Director: Rajesh James
As part of the collection of films at the , one such treasure is Rajesh James’ ‘In Thunder Lightning and Rain’. This Malayalam film documents three empowered and revolutionised women from distinct vocations in the sleepy coastal town of Cochin. Their emotions, hardships and histories are capable of resonating with women beyond India.
Drawing inspiration from the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Rajesh memoirs the story of his ‘three witches’, each giving life a new meaning.
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A former footballer for India, Seena CV, is now a trainer to many young boys and girls passionate about the sport. As the sole woman coach in Kochi, she is often hit by stereotypical comments like “do women play football?” or “can women play football?”. This segment projects her desire to change societal perspectives on women playing football in a man’s team. “I like to train boys because with girls I have to worry about their safety, if they have reached home.”
Having witnessed the brutal that her mother tolerated from her abusive father, this has traumatised her childhood and scarred her notion of marriage for life, never wanting to tie the knot.
As she takes us through her memories of working as a domestic helper to make ends meet and her first international match, she is struck with unbelief at her journey so far.
Fisher and folk singer, Ammoni Amma tales her world with big smile on her face. She may not have received a formal education back in the day for she made a sacrifice for her younger siblings but today she lectures students on her forte; agriculture, fishing and culture. “We used to plough the field instead of the cattle because our father wanted us to experience the same thing that he once went through in his life.”
Poverty, hunger, sorrow doesn’t stop her from celebrating her life. Ammoni Amma isn’t a white-collar job professional, but she seems to be one of the happiest and satisfied workers as she wades through the muddy waters to catch fish.
She locks horns with her misogynist husband who refuses to value her income as much as our male chauvinist society. We see the very jovial Amma in her canoe, as the scene fades to the tunes of her melodious voice.
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Working with flames, Selina Michael brings her life out in the open while she performs her duties as a cremator. The sight of the corpses didn’t haunt her as much as her husband did: “I am afraid of people who walk on two legs, not the dead. The person who I feared most was my husband.”
As time has flown by, Selina gets comfortable to break her silence about the torture she went through at home. Sometimes a broken spine, sometimes a broken ear or a broken arm, she finally stood firm and put an end to her domestic abuse.
Ten long years and Selina remains faithful to her job until her death. After which she wishes to be cremated just the way she has been doing it.
Towards the end of the documentary, the three deities will have taught you the lessons to never give up, love what you do and to always gather the courage to face wrongdoings. Although Rajesh brushes upon patriarchy and gender bias, he hasn’t centralised the theme on the women’s past sufferings. In fact, he brings into prominence their current survival and endurance. While these strong-willed women are living at the margins of society, they question the malpractices. Rajesh explains, “They are living at the periphery but they are of substantial potential who live their life with celebration, overcoming challenges.”
The director subtly intertwines the stories of Seena, Ammoni Amma and Selina to the history of the land’s colonial connection by bringing the three to the Cochin carnival. At midnight, the streets in India are mostly dominated by the male population. Rajesh wanted to watch the protagonists who have been patriarchy all their lives, express their feelings after visiting this masculine space. The curtains drop with the trio watching the Portuguese tradition of burning the “old man” or the “papanji” at Fort Kochi on New Year’s Eve.