A NATION WITHOUT WOMEN
A Nation Without Women is nominally a science-fiction film, although it is debatable if it has been conceived in a genre framework. What it has been made more as is a work of social warning, taking on the issue of female infanticide in India by families not wishing to be burdened with crippling and excessive marriage dowries. This throws it into the company of works like Born in Flames (1983) works of sf prognostication that are more interested in hammering a political point about the present than in exploring the ideology of a future state. The end of the film, for example, comes with a title card that notes that there have been an estimated 35 million dowry-related infant murders in India.
Certainly, considered as science-fiction, A Nation Without Women has a fundamentally implausible set-up. It strains credibility that a society would keep murdering its women to the extent of not even noticing that there werent any left, or doing anything about stopping this practice for the sake of reproductive survival. What becomes even more implausible is the simple question where are all the remaining women? We see only a single woman throughout, however we also have men in their twenties and thirties, even a couple of boys in their teens. This leads one to ask the natural question who gave birth to all the young people we see? Even if we accept that no new women have been born, the mothers of the people we see would surely still be alive somewhere, even if they were in their forties and fifties. You keep asking other questions could the solution not have been found in importing brides from other countries that do not engage in this cultural slaughter?
That said, despite a fundamentally implausible basic scenario, A Nation Without Women does a fine job of exploring the social reaction to such a situation with images that show men reduced to tears at watching a badly copied porn video, seeking relief with barnyard animals, reacting to a crossdresser on stage as though he/she were a stripper, one father attempting to marry a boy off disguised as a woman. Although, while it does dance around the subject, the one thing the film never mentions is homosexuality. Surely in such a women-depleted society, homosexuality would be rampant, or at the very least the society would have created strong taboos about such. The real issue here, one suspects, is that such subjects are regarded as taboo on the heavily censored Indian cinema screens, which do not permit on-screen nudity or even the portrayal of kissing, for instance. That said, the film certainly does push some taboo lines in other areas depicting (or at least suggesting if not exactly showing) sex with both humans and moreover animals, men masturbating to porn videos, rape, and with a degree of general vulgarity. Clearly this is a film that sets out with the intent of pushing the Indian screen taboo line as far as it can.
Ultimately though, A Nation Without Women is a film that loses a good deal of impact shown to Western audiences such as at this film festival screening in Wellington, New Zealand. It is a film that needs to be seen within its social context for its true impact to be felt, one suspects. Outside of Hindi culture, some of the more subtle intonations are not always apparent. For example, the fathers protest about the oldest son not getting married first is clearly something that has no relevance in Western culture, while what is intended as a comic moment where the daughters fathers expresses surprise at being offered money for his daughter instead of being expected to pay a dowry is a joke that slips by the audience. I, for instance, did not understand until near the end that the young boy in the household who has the running gag about peeing in guests glasses of sherbet was not the youngest son of the family as assumed but actually an Untouchable servant.
The strongest parts of the film are those depicting the treatment of the single woman in the film by the men. The montage scenes showing her ice-cold indifference as the various husbands turn up on each day of the week is well achieved, while other tiny vignettes that depict her progressive degradation her fathers abandonment of her with the offer of more money, being tied up in the barn alongside the animals, the villagers sneaking in to take turns raping her create a strong and disturbing degree of sympathy for the treatment of women by Indian society. Indeed, rather than a sense of outrage about the problem of dowry-related infanticide, what the film leaves one with is a shock about the abuse of women by men at every level of Indian society. Even though made by a male director, the film has a quite radical feminist sympathy. There are only two men in the film that can in any way be regarded as sympathetic the brother Sooraj whom Kalki comes to love and the young servant boy and the only response from the rest of the men is to murder them.
Full film available online here (no English subs):-