Poignant social drama Buhe Bariyan that asserts that a woman’s place is everywhere gives Nirmal Rishi her due as an actor, as the matriarch fighting for equality and women’s rights
It is quite de rigueur for Punjabi films to feature social themes that come in clusters. The current tide that seems to have captured the imagination of writers is the issue of gender discrimination. Earlier this year, Kali Jotta (2023) and Godday Godday Chaa (2023) brought certain themes to the fore. The former examined mental harassment and the impact of gender violence, while the latter deployed humour to highlight spaces delineated for women by patriarchy. The latest film in this vein is the Neeru Bajwa starrer, Buhe Bariyan (2023).
Directed by Uday Pratap Singh, who made Maa Da Ladla (2022) and Es Jahano Door Kitte Chal Jindiye (2023) also starring Bajwa, Buhe Bariyan examines the uphill fight for women’s equality.
Set in a small village in Punjab, the film revolves around Bhooro (Nirmal Rishi), who is the matriarch of a home where friends stay together, work together and are economically self-reliant. Not one to cower before anyone, this band of elderly women fight against social ills like dowry, domestic violence, caste-based oppression; standing with women and supporting them in their struggles. Their idyllic world is shaken when men in the village start getting anxious about women becoming decision makers and coming to the forefront. When women start accessing spaces traditionally demarcated for men in the village, the male members resort to violence to impose their will.
Police officer Prem Kaur (Neeru Bajwa) finds herself embroiled in this messy situation and vows to restore order, without siding with the women. She asserts the popular saying that women are women’s worst enemies. But through a series of misunderstandings, she realises the worth of the work that Bhooro has done in supporting the women of the village to create a life for themselves.
Buhe Bariyan features wonderful performances by the ensemble cast led by Bajwa. It is heartwarming to watch a film where stalwarts of Punjabi theatre and cinema like Nirmal Rishi, Jatinder Kaur, Seema Kaushal, Rupinder Rupi take centrestage. Most of the film centers around Rishi, who is a stalwart of Punjabi cinema and carries the film. Rubina Bajwa is effective in a deglamorized role where she plays a woman from a lower caste who is oppressed by the sarpanch’s son. Folk singer Jaswinder Brar makes a sparkling cameo as well.
The sisterhood of women who love and support each other, fight and joke with each other and share their sadness and pain together, is poignant and powerful at the same time. Highlighting the ills and oversights of patriarchy, the film looks at how men routinely underestimate women and even the office of law enforcement does not take them into account. As is pertinently pointed out, there is no term to address women officers in Punjabi.
While the theme of women’s economic self-reliance has been effectively highlighted, a patchy screenplay by Jagdeep Waring makes the film insipid in parts. The first half sets the foundation for what is to unfold and features the resistance of the band of women but the second half becomes repetitive and overstretched. A predictable face off with the men and a hasty ending becomes a bit tiresome. There is also the missed opportunity to portray how grassroots initiatives like that of Bhooro have been foundational for women’s movements across the country.
The bafflingly inconsistent character of Bajwa as Prem Kaur sticks out like a sore thumb as well. Seemingly inspired by Dabangg (2010), Kaur is an admirer of song, dance and artists. A budding poet, she gets her lackeys to admire her poetry. There is a scene where the local goons are drunk and are dancing in a room. She comes and starts dancing with them and goes on to pump them for information. All this goes completely out of the window as soon as the film turns serious.
Overall, Buhe Bariyan will leave audiences with food for thought. At the end of the film, Rishi says, ‘Eh ghut ghut ke jeena band kar, bagawat kar te takkar le’ (Stop living a suffocating life. Rise up and face the challenges). Like the feminist slogan, Buhe Bariyan asserts that a woman’s place is everywhere.
Buhe Bariyan movie cast: Neeru Bajwa, Nirmal Rishi, Jatinder Kaur, Seema Kaushal, Rupinder Rupi
Buhe Bariyan movie director: Uday Pratap Singh
Buhe Bariyan movie rating: 3 stars