Love, Sex, Aur Bahurani… ‘Chhatriwali’ Works, Albeit In Parts

Taboo topics like sex, contraception, women’s sexual and reproductive health takes centerstage in this movie headlined by Rakul Preet Singh

Director: Tejas Prabhaa Vijay Deoskar

Writers: Sanchit Gupta and Priyadarshee Srivastava

Cast: Rakul Preet Singh, Sumeet Vyas, Satish Kaushik, Prachee Shah Paandya, and Rajesh Tailang

Rating: 3/5

Sanya Dhingra (Rakul Preet Singh) is a brilliant chemistry graduate tuition teacher who lives with her single mother in Karnal, Haryana. Theirs is a middle-class family and Sanya is looking for a full-time job to help her mother with their financial situation. One day she gets a job offer from one of her neighbors, Ratan Lamba (Satish Kaushik). But it is not what she would have ever expected. It is that of a quality analyst at a factory. Although it is a lucrative offer and her chemistry knowledge would be crucial to the job, she is apprehensive due to the social stigma associated with the product the company manufactures—condoms. Safe sex is an unsafe topic of discussion. She reluctantly takes it up because of the pay package but decides to keep this a secret. Slowly she gets over the social conditioning and starts enjoying her job and begins to take pride in it. Life goes on, and she falls in love and gets married to Rishi Kalra (Sumeet Vyas), the owner of a store selling goods required to perform pujas. It is a sanskari family and Sanya, still unsure of how her new family will react to her job, continues to keep it a secret. Instead, she tells them that she works at an umbrella factory– protection against flu, cough, and cold is taken much more seriously in this country than that against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. However, trouble is brewing at home. Her sister-in-law (Prachee Shah Paandya) lands up in the hospital in a serious condition after suffering a miscarriage. It comes to light that she has had multiple abortions and miscarriages and her health is compromised due to the excessive popping of birth-control pills. What comes as a surprise is that Sanya’s righteous brother-in-law (Rajesh Tailang), who is also a biology teacher in a reputable school, is averse to the idea of using protection while having sex and views condoms as something filthy. He is probably a majority of Indian men to whom women’s sexual and reproductive health is of zero concern and it is something to be brushed under the carpet. Even in school, he treats the chapter on human reproduction and sex education as ‘optionals’ and flips through the pages. The movie then traces Sanya’s attempts to address the issue her sister-in-law is facing at home. But she soon realizes that it is something the majority of married women in society are also plagued with. She then makes it her motto to change the situation and starts with providing sex education to school children as well as the women of her locality.

What Works:

The movie tackles conversations around sex education and female reproductive health sensitively and with an academic approach. Rakul Preet Singh, the actor who had five releases last year, headlines Chhatriwali with grit and gumption. She gives a balanced performance and proves her mettle. The entire cast which included the likes of Sumeet Vyas, Satish Kaushik, Rajesh Tailang, and Rakesh Bedi, is effective but one must make a special mention of Prachee Shah Paandya. As the timid sister-in-law, she is nuanced and subtle. Many might find the palpable discomfort of the teacher and the students during sex education classes shown in the movie relatable. It attempts to start conversations around the crucial and important topic of safe sex, without turning it into a sex comedy or a comedy on safe sex,  and that itself is a commendable feat. That it doesn’t let the story get hijacked by a male savior is equally so.

What Doesn’t

The plot is too basic, predictable, and simplistic with a convenient conflict resolution. It is an ie-time OTT watch and not meant for the theatres.

The balance between teaching and preaching blurs once in a while and starts looking like a UGC awareness film.  The movie is low on entertainment and high on education. Although it is commendable how the movie brings to the fore conversations around women’s sexual health, with dialogues equating women to a well quenching the thirst of men, the idea of women’s desire and sexual gratification is unceremoniously thrown out of the window.  Maybe one needs to take baby steps and maybe women’s sexual needs are the next step in the conversation but one still feels that the dialogue could and should have been written better.  In fact, the movie is weighed down by its cringe-inducing dialogues.

There are also serious loopholes in the story. One is left perplexed about why a general store owner, who is making a profit from the increased sale of condoms, would become an anti-condom activist. If you consider condoms as something ‘filthy’ why sell them in the first place? It is bizarre that he has no problem selling a product but gets all agitated when people come to buy it from him. The shopkeeper angle just doesn’t add up and sticks out like a sore thumb more than Satish Kaushik’s

wig does.

Although the film is made for a family audience with the possible aim to become a conversation starter on sex education for adolescents, the treatment of the story often becomes childish. In 2023, even with adolescents as part of your target audience, one needs to do better. Even with its relevant and progressive content, the movie looks too dated for i-phone/social media generation.

Certain cinematic choices (especially when you see the boxes getting filled up) make you wonder if the movie is made in the 60s. The plot is too basic, predictable, and simplistic with a convenient conflict resolution. It is good as a one-time OTT watch and is not meant for a theatre experience.

Verdict:

Not every social message movie needs to be a comedy. Not every woke movie needs a Male Savior. Chhatriwali is an important movie that aims at starting conversations around condoms and safe sex and more importantly, women’s sexual health—a topic that is hardly ever discussed even within the most progressive of families, let alone movies.  Chhatriwali is sex ed done right. Headlined by Rakul Preet Singh movie is devoid of any frills and keeps its focus firmly on the story it aims to tell. Also, it

is refreshing to see a woman taking charge of the narrative and not being reduced to a side character in her own story. Not every woman needs to be saved by a ‘hero’.  Not every ‘women-centric’ movie needs to be rescued by a male star. Chhatriwali might not be a brilliant piece of cinema but it is a ‘sex movie’ that the entire family can and should watch together.  You can catch it

on Zee 5.

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