With the growing discussion around sexual harassment and gender inequality that permeates work environments all over the world, Ivan Ayr’s Soni offers an authentic and unique take on this issue by exploring the lives of two women in the Indian police force.
The story is centred around Soni, a policewoman who often finds herself in unfortunate situations in her job, both during her usual stint as a policewoman and her undercover operation to target violent crimes against women. Her temperamental personality often puts her career at risk, where offensive verbal insults from men drive her to physical aggression.
While Soni’s story is one that overtly looks at the unjust issue of gender inequality, the life of her boss, Kalpana, explores similar issues more subtly, with the added element of domestic expectations of women in the South Asian community. Kalpana struggles with her in-laws’ constant well-meaning but unsubtle attempts to persuade her to shift her focus from her career to starting a family, as well as her husband’s criticisms of her benevolence and care towards those working for her. Although occasionally perceived as weak in her position as a boss, Kalpana’s character is one that embodies a fine balance between kindness and sternness, having an affinity for those who need comfort.
Kalpana’s ostensible initial lack of understanding towards Soni gradually develops into a bond between them, as they grapple with similar difficulties that manifest differently in each of their lives. The film manages to find a connection between these two vastly different women by emphasising how their existence within the Indian society has made them vulnerable to very similar challenges. A brilliant script manages to elucidate the struggles, both personal and professional, that these women go through with great depth by shifting the film between short excerpts of each of their lives as well as their scenes together, where their connection slowly grows.
The news broadcasts that play softly but noticeably in the background of several scenes revolve around sexual harassment and abuse crimes with unhelpful commentary that is centred around increasing divisions between genders. This subtle yet powerful way of showing how efforts to tackle such acts are useless in addressing the fundamental issue of gender inequality further encapsulates the helplessness of the two characters in a system that is failing them while their jobs ironically force them to uphold it. While this rhetoric forms an atmosphere that feels constantly tormenting and highlights the reality of gender inequality in India, it also manages to make the conversations between Kalpana and Soni ever more impactful.
Ayr’s choice of viewing how prevalent misogyny is through the lives of policewomen appears to be almost mocking the argument that women are harassed or assaulted because they are unworthy of respect, which could be due to anything that people feel are not in accordance with their own views, such as careers and clothing, and therefore should be criticised. By presenting the experiences of two women in what many would deem a respectable career and who live relatively predictable lives, the universality of the problem of sexual harassment becomes ever resounding and one cannot help but feel as though it becomes an inescapable part of being a woman, as Soni and Kalpana endure.
Ayr’s debut film successfully manages to show the hostility that is imposed onto women in society, where sexual harassment almost appears to be a consequence for confidence. The film also explores the pressures of having gender roles are forced onto women by other women and women’s authority is viewed as having less importance than that of men. Geetika Vidya Ohlyan and Saloni Batra deliver restrained yet powerful performances that allow viewers to empathise and perhaps even relate to the numerous challenges they encounter throughout the film.
Soni was part of the BFI film festival. It had a limited release of 3 screenings from 12-16 of October. Tickets: $10.