Women’s Voicesby Deepa Gahlot September 27 2018, 3:52 pm Estimated Reading Time: 2 mins, 21 secs
It is always interesting to explore scenarios in rural or small town India, wherein women are able to negotiate some power for themselves, however miniscule the impact may be. And if this rocking of the boat happens in a state like Haryana, notorious for its toxic patriarchal culture, and the highest rates of female infanticide, it is a cause to cheer. However, astronaut Kalpana Chawla - a poster girl of sky-is-the-limit Indian girl power - was also born in this backward Haryana. How does an outsider even understand these two extremes?
Hello Farmaish, directed by Yuki Ellias from a script by Sneh Sapru (Hindi adaptation by Vidit Tripathi) is set in a village in Haryana, where a DJ Bobby (Abhishek Chauhan - excellent) runs a small local radio station in a room where an NGO works with women to make soft toys for the export market - their work going to places they cannot even imagine, leave aside visiting. The women are supervised by Geeta (Puja Sarup - competent), who is pregnant.
One of the women, Minaz (Priyanka Setia - earnest), who needs the work, but somehow does not fit into the box of subservience expected of her (the teddies she makes are not perfect), dares to dream of the universe. On hearing about Kalpana Chawla’s flight into space (in 1997), she is so fascinated, that she bullies Bobby into letting her (she calls herself RJ Kangaroo because they are making a batch of stuffed kangaroos) and Gita have a segment, called Hello Farmaish, during which they talk of outer space and elementary science, as they track Kalpana’s spacecraft.
Their show becomes popular and that sets off the men of the village, who phone in with either absurd questions or veiled threats. Hello Farmaish combines reality with fantasy and sometimes it makes for an uneasy fit. The set that has a ladder reaching out to a cotton candy cloud, a strange tree and hoop and a suspended window among other things - is whimsically abstract.
The play that has some enjoyable moments is inspired by actual community radio stations Mewat and Alfaz-e-Mewat in Haryana; it has an interesting take on the subject, however, a little more about the condition of the women could have been included. Only the voice of Gita’s stern mother-in-law is heard, and it is hinted that her giving birth to daughters must have caused her a great deal of trouble. What comes across is the feeling of solidarity amongst the women, and the little area of freedom they get for themselves by working outside the house. Kalpana Chawla’s space mission ended in disaster, but she still gives women in hellish-for-women Haryana (and indeed, all of India), a reason to hope and dream.