
Sanya is handed out a ‘victory’, with her husband by her side, and Bhai ji is left shame-faced, but after almost the entire film is spent in undermining her. ‘Mera kaam galat nahin hai, aapka nazariya galat hai’ (my work is not wrong, your perspective is), she says. Right at the end, of course.Too little, too late.
Chhatriwali movie cast: Rakul Preet Singh, Sumeet Vyas, Satish Kaushik, Rajesh Tailang, Dolly Ahluwalia, Rakesh Bedi, Prachee Shah
Chhatriwali movie director: Tejas Deoskar
Chhatriwali movie rating: 1.5 stars