This Bold Marathi Film Questions Our Shame Of Nudity

Posted by Himali Kothari in Culture-Vulture
June 19, 2018


“What movie are you watching?” mother asks as I head out the door. “Nyuhhu,” I mumble and rush out ignoring her whats.

I WhatsApp her from the car – Nude. I did not want to say it in front of dad.

I do a mental facepalm at my embarrassment. It mocks the evolved, modern woman I see myself as. By making the word taboo, I have attached a shame to it which its etymology never intended for it to carry. And that is precisely the problem the movie addresses.

“Nude” is the story of Yamuna. Shaken by her husband’s in-her-face infidelity, Yamuna makes the decision to leave him and along with her teenage son, lands up in a Mumbai slum at her aunt Chandra’s doorstep.

Chandra says she works as a sweeper at JJ School of Arts. But, Yamuna soon discovers that the job is a facade to her real one, that of a nude model for the art students. Aghast at first, and then ashamed, Yamuna comes around when she realises that the money earned would be far more than any other job could fetch her. With her aunt as a mentor, Yamuna learns the ropes of nude modelling. The mentoring is not so much to do with the act of modelling as it is to with moulding her psyche to it. Yamuna is a quick learner and soon she has surpassed her aunt, taking on assignments outside the college with renowned artists. While Yamuna is loved and respected by art students, she faces contempt from her son, ironically an artist himself.

Chandra’s death leaves Yamuna disillusioned about her place in the world, and her story meets a tragic end.

“Nude” is probably one of the most well-nuanced movies in recent times. Writer-director Ravi Jadhav sprinkles it liberally with beautiful moments. The scene at the start where Yamuna stands on the bridge contemplating suicide. Her first time modelling in the nude. The moment when aunt and niece pose back to back and wriggle against each other to scratch an inaccessible itch…are some which stay with you. The actors carry their characters effortlessly and you are swept into the dusty room at JJ where Yamuna perches on a stool surrounded by artists behind their easels.

The best scene is saved for the last. Her son Laxman, now matured into a pervert, walks into a gallery to leer at the nude paintings on display. His eyes stuck on the bare body parts, he starts to give himself a hand job, uncaring of the public setting, interested only in gratifying himself. It is only when his eyes finally go beyond and wander to the face that he realises he has been leching at his mother’s body. But, his act does not cause him to cast an inward eye in shame. Instead, he rushes to the painter (one of Yamuna’s students) and slaps him hard across the cheek. And the end credits roll. With this one scene, the writer-director makes a strong comment on the state of affairs and our misplaced sense of accountability as a society.

This movie strongly establishes the steady upswing of the content in Marathi films. They are venturing far beyond the reach of Hindi films, and they are doing it without any brouhaha… Letting the work do the talking.

There is one point that irks me about the film. Both times that Yamuna makes a decision to change her life, it is for her son. She leaves her husband when he spends the son’s school fees on his mistress. And she takes on the job of a nude model when her aunt coaxes her to think of her son’s future. While it works in the scheme of the plot, I wish that Yamuna would have made both those decisions for herself. “A woman must have a huge reason to discard her clothes,” a friend reasons. True. But why can’t we accept that it is okay for her to be that all-important reason?

My review is late. But do buy a DVD. It’s unmissable.