Today movies are a highly commercialized form of entertainment. There has to be item numbers, cheesy one-liners and serious action to woo a majority of the crowd to the theaters. And when a director decides to drift to a less blingy and commercialized genre, the movie flops in the box office. The movie may have won accolades from the critics but it fails to attract the masses.
One such movie is Lajja, a 2001 Hindi drama film directed by Rajkumar Santoshi. The film is based on the dilemma and problems of women in India and raises an awareness among the masses. It narrates the stark reality for women in India and satirizes the honour with which they are placed in the society and the restrictions on them. ‘Lajja’ actually is the tale of Vaidehi, the protagonist of the movie, portrayed by Manisha Koirala. The fact that four of the women protagonists’ names (Maithili, Janki ,Ramdulaari and Vaidehi) are all various synonyms of Sita, the ideal Hindu woman’s name, is a message in itself.
“Someone who can provide for good clothes, expensive jewelry, a big house, London and America: all of these according to the parents is a good and suitable match for their daughter. But does a girl just have materialistic needs ?” ,asks Vaidehi, who lives with her husband (Jackie Shroff) in New York .She has an abusive husband who is insensitive to her feelings, who beats her up and has her come and go at his bidding. The culture of wife-swapping is subtly signaled here and when she protests to this she’s told by her husband and go back to India to her family. Her family on the other hand tells her to go back to her husband and reject her. They represent the clichéd family of all times according to whom a married girl does not belong anywhere but her husband’s house. Meanwhile in an accident her husband is rendered sterile and comes to know from a family doctor that his wife is pregnant. In order to save his lineage from dying out he follows her to India to claim his heir. To save her unborn child Vaidehi flees and lands up in a marriage where the bride Maithili, played by Mahima Chaudhary decides to end her marriage because of the incessant demand by the groom’s family for dowry and gifts. Her to be father-in-law’ demands a dowry of 5 lakhs and threatens to walk out of the wedding if the money isn’t delivered on time. Tired of seeing her father insulted and Maithili rises to the occasion and sends her greedy in-laws away.
After this fiasco Vaidehia she gets to a village where she befriends Janaki (Madhuri Dixit) who is the lead actress of a theatre group. The owner of the production house happens to be a lecherous man and sows the seeds of mistrust in Janaki’s lover’s mind and confesses falsely to have had some sort of relationship with her. In her last play for the group, Valmiki’s Ramayan, she plays the role of Sita. And in the last scene of the play under intoxication she diverts from the prescribed screenplay and lines and raises thought provoking questions like “Why only the woman is supposed to go through an ‘agni-pariksha?”,”Why do only women have to prove their innocence and love?” and ” For ages why have only women sacrificed themselves as Sati?” The crowd goes berserk and tries to rape Janki.
Circumstances make Vaidehi flee again and she finds herself in a village, being looked after by Raamdulari (Rekha) who is the village’s midwife. Raamdulari opposes the practice of female infanticide. Her educated son, falls in love with the village leader, Gajendra’s daughter. And to take revenge for her son daring to fall in love with his upper-caste daughter, Raamdulari is raped and set on fire. Vaidehi yet again manages to escape with Ramdulaari’s son and his lover, Gajendra’s daughter. Gajendra, who is making a move into poilitics is exposed by Vaidehi, in a moving speech, as a rapist .On hearing this speech her husband decides to mend his ways and they return to New York as a proper married couple. Vaidehi gives birth to a daughter who is named Raamdulaari. Later in her life she meets Maithili who is also by then happily married and she invites her to a charity show where Janki is in the main role and all the money from her shows goes to fund a woman organization’s on India.
The film tries to put across through a saga of events a picture of the atrocities committed against women which is seen through the eyes of Vaidehi who falls into situations around which the smaller stories are woven. The women in the movie are victims of a misogynistic society. A society where being born a girl is considered a crime. A society where women are not allowed to remarry but men can do so freely .A society which expects its women to sacrifice everything for their family, their male counterparts and their children. Not much has changed since then, we still live in a misogynistic society where a woman working to earn a livelihood is looked down upon, where a woman is expected to get married by 25 at the latest.