Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Kultur-, Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaftliche Fakultät - Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften

07.07. "Umbartha: Marathi Cinema and Early Feminism in India" (Dr. Deepra Dandekar, Leibniz ZMO Berlin)

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The Indian (Marathi language) movie Umbartha (threshold) was released in the year 1982. While its screenplay based on Shanta Nisal's Marathi novel Beghar (homeless) was provided by avant-garde playwrite Vijay Tendulkar, the film was directed by Jabbar Patel, who was well-known for his exploration of socalist and humanist, feminist themes in earlier Marathi productions: films like Samna (1974), Jait re Jait (1977), and Simhasan (1979). Like Tendulkar's scripts, Patel's film-making was primarily anti-establishment and leftist in nature, cynical and critical of mainstream top-down hegemonic power, and the premium this laid on a status-quo that privileged elite members of society. Umbartha was no different, documenting the life of an idealistic feminist social worker and leader and her rejection of and within a hypocritical and pretentious marital family. The film further criticized the mainstream that only masqueraded as progressive, but was in reality, misogynistic. Marked for its aim that demanded an authentic feminism out of women leaders and social workers, Umbartha according to my analysis of the film in this presentation is seminal for the time in which it's production was set: the heydays of Indira Gandhi's Prime Ministerial epoch in the 1970s and 1980s that spanned the dreadful period of Emergency (1975-1977) when all citizen civil rights were summararily abolished. This period that powerfully witnessed Mrs. Gandhi's denouncement, also saw the emergence of an authentic and idealistic, early feminism in India, encompassed in films such as Umbartha.


Deepra Dandekar (Ph.D.) is a researcher of religion, politics, gender, and migration, of nineteenth and twentieth century India. She is currently working on a DFG project at the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient and finishing a monograph on Sufi Shrines in Maharashtra titled Tea with a Tiger.