When it comes to feminism and the portrayal of female characters, Bollywood follows it's own unique rhythm – it takes one step forward with one release and two steps back with the next. Anarkali of Arrah is that one step forward in the right direction. Like Pink it forces us to re-think our sense of entitlement and makes its point about consent, loud and clear. But unlike it, this one has its fair share of flaws.
Irrespective of a woman's profession, nature, attire or circumstances, a NO will always mean a NO. Her consent is something that can never be taken for granted. The idea is fantastic, which makes it an important film that has its heart in the right place, but the execution leaves it wobbly in parts.
In the small town of Arrah, Anarkali struts around in her blingy lehenga. She isn't an innocent ingenue. Feisty, spirited and an electrifying performer, her naach gaana programmes are hugely sought after. But during one such stage show, when a drunk and politically-connected VC (Sanjay Mishra) gropes her, she decides to fight back instead of cower.
As she puts it herself: "hum koi dudh ke dhule nahi hai", but she objects to being touched without her consent. Swara Bhaskar as the uninhibited Anarkali is electrifying. Be it when she sings innuendo laden folk songs and matches her thumkas with the beats or when she plunges headlong into the battle to protect herself.
Swara singlehandedly gives us moments that make the movie Anarkali of Arre waah! Also seasoned actors of the caliber of Sanjay Mishra and Pankaj Tripathi are remarkably effective in their roles.
The performances, in fact, help keep the narrative together with the songs bringing alive the rustic charm of unvarnished small town India.
Debutant director Avinash Das is a brave new voice with a refreshing take on women and their sexuality. But the screenplay fails to offer him the needed support. For instance, in the first 30 minutes nothing significant happens.
There is a similar lull post interval. Many threads like Anarkali's friendship with the young Anwar or the protests against her singing and dancing are left hanging loose. Anarkali of Arrah could have been a far better film, but it still deserves to be seen for all the things it gets right.
3 quints out of 5.