Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Forgotten Woman

My review of The Forgotten Woman appears in this week's Westender. Pick up a copy to check it out!

The Forgotten Woman
By Andrea Warner
Three stars

In a patriarchal society women quickly go from commodity to liability, and there’s no better evidence than The Forgotten Woman, Dilip Mehta’s devastating documentary depicting some of India’s 45 million widows who have been disowned by their families and blamed for their husbands’ deaths.

The women are shunned and exiled, many finding a home in Vrindavan, which is thought to be, literally, “heaven on earth.” The film reveals a holy ashram filled with women of varying ages living inside rooms no more than windowless cells, earning a mere six rupees a day for eight hours of chanting. And while one local villager proudly maintains Vrindavan’s divinity because “no one ever goes hungry there,” it’s still gut wrenching to watch the widows lined up for hours to receive a handful of rice or lentils.

There’s such an overwhelming sense of hopelessness in the first thirty minutes, it’s a personal triumph to be introduced to the Canadian woman who heads the Association for Strong Women Alone where widows are taught basic survival skills and support as they fight for their land rights. The film goes on to reveal how other widows live, and the disparity between those with privileges and those without. (Unsurprisingly, the severity of the widow’s living conditions is directly proportionate to education and affluence.)

This is an accomplished first film, but is a bit confusing at first. A few seconds of set up at the beginning would have provided context, permitting a more immediate grasp of the material. But, Mehta has captured, hopefully, the cusp of change as widows go from Grim Reapers in saris to women with basic human rights.

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