Boradiya Pokuna: Gender Stereotyping and Patriarchal Connotations

Public screening of Satyajit Maitipe’s film Boradiya Pokuna was launched on 14th February 2015 seven years after its production. This was the first time I watched this film. I think it presents some aspects which one can build a discussion towards the contribution to the remaining narratives of reading cinema. A film can certainly be read differently depending on the viewer’s interests and subjectivities. At this point I would like to read this film looking at its connotations to stereotypical gender identities; perception in popular culture and society on women in general and the female Free Trade Zone (FTZ) worker; and patriarchy in this society.

In general, the film does not present a challenging notion to patriarchal norms and practices. The women have come to the FTZ challenging the cultural and patriarchal norms, which is also considered an accepted way of internal migration in the Sri Lankan Sinhala rural community. But the film shows that these women maneuver within the accepted patriarchal norms, in subordination to them and to an extent reproduce them. Having said so, the importance of this film is, it presents a picture of the extent of patriarchal influence in this society and how these patriarchal notions are manifested.

Stereotypical Gender Notions

The stereotypical gender notions of beauty are presented throughout the film. The women’s beauty is measured with fair complexion and long hair which is depicted through Mangala. She is courted by two men, apart from being harassed and made advances at by males. Gothami with a dark complexion is deprived of opportunities even as a child due to her appearance. She refers to Mangala as her pretty friend. These are notions of beauty produced in society and presented by popular culture.

Sathyajit has also worked on the defamatory characteristics associated with womanhood, namely the seductive quality. This is presented through Gothami’s character who makes use of her friend Mangala’s fiancé’s emotional vulnerability after their temporary breakup to engage in coitus for her advantage. As I saw it the message that the women are seductive is presented and reiterated by use of the song sath siyak maya balen mama from the play Kuveni in the background.

To me, Sathyajit Maitipe uses these stereotypical gender notions in his film as a travesty.

Stigmatisation of the Female FTZ Worker

The presentation of the FTZ worker is a bit complex to me. In Sri Lanka, the popular narrative on FTZ female worker is the association of stigma. This film too makes references to this oppressive status of the female FTZ worker.  It is only the women in the FTZ who are preserved as people with loose morals. The male workers of the FTZ too work in the same factories and socialize in the same manner as female workers, but they are exempted from this notion. Here, the gender of stigmatisation is female.  In the film at one-instance two men in a motorcycle physically harass Mangala in a manner as if it is “normal” to exploit female FTZ workers. When her two friends come in to her rescue, all women are verbally harassed and offensive references are made on their job and morality.  At another point Mangala’s fiancé Vipula and Mangala have an argument in front of the landlady and roommates, where she finally says that their relationship is over. At that moment Vipula’s friend refers to Mangala as a ‘FTZ whore’.  The female FTZ worker, a person with loose morals is the popular notion which is commonly presented through the mainstream cinema. If one takes the Sinhala film Lokuduwa, it depicts a worker who joins a garment factory out of economic hardships and works her way up by becoming the factory owner’s mistress.  In the film Kinihiriya mal, one of the two main characters, a rural migrant worker to the FTZ, betrayed by friendship, city life and modernity starts working in a massage parlor and then becomes a mistress of a businessman and operates as a sex worker to his contacts. This narrative needs to be changed for the better. In these mainstream films FTZ women are displayed as using their sexuality to manipulate the system for their own benefit. Thus sexuality becomes a capital. As a result the popular notion portrays FTZ women workers as ones who use this capital for economic and other gains which in turn contributes to their stigmatization.

Compared to the flow of those films mentioned I think this is where Boradiya Pokuna breaks away. The film starts building up on the popular notion of FTZ workers but then does not portray FTZ workers as women who use their sexuality for economic gains.  Instead it brings in the notions of culture portrayed through Gothami and Mangala as restrained; and maneuvered and shaped leading to incidents like abortions and abandonment of children. Thus, in the film ’legally wrong‘ act of abortion and ‘humanly wrong’ act of abandonment of children are conducted to be perceived as ‘culturally correct’ in society.

The Gendered Double Standards and Patriarchal Connotations

In the film there were two main instances where double standards of patriarchy in society are depicted. One is the incident of assumed forgiveness. Vipula, the air force officer in love with Mangala after committing infidelity with her best friend Gothami is confronted by Gothami who threatens exposing it to Mangala; Vipula reacts that he would kneel before Mangala and ask for her forgiveness. He further confirms that Mangala will forgive him. Vipula sees his infidelity as something which could be forgiven. On the other hand Mangala is cheating on Vipula says that if Vipula gets to about her infidelity he will kill her. It clearly shows the double standards. The other incident related to forgiving is shown towards the end of the film. Gothami is married to Desmond whom she thinks has committed infidelity, and following its exposure she goes back to her mother. After a while the husband comes looking for her asking for her forgiveness. All these instances revolve around affairs external to monogamy but the difference of viewpoint of women and men is emphasised. This actually though remotely depicts the gendered double-standards of Sri Lankan society.

Boradiya Pokuna also looks at the difference in which men and women have to face repercussions under the notions governed by morality and culture. In this film, the act of extra-marital sex which is perceived as morally and culturally wrong has different repercussions on the man and the women who were part of that act.   Vipula, the man says he would be forgiven by his fiancée whom he will marry later; but in the case of Gothami, she is abducted, manhandled by Vipula’s friends and forced to undergo an abortion. As a result, Gothami is compelled to go to a socially isolated location with a fabricated story about her pregnancy and abandoning the newly born enfant. Mangala also ends up resorting to an abortion which may have affected her biologically.

All in all, to me, Bora Diya Pokuna looks at the gender norms shaped and reshaped by “culture”. This film lays down the deep social entrenchment of patriarchal domination as well as its subtle and explicit  social connotations in an effective manner.