If a movie has more to offer than just momentary pleasure and entertainment, it must be doing something very right. Ivan Ayr’s directorial debut Soni is one such film. It leaves much to think about once you’re out of the theater, and I consider myself lucky to have been able to discuss these reflections with the director himself during the Q&A session after the movie premiere at the MAMI 20th film festival. “Do you think it’s easier to accept a person once you know them completely?” is one of those questions that is posed in the film which is met with utter silence and a lot of pondering.
With a misleading title (as the film is not just about one woman; however, the character of Soni was dearer and more complex in her resistance and spirit according to the director), Soni is a tale about two women Soni (Geetika Ohlyan) and her superintendent, Kalpana (Saloni Batra) working for the police force in Delhi. What stands out here is the support and respect that a superior has for Soni. Though not always visibly empathetic, Kalpana puts Soni and the mess she’s dealing with before her own problems — a manifestation of how one with power should truly use it (ahem ahem, Trump,and all the world leaders out there). Soni also questions whether female authority is any authority at all in our society. Why is sensitivity exhibited by someone in power frowned upon? (Exemplified by Kalpana’s husband, who in his own right was correct to question his wife’s reinstatement of Soni even though she hadn’t yet learnt her lesson.)
Women’s safety, an issue we’ve all heard of in train announcements, written on pavement walls, discussed in classrooms, debated every day on news channels is dealt with carefully. We hear the announcement ‘segregation is necessary for safety’ as Kalpana sits in an only-female night bus. This is a sharp intentional contradiction to the reality in Delhi, where there seems to be an aversion to female drivers.
Soni is devoid, quite thankfully, of the usual complex narratives, twisty plots and psychologically multi-layered villains. More than anything, Soni is a story that reminds us to unearth the basic good nature that many believe we are all born with. Being kind and supportive to another even if there is nothing in it for you may not be the easiest thing to do all the time but it can make living simpler. Kalpana offers Soni her copy of Amrita Pritam’s memoir to help her with her struggles and that she may inspire others in the future. In the words of Rosa Parks, “Memoirs of our lives or our works and our deeds will continue in others.” It is the simplicity of Soni and the challenge that it puts up to all its viewers to think about what has been overlooked for the longest time, that distinguishes it from many other films.