Free Press Journal

“Devi wants to have her dignity” 


Neeraj GhaywanNeeraj Ghaywan

Award-winning director NEERAJ GHAYWAN dissects his women characters in MASAAN, the bold yet vulnerable Devi and the strong, secure Shalu…

This sensitivity towards women had been ingrained inside of me since I have grown up with three elder sisters. Also, I look around and I see so much inequality between women and men, and the whole deep-rooted patriarchy in our society. It sort of really makes me angry. In real life itself, I’m a strong proponent of feminism; I want to work for equal rights for women. My writer Varun Grover and I have the same sensibilities and attitude towards women and inequality.

The character we had come up with for Devi (RichaChadda) comes as a reaction against the whole stereotype that has been laid down for so many years in our cinema. If you look at a small town girl, either it’s a very demure, naïve character or she is this Chandi Mata, the hunterwali kind. It’s either extreme or comical. Not just women but all human beings go through complex feelings, you know. They are not constantly angry or constantly funny. I believe that people do have their ups and downs especially when a person is going through major depression such as Devi was. She would have mood swings and that we wanted to show in a realistic manner. So Devi’s character was born out of this desire. She had grown up in a house where she had been given a lot of freedom, with her mother not around and a progressive father. She was used to making her own choices. We opened the film with her, a small town girl, shown watching porn on her computer and going on and wanting to explore her curiosity. Then how society looks at it, how she gets persecuted and branded as something which she isn’t, how she sometimes wants to fight it and sometimes wants to bypass it and go away from the whole madness… It’s interesting to see how the father also, because of the external persecution, suddenly starts to doubt if he has raised his daughter well. These are the things that really go on in our middleclass households and the idea was to show Devi in that format.

While writing itself we knew that Devi was a very complex character. She wasn’t going to be easily liked by people. Devi’s character did not have a perfect arc and we wanted deliberately for her to be complex and unfathomable, in that sense. Richa was also given the same brief -that it wasn’t going to be easy to enact Devi. We really worked together to arrive at Devi and she did a marvellous job.

For all the characters in the film, their dignity is most important. No matter what Devi has done, she wants to have her dignity, to say that ‘Humne koi kaandnahinkiya’. And this she holds on to till the end when she goes and meets the boy’s parents, hoping that is something that will redeem her. I left that open-ended. To me it doesn’t matter what conversation ensued between them; that she had the courage to finally go, speak to her lover’s parents, is what I wanted to show. It may or may not have got resolved. It’s not so easy. Forgiveness takes time.

When something like this happens to you, you yourself don’t know what will redeem you. She understands what the parents must be going through. She wants to meet them and ‘fess up to them that it isn’t her fault because obviously the police had shared very different versions. They shamed the boy; could have shared incorrect things about him and the parents could have been living with the guilt of their son being wrong. But their son wasn’t wrong; neither was Devi. Or maybe she just wanted to be slapped by the parents which could have made her feel a little better. It was her closure.

In the film, if you look at it, both the women are stronger than the men. If you look at Shalu(Shweta Tripathi) also, she is the one who suggests to Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) that they run away. She’s smart and she’s also Deepak’s strength. She tells him not to worry, that they will manage and he should concentrate on his studies. We didn’t want women to be supporting actors because they ought to characters on their own. They ought to have their own lives and their motivations should be their own as opposed to driven by a man.

Regarding the matter of Deepak’s domcaste, the ‘untouchable’ caste who burn the dead, Shalu doesn’t dismiss it instantly. When she’s sitting at the hotel with her family, she hears her folks chatting,‘ Khana bada acha hai… kitna ganda hai yeh…’; nit-picking about the whole Brahminical approach to purity and she understands that her parents are never going to understand them. She herself takes some time to understand the depth of it; she’s not making a hasty decision. She goes through her processes and then she says that, ‘Once I’m back you also finish your studies well and then we will take it forward’. She also tells Deepak that as time goes by, parents do come around.

Also if you see both of them, Shalu is very literate, a book-loving, shayari and poetry-spouting girl. And so is Devi; if you look at Devi’s room we have put in a lot of programming books to show how she is into reading and academy.

Another aspect I wanted to explore was small town sexuality. If you look at the scene where Devi is issuing a ticket to the urban couple, they speak to each other in English but as soon as they come to Devi the girl switches to Hindi. A typical thing that most urbanites do when they go to small towns – they think that people there are illiterate or that they don’t know English at all. And Devi gets offended by that. And when they talk about staying in a hotel, it reminds her of her time with her lover and she thinks that she also could have had that… She ends up not wanting to issue their ticket, so there is that sexual jealousy. I didn’t want to portray Devi as this girl who has no negative feelings.