'Bust'ing many a myth: B 32 Muthal to 44 Vare (B 32 to 44)by Janaky Sreedharan April 15 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 5 secs
Janaky Sreedharan asks, “How do we talk about a film that foregrounds the bust sizes of human beings ranging from B 32 to 44 in its very title?”
Only to go beyond those commercial markers to the diverse situations of women, transmen and men around us? In all their varied color, voice and vitality!! Shruthi Sharanyam, the director of this brave debut feature in Malayalam, produced by KSFDC, (an acronym for Kerala State Film Development Corporation), explores the politics of body and identity from a perspective anchored in awareness, anger, sadness, pleasure and hope. To many it is a film about breasts, to a few, the breast is a metaphor. The very fact that so many are writing about it, discussing the multiple circles of meaning around this part of the human body show what Shruthi has managed to uncork. The subversive force of the film inheres in a film history that has eroticized the female breast and built a mystique around it.
‘B 32 Muthal 44 Vare’ sets out on its journey through a series of intersecting narratives (a narrative device made iconic by KG.George in his Adaminte Variyellu). It weaves in and out through the different layers of bodily experiences. But it is not a movie you watch from a distance and understand. We are pulled into the disparate experiences; we relate to them on many planes. You become a part of the struggles of a cancer survivor, an unwed teenager, a transman and a domestic help who becomes a model - first by chance, and later by choice. As Shruti says, "I can see myself in all the characters."
Without slipping into the dangerous terrain of ideological rigidities and sloganeering, Shruthi attempts a compassionate journey through the conflicts of a group of women trying to own their bodies and break free of them at the same time. Body becomes a bearer of many meanings to many people. Body is not your natural habitat. In Shruthi's film each character is in a process of accepting her body, thereby accepting herself. Shruthi chooses many visual tropes to unfold this rather daunting process. When have we ever seen a young girl trying to squeeze the breast milk out while writing an exam? The close-up of Jaya transforming into a dusky compelling face of a lingerie brand lingers in your memory. Yes, the film does try to talk through images.
We can see a conversation happening here between gender politics and aesthetics of a new sensibility. What makes this directorial more interesting is the way the contemporary incidents of gender violence, harassment and coming out have been woven into the storyline smoothly and imaginatively without making obvious references. When Vivek pleads for another chance, when the unwed teenage mother's father bursts into sobs we see men too broken by a system. When Jaya decides to go forward in modelling, we see it as not just a space of objectification of female bodies but also a space where other stigmatized bodies can come into their own, one feels enthused by the director's effort to translate intersectional politics into a language of cinema that can communicate even to the most uninitiated.
Frames are fresh and engage with elements of surprise, joy and tenderness despite the familiar predictable notes of toxic masculinity and sexism. Human beings are caught in the web of gender - everyone is vulnerable and fragile in their own ways. There is a flow in the way different segments ease into each other on a note of optimism and readiness to fight in life. Fight for freedom, for beauty, for more sensitivity, love and happiness.
The screen space is literally owned by women from myriad backgrounds - biological, historical, cultural and social. Shruthy underlines the inclusiveness she has tried to practice with almost 75 percent of the crew being women. She also highlights the incredible comfort level testified by the actors through their feedback and messages from other film sets, which have lesser female presence on the technical side. Shruthi caps this saying that working in her film set must have been a transformative experience for men too. "They would have understood the importance of respecting the female space too," she adds.
Music is in pace with the mood where the urgency and grind of daily life in the title song is hearteningly counterpointed by the rising tempo of the song in the final sequence. The waterways and metro lines of the Kochi city melt into the everyday lives without standing out in a picture postcard touristy allure. In this venture Shruthi has been competently assisted by the assistant director Smitha Susan Thomas and the casting director Archana Vasudev. The casting does deserve a very special mention with the most seasoned faces and newly discovered talents complementing each other brilliantly. The pace is that of the everydayness of it all. Resistance, protest, love, eroticism, disease and sickness...all flowing seamlessly into each other.
A film's meaning and significance is built by a community of spectators. This film has struggled to find its audience in the theaters, which were previously shy to make screening possible for such an 'audacious' title and a poster with hardly any men in it, let alone stars. But the film has fought its way in, as the audience has grown by word of mouth and show timings have also marked a steady rise much to the surprise of all café goers.
It is a testimony to the power of the viewers who can make or break a film. But it would have been tremendously helpful if only KSFDC had followed up its financial support with assistance in publicity campaigns, screening spaces and more slots for the film at least in the government owned theaters.
Funding without effective marketing and distribution strategies becomes demoralizing for the filmmakers thus defeating the very purpose. Through an intensive social media campaign for B32 to 44, the film community in Kerala has also expressed its desire for the policy makers to take note and make the road easier for future filmmakers who want to make a difference with their films.