Satire in the Age of Letters and Technology- more than just a pinch of it.
by: Revathi Palat Rao
The movie deals with issues of child labour, exploitation, child trafficking and prostitution. It also explores the issues of sexual harassment at work place, about how society tends to treat those who are less privileged and how the middle class takes for granted the labour offered to them by the poor and needy. It emphasises the need for education both through the experience of the protagonist and through characters that do not directly influence the story line.
Kanamma, a young bright eyed girl is forced to leave her native village in Madurai after her father, a potter by profession is killed in a road accident. A family consisting of a working couple, a feudal class conscious grandmother, an extremely spoilt son and a little toddler agree to let her work as a domestic help in exchange for 5,000 rupees that would keep her mother and siblings alive in her village.
Adjusting to the city life had not been easy for Kanamma – the tall swanky buildings, the roads and cars and the unsmiling unfriendly people was a far cry from the open fields, the large rocks, the trees, the friends and the laughter of the village.
Kanamma inspite of having never attended school, had in her own way lived a happy childhood. She had a doting father who nurtured dreams of educating and seeing her as a big officer some day. He hoped to save some money so that he can send her to school. But his sudden demise meant that none of this could be.
Kanamma’s mother was initially reluctant to let the little girl of nine work in the city but the confident little girl assured her mother that she will look after herself and with a bright smile agreed to work.
Things at her place of work at first seem alright. She was made to attend to the household chores and look after the toddler but her employers did treat her well. Everything changed however when Kanamma’s employer’s mother came to live with her son and daughter in law.
On noticing the fact that the servant girl is allowed to watch the television when she is free, is given the same food as the rest of the household and had been gifted a new dress by her son, the old lady is furious about the fact that her son and daughter in law do not know how to treat a servant like a servant. She then takes it upon herself to teach the young girl what she believes is obedience.
With the old woman at home when her employers are at work, Kanamma is deprived of food for long hours and what she is given, if at all, is stale. The young girl finally attempts to steal food from the left overs of the rest of the family and on being caught is forced to spit it out, is yelled at and beaten.
The employer’s son and the apple of his grandmother’s eye, Vicky does not reach out to help Kanamma either. Extremely jealous of the fact that his parents treat him and Kanamma equally, he is infact quite happy to see the little girl being ill-treated by his grandmother. He is condescending of her village ways and does not lose out on any opportunity to mock her.
The only people Kanamma manages to befriend are – a woman working in the neighbouring household, the local grocer and a paan walaa.
On one occasion she happens to notice through an open door her friend working in the neighbouring household being sexually assaulted by the master of that house. Later her friend consumes poison and is found dead. Listening to a conversation at the grocer’s shop Kanamma learns the the family had pinned the blame for the rape of the women on the driver of the household who gets arrested for a crime he never commits.
The turning point of the story comes when her employers go out of station leaving her behind with the grandmother and grandson. Kanamma begins to feel she can no longer survive the brutality of the old woman. On a trip to the local grocer she pleads to him to write a letter to her mother. She dictates her letter of desperation to him but the grocer soon learns that he cannot help her as she does not know her address.
The next morning Kanamma runs away from the house only to meet the paan walaa on the way from whom she pleads for help to get back to her village. On the pretext of helping Kanamma, the Paan walaa takes her to the railway station and leaves her in a train heading for Bombay with two other men whom he tells Kanamma will take her to her village. One then sees the paan walaa and the two men on the platform exchanging money. The men then re-enter the train and it moves with a smiling Kanamma who carries with her dreams of returning home that will never be fulfilled. The film ends at this scene. There is no happy ending to this story, just as there has never been for millions of children of this country.
Without being preachy or sermonizing, the movie is able to instil a sense of guilt among its viewers. It effectively captures the hypocrisy of the middle class in a scene where a young boy serves tea to teacher who has just finished talking about the ineffectiveness of the laws that ban child labour.
An extremely thought provoking movie, it captured through the character Kanamma the story of millions of children in India. The movie was far too real to just be a movie.