Sparkling with wit at turns, genuinely warm and engaging at times, Sara’s, the Malayalam release on Amazon Prime, stands out for championing the protagonist’s right to bodily autonomy. Although Sara’s has its moments of harping upon the theme of motherhood or no motherhood as a choice to the point of sounding thesis-like, it is a bold movie that strips motherhood off its goddess aura, a resonance that is not lost upon an Indian audience.
The movie belongs to Anna Ben as the titular heroine of this slice-of-life comedy by Jude Anthany Joseph. An aspiring filmmaker in Kerala, Sara Vincent is a relatable heroine, determined in her gaze, unflinching in her career pursuit and ambitious in birthing a legacy. The young and opinionated Sara, who is waiting for her break as a director and is protective about her script like her baby, tells her boyfriend Jeevan (Sunny Wayne), “For me, a person’s ultimate aim should be to contribute something by which the world can remember you after you die, not just to have kids and be remembered by them.” Men build legacies and history or ‘his’ story belongs to men. Women’s histories have never been part of dominant or mainstream narratives. Meet the heroine who for a change is interested in leaving behind a legacy.
During their courtship, Sara shares with Jeevan how she does not want babies. “It’s not that I don’t like kids. I just don’t have the knack of handling them, and it hasn’t seemed essential to me,” she elucidates. “Essential” is the operating word here, as we are told motherhood may not seem to be essential for all women just by the virtue of them being women.
“So, the issue is not the uterus. This is about the other stuff - feminism,” says a female relative of Jeevan at a family gathering at the newly married couple’s nest where inevitably the question of them having a child pops up. Sara’s tells us that women’s reproductive rights are a business of feminism. And, yes, feminism is not a hush-hush word.
When Jeevan mentions to his mother — the chief woman in opposition to Sara — that bringing up kids is a lot of responsibility, and right now they have other things to focus on, her mother’s retort is, “What's your responsibility? She is the one who will deliver and bring up the kids! All you have to do is play with them for a bit when you get back in the evening.” To which, Jeevan concludes, “Yes, the responsibility is hers... So the final decision will also be Sara's.” As Jeevan’s mother sprouts sexist lines on how mothers need to do all the work, and fathers can have all the play, it seems she exists only to let Sara shine. When her own daughter, a working woman, brings her (and also the jobless Jeevan early in the film) home to fill in the space of her domestic help and be a nanny to her children, the film gets it wrong about women and empowerment. That same mother who is revered for bearing and raising children is reduced to a help and a life of loneliness as later Sara reminds her, although without empathy. Sample this: (Sara) “Can I ask you something, Mother? What have you ever done with your life? Other than bringing up your two children?” (Jeeavan’s mother) “Why? Is that too trivial?” (Sara) “Maybe it was a great thing for you… Maybe it made you happy too… But you can't insist that should be my happiness too!” Sara’s reminds us that motherhood is not always a ‘natural’ choice, but one that is naturalized as a woman’s choice by age-old traditions. Patriarchy has romanticized motherhood and revered their sacrifices, putting mothers on a pedestal. Patriarchy has never talked about the labor that motherhood is.
Sara’s demystifies the cult of motherhood in a few striking instances. When Jeevan says, “What a nuisance they (children) are! They even mess up your brain!”, Sara is quick to remind him, “So then think about us, women!” She reminds him that underneath such entitled complaints lies the real deal or ordeal that a woman has to bear. Here is a heroine who is conscious of her identity as a woman and the challenges that come with her gender. Jeevan is never the typical man, in fact, his character is imbued with empathy and the virtues of warm companionship and caring. But there comes a point where Jeevan, the married man, needs to be reminded how having an unplanned pregnancy would seriously dent Sara’s prospect of working on her dream project and take her back to where she was two years ago.
The revisionist take
It is the voice of the progressive male, Muslim gynecologist that upholds the pro-choice voice and shakes the abortion stigma as he educates the couple about the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971. He reminds Jeevan and Sara that hers is an “accidental pregnancy” arising out of a “contraceptive failure” as opposed to being planned or desired at that point of time. Here, the film slides into ‘accidental’ morality as the doctor reminds that in order to be parents, one needs “divine talent” perhaps more than that is required to be a movie director. He sermonizes that people who can't do it should not do it, it’s better for everyone that way.
Sara’s is not an anti-motherhood pamphlet; feminists are not anti-motherhood. Motherhood sure has its own rewards. Sara’s is only unapologetic about its heroine trumping motherhood at a juncture where her career demanded all her time and attention. Sara’s champions the ‘my body, my choice’ stance, and it’s high time we did it too. The film shows how a woman’s work could also define or complete her, if she so chooses.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)