It was right after we finished Ri- Homeland of Uncertainty that we started working on the script of Onaatah – Of The Earth. The seed of the story belongs to the director of the film, Pradip Kurbah. He had met a few rape survivors who had shared their grief with him. The judiciary would take its own course and give them justice. But would they have their share of joy? Would they get their share of love and respect in the society? Why would they be deprived of their lives?
With that thought started the screenplay of Onaatah and the director and I kept working on various drafts, reworking, reframing, and rethinking the characters. When Onaatah was finally shot we hoped people would choose to identify with the choices the female protagonist was making. The film being awarded at the 63rd National Film Awards was, of course, a encouraging and the film also hit the theaters around that time. The appreciation we received from the people made me realize that I need to reach out to more people. By then I had lived with Onaatah for almost a couple of years and wanted to reach out to more people with her story.
Films are not just motion pictures, but stories of our lands, narratives that are dear and need to be shared. With that thought, we decided to launch Onaatah as a novel and reach out to more women, more survivors who might find solace in written words or make people talk about the crime.
In Onaatah’s journey, there are a lot of people who join her. Common men, not suave, not intellectual, not articulate support her, walk with her. However, even though cinema is my favorite mode of expression we could not flesh out these characters which are heroes in Onaatah’s journey. There is always a time constraint when it comes to cinema. Each of these sub characters is distinct, have their perspectives and throw questions to society. While writing the screenplay I have also felt that there are internal journeys Onaatah makes, decisions she makes while she fights with her inner demons that needed to be shared, needed to be written down. The novel was, therefore, necessary.
Onaatah is the story of a rape survivor. She chooses to embark on a journey to rediscover the purpose of life and the diversity of relationships. Rape is a fear that many women of our times constantly live with. Largely underreported the narratives of rape often talk about the dignity of women and violation of honor. But this association with honor defeats the entire movement against the crime. From ancient times, be it settling scores between communities or families, it is often the woman that has been violated, because it is an attack on honor. The tremendous pressure that a survivor has to face is unbelievable and the society offers little or no assistance. Also at most times, media reporting is done until the perpetrators are punished. But what a victim loses cannot be compensated by any court of law. Her journey starts when the outrage dies. And that journey is most often dreary, long and lonesome.
Onaatah for us is a symbol of a woman who is a survivor. Rape is not something to be talked about when a woman is attacked. Today it is the society that has pampered and fed egos has shielded, blamed victims. And it is society’s responsibility to rehabilitate and heal victims. The victim could be anybody, an infant, a housewife, a working woman, a senior citizen. The attacker could be anyone, a stranger, a friend, a relative. And yet we talk about clothes. Also, let us not forget that in many cases attackers are known to the victims. Therefore, blaming the governments and police for not making streets safe is not enough. Women are not safe even in their known environments, in their homes.
Sensitization of young minds could begin in schools. We have classes for moral values, music etc. Then why not talk about what could make the world safer for women?
Onaatah is also our way of questioning class polarization. While we are quick to talk about men that use crass language, troll women online, grope women in public transports; not much is done or talked about famous men with histories or sexual assault or powerful men that have the option of sending messages but play safe with misogynistic narratives. Why? What stops us?
We are after all a nation that talks about Bahu-Beti ki izzat in public and Ma- behen ki gaali in private. While writing a tale of a rape survivor I have quietly observed popular cinema, music, public discourse etc and have realized that rape is not a solitary act. Men have continuously marginalized female bodies and body parts. So if you want to abuse a man, call it a whore’s husband and shut him down. Women are after all ghar ki izzat and stripping them in public, shaming them in public is the greatest revenge that men believe they can take.
Today, when we have to watch our back and keep bottles of pepper spray for our safety, when young girls are taught to not trust men, classmates, friends, when our mothers are wary of letting in unknown workers into the house; it is time for us to realize that women across all classes are unsafe are vulnerable.
And that is why every form of art- literature, theater, music, cinema, must get louder; must not let the talks go silent. If we live in a society that brings everything down to a woman’s honor, le
Let them realize why they are wrong about honor, about dignity. Let them realize that rapists are also a part of this society and let people talk, discuss, debate.
Onaatah is a survivor, a woman I am proud of. And I am sure there are more Onaatahs who will choose to live, chose to embrace life and change perspectives. Also, making ‘Onaatah’ has made me realize that men are equally worried, and want to sensitize and address issues of sexual violence. The director Pradip Kurbah, cinematographer Pradip Daimary, the film editor Lionel Fernandez and the actors including Merlvin Mukhim and Sweety Pala that brought the film to life were empathetic, sensitive towards the pain of victims. Also, the founder of Readomania, Dipankar Mukherjee fully understood the need to convert Onaatah into a book and has supported and realized the narrative.
Views are the author’s own. Author has contributed this piece on the platform.