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Doubting the woman: Paoli Dam in Chatrak

By Amitava Nag • Published on September 26, 2011

[F]rench auteur Jean Luc Godard once quipped, “Cinema doesn’t query the beauty of the woman, it only doubts her heart”. Can we replace ‘Cinema’ with ‘Society’ here?  Molly Haskell argued in her ground-breaking From Reverence to Rape: The treatment of women in the Movies (1974)–”Film reflects the ideological and social construction of women who are either revered as the virgin or reviled (as the whore).”

From time immemorial, the patriarchal society marks the meaning and the importance of the female in her association with the male. This lack of identification has been central in the prevalent phallo-centric society which perceives ‘male’ as physically and symbolically dominant over ‘female’. So it never comes as a surprise that a woman who is beautiful, confident and desiring will be trampled aside by an unprepared society.

The entire preamble is with respect to a small video clip which was on youtube for sometime, ripped off the site pretty hastily but ensuring that flocks of people got the chance to treasure it in their personal chest. The clip in question here is from the film Chatrak (Mushroom, 2011) by the Sri-Lankan director Vimukthi Jayasundara. The clip depicts oral sex between Paoli and her co-star where she as the character is the pleasure seeker instead of being the giver.

There had been a flurry of debates – in the newspapers, on the web, to the extent that at least 5 of my friends who happened to be middle-class educated Bengalis whispered over phone or in real – “Paoli Dam er porno ta dekhechho? Na thakle debo, ache amar kachhe” (in English it means “Have you seen the porno of Paoli Dam? If you don’t have I can give, I have it”). Interestingly the advertent friend-list included members of both the genders. It was rather interesting as to how inexplicably worried they are about the actress, Paoli Dam in this case – “what is she upto? Ruining her image for some Sri-Lankan director?” Few suggested that they are fine if it is in a ‘foren’ movie with ‘gora’ actors in it!

So where does it all fall through? I happened to read one of the crudest interviews of Paoli last week in a leading Bengali daily on this where she was repeatedly asked by the dumb-ass reporter if she considers this as a porno act or not. This is quite funny, if cinema is to entertain and if pornography does entertain a big section of the ‘normal’ populace then who cares?

It is probably the nostalgia-overdosed Bengali psyche which is still trying to find comfort in its sepia slumber – so much so that the realities of life hits hard. Paoli is an intelligent actress, Bengal’s face to world cinema – her range of portrayals is unparallel and beyond question. She is sensible enough to realize that had it been a rape scene of equal or even more exposition of the female body, then also it could have been logically justified (though the physical representation would have still raised issues – remember Seema Biswas in Sekhar Kapoor’s Bandit Queen); but the Bengali middle-class just cannot digest a naked woman almost demanding sexual pleasure and favour from her partner on screen.

The controversy and explicit nature of the particular scene will ensure that the film will be heavily censored in India – probably the festival circuit will get to see it in full. Hence, the film is successful in creating the necessary hoopla to sail it across – whether this publicity was intended or not still remain doubtful though.

Paoli Dam as an actress will be having the Bengali middle-class eating out of her palms now. She threw them a challenge – ‘you have been fantasizing for so long for my mute body and now I shed off the last thread for you, your fantasies are dampened by the specificity of the bare physical torso’.

The clumsy mind of the society at large should retreat and bow to Paoli, the soul of the ‘woman’ remains as ever – untouched.

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18 Responses to “Doubting the woman: Paoli Dam in Chatrak”

  1. vinjk says:

    why limit your argument to only bengalis? your thought is relevant to entire india and may be even beyond.
    in a recent malayalam movie called Salt n Pepper, there was scene where 3 ladies were shown drinking whisky on the eve of new year…some of my friends couldn’t even digest *that*!!

  2. morshed says:

    it was a wonderful love scene.
    congrat paoli dam

  3. gargi says:

    whatever she did is made her a cheaper heroin and it is a most cheap advertisement for her carreer. we used to see her as she did in kalbela but ……

  4. Sengupta says:

    Paoli is popular enough in Bengali Films,even her face & beauty compared previously with Suchitra Sen in some filmy mags.Why she needed to go for this cheap popularity?

  5. Riya says:

    Well,this wasn’t a cheap popularity. kate winslet is beautiful and a brilliant actress,but she has also done some bold scenes,like in JUDE,THE READER,etc. does that make her cheap? Just because Paoli is an Indian,a bengali,wouldn’t make her cheap if she has the guts to take the challenge. Instead of admiring someone’s dedication to her career,people are busy cursing her for it. If you don’t like it,better don’t watch it. I still do not understand why people cannot take sex scenes normally,no one can deny its an important part of life,and filming a realistic movie may feel the need of such bare scenes too. What’s the big deal? She is professional !

  6. dib says:

    love her like anything… she is awesome in every thing she does

  7. 888 says:

    The sex scene was there only because director wants publicity and Paoli Dam was stupid and naive enough to do it. Sex sells that is the reason it is in the movie. Really cheap move from the director and Paoli Dam.
    The scene is NOT bold, brave or anything like that, it is cheap calculatiing and needles. The defenders are mostly ones who watch movies only to see nude and sex scenes.

  8. Manoj Pandey says:

    I saw the 3+ min clip. I think the reason male chauvinist moral police (which includes females also) has a problem with it is basically that in the clip the woman is in charge/control.

    IOW, deep insidethey are delighted when a woman is raped or otherwise humiliated, and horrified when she is in charge of her life, specially her private life.

    Hats off to Paoli Dam. I was very impressed by her performance in ‘thana theke aschi’ and I will definitely see the whole of Chatrak if and when I get access to it.

    A fleeting thought: remember Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Alphaville’? What stand out on present viewing of that film is the male chauvinism of comrade Godard. But that was decades ago, and anachronistic analyses are unfair…

  9. Rahul says:

    Can anyone give the link to download the video clip. I have heard a lot of rumour but I dont believe it till I see it. So if anyone have the link please provide it.
    Thanks in advance………

  10. 888 says:

    Manoj Pandey and others like him/her are just phony pseudointellectual arthouse pretenders with huge “look at me i’m so liberal” act . Or net pervs who watch movies only because of sex and nudity. Or both of them.
    Sex sells is the reason this scene is in the movie and there is nothing bold in it.
    Sexploitation disguised as a drama.

    • Rohit says:

      888, I take pity on us that creatures like you who even exist (or dare to exist). First all read carefully what Manoj Pandey has written. At least we have the balls to write our real name, not like a pretentious hypocrite like you who has not got the balls to reveal his name and hides it behind three digits (888). I am sure that you are one of those people who supports the rapists and create a ruckus when an actor does her job. You also belong to that part of society who kills his wife for dowry. And from your comment it is very much obvious you have no knowledge of cinema and queue up at Film Festivals to watch uncensored films and then paint your walls white back at home.

  11. 888 says:

    Rohit,
    Cry me a river you nudity fan. You ( all other defenders) are whining just because you cannot stant that someone is criticizying gratuitous sex/nudity scenes. You and Manoj Pandey are full of pretentious excuses. There is nothing bold or brave in this sexploitation film. Director is not bold or brave and neither is Paoli Dam, they are calculating.
    I am European ancestry and have seen thousands of films, seen lot of sex scenes in them someof them are justifiable because of plot but lot of them are just gratuitous ones and easily see past yours”“look at me i’m so liberal i defend sex scene” act .” So cut the crap Rohit, Manoj,Amitava etc. you Sex/nudity fans are not fooling anyone.
    This movie and that scene is NOT statement it just cheap sex sells exploitation.

    By the way, a German Movie reviewer game this movie a 1/6 rating, a worst possible points (just like the two readers of that review who game the same rating) so there you go.

  12. Manoj Pandey says:

    to 888 in particular, and others in general:

    I’ll *partly* reserve my comment on Chatrak, because I haven’t seen the full movie yet (I wasnt at cannes at the right time. etc…). BUT neither has 888, as is clear from his/her post.

    Meanwhile, since my last post I have seen legally purchased versions of *all* Paoli Dam films. And I find her, on average, just brilliant. And look, I am 50+ and Paoli. though 11 years older than my daughter, looks *very slightly* like her, so my feeling toward Paoli is of that sort (not everyone 50+ is a sick pervert, you see; plus I had some seriously tense discussions with my daughter about that explicit clip…)

    So 888 hasnt seen chtrak, neither have I, but I’ve since my last post legally accessed and seen *all* other Paoli films and on average I am seriously impresssed by her as an actor (I dont know her personally, so I only have subjective opinions – basicallly positive – abour her as a human being, )

    So can we reserve judgment of Chatrak until we’ve seen it? And re paoli Dam, I dont think it is anyone else’s business to morally-police her choices (which may or may not be 100% perfect (perfect acccording to who????) )?

    “That which is perfect is also dead’” – me quoting/misquoting from memory from Salman Rushdie’s ‘Grimus’, which quote in turn is an obvious summary of existentialist (sp. of the Sartrian stream and in general the left-atheistic streams) thought?

  13. Manoj Pandey says:

    888, an afterthought. Sex sells (by itself???? So why is 9 Songs (2004) so boring and why was it a flop/almstr-flop??? What century do you live in?

    And I’ havent met or heard from anyone who’s called the film ’9 songs’ pornographic. A tad boring, yes. Pornograhic, no. But maybe 888 willl cast the first stone?

    Meanwhile, what about Pasolini’s last film Salo(which I have serious issues with )? I’ll agree that it is very unethical to make filmslike ‘cannibal holocaust’ though.

    But seriously, is ‘cannibal holocaust’ or ‘salo’ (or even Kubrik’s A Clockwork Orange) relevant to discussing an inocent film like Chatrak?

    Time’s better spent getting hold of Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘must we burn sade?’ (I lost my copy and cant find another one, not thqat Ive searched hard enough…)

    Oh yes, I am male but I sometimes wish I wasnt.

  14. 888 says:

    Sex scenes are in movies in most times because director tries to sell it and get wider audiences, sometimes sex scenes is justifiable because of plot but this was not case in Chatrak. Vimukthi Jayasundara is just another talentless arthouse- director who was after publicity and is dishonest hack-director..
    And Paoli Dam is just another poor excuse of “actress” who career is just about being in sex scenes.

    9 Songs (and other movies like that) has real sex only because director wants publicity controversy because he was and is just a pathetic attention whore and deliberately controversial attention seeking phony fraud.
    Director of Chatrak motive was same, only way he can get any publity for himself is deliberately create it, with sex scene. Movie was shown in Berlin film festival and also in Cannes so cut the crap about me not seeing it.

    Oh, 9 Songs not called pornographic? Cut that crap also and cut your phony act you naive pseudo-intellec. art twat and nude/sex scene fan.
    Try a well known British Critic Chris Tookey who writes for British newspaper Daily Mail: http://www.movie-film-review.com/devFilm.asp?id=14237

    Then try some more and do a google search for “9 Songs pornography” Jerk.

  15. Manoj Pandey says:

    888, me – and methinks everyone with any sense – is sick of your crap, so do everyone a favour and perform the canonical impossible carnal act *instead* of posting on this thread. Of course you are free to post, but speaking for myself I’ll ignore the existence of the pathetic 888 and his pathetic typo-diarrhea.

    Oh I get it. You are just a kid troll who has lernt about trolling from a senior from good old usenet days. From now on, I will not feed the troll. So this is my last post for you to feed on. In my later posts if any, you dont exist. Geddit?

  16. 888 says:

    You are still not fooling anybody with you “i’m so liberal act”, you netperv. Go ahead you pretentious fool, go find more sex and nude scenes and whine if someone questions those scenes.
    In my last post i gave you a facts about “movie” 9 songs and how it was called pornographic by british critic, i shut you up, and after that all you can do is whine and whine without even single counter argument, so of couse you are leaving.

    Doing sex scenes is still what Paoli Dam’s career is all about, a really pathetic excuse of actress.

    Cry me a river you phony and pretentious j*rk.

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