‘Gulabo Sitabo’, Guddo and Sibling Abuse

Photo: filmibeat.com

By Priyanka Yadav

The much talked about film, Gulabo Sitabo, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana and directed by Shoojit Sircar, released on 12 June amidst the pandemic on an online platform. Nonetheless the movie is a treat to watch. With brilliant performances by each of the actors, be it Amitabh Bachchan or Brijendra Kala, and superb direction, the movie deserves a thumbs up. This article does not intend to review the film to either appreciate or criticise it. Here I wish to draw attention towards the beauty and relatability of a well-portrayed character, Guddo. The role is played by the budding actress Srishti Shrivastava, whom I have spotted in several YouTube videos. In the movie, Guddo is Baankey’s (Ayushmann Khurranna) younger sister who is completing her graduation and desperately looking forward to work to support her family financially.

To start with, I applaud the work which Srishti has done to justify her role. While all other performances are a treat to watch, Guddo kept me glued throughout. Apart from her performance, what excites me is the relatability of her character. Guddo resonates with every young aspiring small-town girl whose first achievement is to defy patriarchal norms. In the movie, Guddo is a young student, fairly knowledgeable, aspiring and wanting to carve a niche for herself. However, time and again she is put down by her own elder brother, Baankey, who happens to be a school drop-out. In a scene in the movie where Guddo tries to explain to Baankey about Mirza’s (Amitabh Bachchan) connection with the Gyanesh Shukla (Vijay Raaz) and how both of them are trying to cheat him, her brother gives her a patient hearing and then says, “Jayada gyan mat jhado” (Don’t flaunt your knowledge).

Throughout the film, Guddo keeps showcasing her urge to work, as she claims that she would be able to do good enough work. But her brother never agrees. A determined Guddo sticks to her decision and gets herself a job – an assistant to a lawyer (Brijendra Kala) in a civil court – despite all the obstacles. Guddo’s journey is amazing to watch and I would appreciate the writers and directors for creating a progressive character like hers.

Guddo is every young girl I see in our society today. Aspiring but always underestimated. Free but overprotected. In fact, it is very common in Indian households to let down women by the male (elder or younger) and sometimes also the female members of the family. An intelligent or a knowledgeable woman in the family is never accepted. Being a strong (while no woman is weak in any sense) or educated/aspiring woman is difficult. Howsoever rational a woman is, she is often told, “Jada ban rhi, jada padh liya hai lagta hai” (She is thinking to highly of herself as if she is the only one educated). While it is very easy to clap at the achievements of a successful woman on TV, it is extremely difficult to raise one. This is because that would demand subversion of patriarchy, a difficult prospect. Most households are steeped in patriarchal beliefs irrespective of their location – rural or urban. These patriarchal beliefs have often led to the problem of what we know as ‘sibling abuse’, be it physical, emotional or sexual kind.

Sibling abuse as a form of abuse has taken a long time to gain recognition and the researchers started investigating it only in the 21st century. According to Agar and Angsfield, “Psychoanalysts have developed a tradition which tends to ignore—in our teaching, in our writings, and most importantly in our practice of psychoanalysis—internalised sibling experiences.” This limitation has led to the misunderstanding about sibling abuse to sibling rivalry or healthy tiff.

One can misunderstand sibling abuse (except sexual) because its persistence is nuanced, especially in households where younger female sibling is subject of abuse by an elder male sibling. In Indian families sibling abuse is often equated with protection and security, as men are by default guardians of the female family members. I wish to stick to the psychological and emotional abuse experienced in the relationship which an unequal relation generates. Patriarchy encourages male siblings to behave like bodyguards to their sisters as the sisters are objects of security. This belief strengthens the power matrix between them where the male sibling is positioned as an authority, who has the right to decide, to control and sometimes also to take life decisions for the female sibling.

Instead of protecting women, this equation disempowers them or weakens what Preeti Rawat terms eve-empowerment and psychological empowerment. It makes the female sibling weak mentally and emotionally where she is not capable of taking her own decisions or sometimes just not standing for what she wants. Quite often we hear narratives that a woman student wants to pursue an X degree because her brother has asked her to do so. Another woman has decided not to take up a job in a good company located far because of her brother’s discouragement. We do witness the male sibling not accepting the intelligence or knowledge of the female sibling by simply exclaiming, “Isse kuch nahi pata, she is too young” (You stay away you are too naive) or “Tu rehne de mai jo bol rah hu vo kar” (Do as I say). The male sibling behaves likes a messiah in every matter.

Sircar’s Guddo faces the same sibling psychological abuse. However, she is intelligent enough to overcome it with her own set of struggles, as most girls do. Those who cannot overcome this abuse (because most of the time they are unaware of this fact) continue to struggle for true freedom.

Priyanka Yadav, Research Scholar, Centre for Political Studies, JNU, India.


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