By Areeb Uddin and Srishti Mehta
The fancy doctrines of equality are still finding a path to enter the zones where supporters of the ‘separate spheres of men and women’ reside. It could be an apartment, a cabin in a multinational company, or a small village, away from the metropolitan.
The recent thriller — Paatal Lok, has unlocked the ‘fatal locks’ of Indian society and clearly reflects the position of women within our structured society. It blends crime, suspense and corruption at distinct metaphorical levels — from Swarg Lok to Paatal Lok (and Dharti Lok). The series revolves around the idea of how three people, accused of a crime they haven’t committed, are blatantly tortured, and how the transfer of fake news is beneficial for power holders.
It is a tight-packed, gripping show that showcases stellar performances by the lead characters and the supporting cast. The creators of the show have highlighted and brought before our eyes the various dark sides of the country that are deeply rooted in distinct forms. Some of the darkest realities of our society have been dumped, and we often normalize these instances. But we need to stop and review and eradicate such evils and prejudices from within.
The high profile case, which is “unfortunately” handled by Inspector Hathi Ram Chaudhary, depicts many angles of social evils that people have been facing; from stigma towards transpersons, Islamophobia, ignorance towards mental illnesses and especially the positioning of women as ‘ghar ki izzat’.
During an interrogation scene, police officials come to know about Cheeni’s orientation as a transwoman, and they treat the revelation by beating Cheeni violently. This is the harsh reality of our society, where many cases have been reported which portray how the transgender community is targeted, and there is a certain amount of gross presumption that they always indulge in anti-social activities.
Over centuries, there has been a refusal to accept one’s sexual identity and an individual’s right to choice, and this has been shown throughout the series in a really delicate manner. There is a scene where Cheeni is taking a bath in the local jail, and what’s striking is the sheer insensitivity and denial to accept a person’s individuality while the person is subjected to gross humility. We need a safer backdrop for every community, as even places like jails can turn into an earthly ‘hell’ for any of us.
Gul Panag plays the character of Hathi Ram’s wife, and the series portrays the life which is being lived within the ‘private’ sphere. From managing household chores to being held solely responsible for the upbringing of their children—her simple life showcases the quintessential role that is expected of all mothers.
She is a daunting mother who is forever trying to protect her son, but is blamed for his mistakes. She displays a promising role of a strong wife who is vulnerable in her space but is somebody who stands up for herself and her self-respect when her husband behaves in an unjustified manner.
The idea of separate spheres was vandalized by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay in Samya, the first political text on equality, but we need to get back to Bankim’s version of equality, which says:
“If there is true equality, both men and women must bear an equal share in what is called the duties of the household. One partner will tend to the household and be deprived of education, the other partner will escape such onerous duties and become learned — regardless of whether this is natural or not, is against the principles of equality and inequality leads to inequality.”
Dolly, Sanjeev Mehra’s wife, suffers a setback because of her mental health and anxiety attacks. In India, people often dismantle the idea of mental health and psychological therapies, for we believe that medicine can cure anything. But sometimes people need a real conversation, interaction and meditation to overcome their fears. The only person who never judges Dolly for these attacks and emotional pitches is her stray pet — Savitri.
Her side of the story clearly portrays a message that mental health is ‘normal’, like any other disease or illness. Despite knowing about her husband’s affair, she tries bonding with him and even attempts to cheat on him; instead she chooses to stay back and wait for him, displaying the strong act of yearning for love.
Hathi Ram is given the charge of the case, “unfortunately”, as the investigation comes under the jurisdiction of his Police Station. For Hathi, this is one of the most important cases of his career, but later he unlocks the dirty puzzle which is formed just to serve the purpose of the power-holders. The case is later transferred to the CBI, and interestingly, without any second thought, the accused are linked to ‘ISIS’ and to an inter-border conspiracy. This clearly reflects the cheap play of “hierarchy” of power within the system and shows who controls the flow of information.
Ansari, who plays the role of a policeman under Hathi Ram as his junior, is a Muslim and gets dragged into the frame on various instances because of some ‘pre-assumed’ ideological stigmas. But, Hathi Ram, who plays a wonderful role in motivating and supporting Ansari for his pursuit of Civil Services, reflects the idea of ‘neutrality’ that we need to hold within these government offices and services.
Ansari shines as a ‘hero’ throughout the series where he displays a sense of compassion that every police officer ought to have while dealing with cases. The discrimination and the indifference felt by him from time to time is easily noticeable on his face, and a clear message for Muslims can be drawn on how badly we need an ‘educational reform’ rather than a social one.
Sara, who plays the role of a journalist working under Mr Mehra, is a well-established ‘prime time’ star. Sara does a fine job in portraying a strong confident woman of today’s time who is devoted to her profession and portrays a brilliant and daunting journalist.
She is not afraid of her choices, which range from having an affair with Mehra to unapologetically choosing the path of righteousness when she begins to get a whiff of Mehra’s self centeredness in the whole controversy. She stands up for what’s right after getting to know the truth. She helps Hathi Ram step-by-step in addressing little loopholes in the mystery of the series.
And on the other side, Mehra is only concerned about the TRP of his show, which clearly unveils the picture of the fourth pillar in India, where the media needs to play a better and responsible role.
Hence, Pataal Lok has outshone itself in a brilliant way, where in mere nine episodes, it swings you across in a whirlpool of multiple social spaces that the country is home to. It spills out the dirty dark secrets and spins them into different stories that get entwined together, and collectively shows us the lives of the three loks (three worlds) in one. It will leave you waiting for what will come next, and what it surely won’t make you feel is disappointment.
(About the authors: Areeb Uddin Ahmed, Law student at the Faculty of Law, AMU; Srishti, presently undertaking her judicial clerkship at the Allahabad High Court, Uttar Pradesh)