"Bawandar" ("Sandstorm"), about the real-life case of a poor rural activist in India who suffered a retaliatory rape and fought back remains an important story in spite of serious blunders by the filmmakers.
By JOSHUA TANZER
"Bawandar" (Sandstorm) is the more or less true story of Bhanwari Devi, a woman from rural India who became a national and international heroine for standing up to the abusive men in her village over their treatment of women. In retaliation, according to the charges she filed in court, she was raped by the higher-caste village leaders who assumed they would never be held accountable. Her struggle for justice made her a symbol of courage around India, and this film tries to show the difficulties she faced.
Devi given a strong portrayal by Nandita Das, who also starred in Deepa Mehta's "Fire" and "Earth" is drawn into women's rights when she is offered a government-sponsored position as a social worker and takes on the institution of child marriage. To illustrate this issue, we see a little girl who's not only been married off but also become a widow at something like four years old. As Devi gives the women of the village their first-ever opportunity to voice their grievances, the men meet and agree that nothing good can result.
|Original title: Sandstorm.|
Directed by: Jagmohan Anand, Jag Mundhra.
Written by: Sudha Arora, Ashok Mishra.
Cast: Nandita Das, Gulshan Grover, Rahul Khanna, Laila Raouss.
In Hindi and English with English subtitles.
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Williamsburg Brooklyn Film Festival 2001
"The incidents of the last few days never happened before in this village. Just as a single poppy seed is enough to spoil a whole vat of milk, a low-caste potter woman comes here" and disrupts the social order, one man complains. "Moreover," shouts another, "our women will become tigresses at home!"
Devi encounters bureaucratic inertia in the nearby city when she tries to get action on her claim, and most officials are in no hurry to prosecute members of a high caste and more likely to blame her husband for failing to protect her. She struggles to maintain her dignity, insisting that rape dishonors the perpetrators rather than the victim, and the film follows her case through the court process and into the political arena. (Prime Minister Rao was even supposed to play himself in the movie, but at the last minute his brother subbed for him.)|
There are some very bad decisions by the makers of "Bawandar": perhaps in an effort to
broaden the film's international appeal, they've bookended the woman's story with that
of a hypothetical British journalist digging up the story for the outside world. This
is one of the world's worst journalists, engaging in baseless speculation in order to
clean up inconsistencies in Devi's case. In the effort to elevate Devi's experience,
some of the intransigent officials and even some of Devi's allies are caricaturized as
bumbling, vain or corrupt. But Devi's story by itself is shocking enough, even with
some real-life ambiguities. The film is worth seeing for the way it opens a window
into a far-removed reality; just watch for the core story and disregard the filmmaker's
|MAY 2, 2001|
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Sandstorm from Otis E. McAliley, Aug 23, 2003
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