ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Umbartha: The Metaphors of Gendered Limitations in Marathi Cinema


Dandekar Deepra - Leibmiz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, Germany


02 – Rewriting Hindu Women within Contemporary Popular Media


 This paper introspects on the iconic 1982 Marathi film Umbartha (threshold). Directed by Jabbar Patel and written by Vijay Tendulka, Umbartha is transitional between Marathi cinema and Bollywood, especially as its leading actors were Bollywood stars: Smita Patil and Girish Karnad. A powerful feminist narrative, the film’s title a is a metaphor of the boundaries of women’s marital freedom, further connoting the implications of Sita’s breaking of the boundaries of her threshold. Umbartha is the story of Sulabha Mahajan, an ace student, who is chosen to work as the Superintendent of a Women’s Reformatory Home. At the Home, she meets many abused, assaulted, neglected and traumatized women for whom she has sympathy. From middle-class Hindu households, these women are discarded by families for breaking the boundaries of their marriages. Though they respect Sulabha, they are frustrated and search for sexual succour among themselves as an alternative to their history of marital violence, and their punishment meted out by families. Sulabha earns criticism from the management for exposing the corruptions of the system and finally resigns as two women inmates commit suicide. Sulabha returns home to find her husband and family alienated, just like the families of women inmates from the Home. Umbartha discusses the vicissitudes and frustrations of Indian feminisms of the 1970s with feminists struggling for equality in marital relationships.