Film Review: BitterSweet

Film Review: BitterSweet

Starring: Akshaya Gaurav, Suresh Vishwakamra, Anil Nagarkar

Director: Ananth Narayan Mahadevan

This critically acclaimed Marathi film that premiered at the Busan International Film Festival is now among the vibrant collection of films at this year’s London Indian Film Festival curated for viewers to enjoy on screens at home.

Set in Beed, a village in the interiors of the peninsular state of Maharashtra, the film portrays the life-threatening scenarios of sugarcane cultivators and female oppression by powerful employers. Maharashtra is considered one of the biggest producers of sugarcane in India and with it comes the shortcomings of unhygienic working conditions and social injustice faced by the informal labourers who work in these vast fields.

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The film unreels the tragic life of Saguna who is forced to leave her education aside due to financial constraints and to join her family as a sugarcane cutter to make a living. This seasonal employment exerts an immense burden on the workers who must slog for long hours in the scorching sun to meet the daily quota of cultivation. Adding to the fatigue of women, the field contractors demand that the workers pay from their own pockets or work additional hours for the time lost during their menstruation period. For the pennies that they make, the penalty amounts to an insignificant sum which is more than their month’s salaries.

Based on true events, director Mahadevan rightly exposes the nexus between the sugarcane contractors and the hospital gynaecologists who pressurise female workers into undergoing hysterectomies for their own selfish gains. Like thousands of other victims, Saguna is bound to fall prey to the evil intentions of her boss and Dr Borade who diagnoses her with a severe premenstrual disorder and assures her that a hysterectomy would be the right solution. Will Saguna put up a strong fight against the sugar barons or will she succumb to their exploitation?

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The remarkable performances by the actors will allow you to feel the pain and the struggles in the lives of these daily wage earners. Akshaya Gurav effortlessly melts into the character of Saguna. Her smooth dialogue delivery can be noticed during heart wrecking moments like when she contemplates: “Even if I remove my womb, I’ll still be a woman.”

The film is an appropriate fit for those who are looking for an intense story with a meaning.

*Info: BitterSweet was screened as part of the London Indian Film Festival 2021

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