Director: Tejas Deoskar
Cast: Rakul Preet Singh, Sumeet Vyas, Satish Kaushik, Dolly Ahluwalia, Rajesh Tailang and Prachee Shah Paandya
It’s refreshing to see Bollywood shed its irritating coy and conservative attitude and address some societal taboo subjects (mostly around sex and sexism) through films. Recently we had Vicky Donor that spoke boldly about sperm donation. A film like Doctor G was about male doctors taking up gynaecology. Now, we have Chhatriwali, which pushes the envelope for sexual education and the use of male contraceptives (condoms).
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Let us start with a confession: the title ‘Chhatriwali’ did not inspire much confidence. For, ‘chhatri’ is the Hindi word for umbrella, which is the oft-used wink-wink nudge-nudge euphemism for condoms in Hindi (case in point, Aparshakti Khurrana’s 2021 film Helmet). Using such a term when trying to break such an attitude seems a bit ironic. Fortunately, the film does not tip-toe around the issue but confronts it in an agreeably fun manner. Another fear with such a title was whether the makers would end up with a crass offering filled with double-entendre lines under the guise of a much-needed film on sex education. That too, mercifully, is not the case.
Chhatriwali sticks to the issue at hand diligently and makes all the right noises entertainingly. The story, as was with the 2022 film Janhit Mein Jaari, is about how a young woman ends up in the rolls of a condom factory in a small town in the Hindi heartland filled with conservative mores and prudish attitudes.
The story, set in Karnal (Haryana), is about Sanya Dhingra (Rakul Preet Singh), a chemistry teacher, who needs more income to shore up her family’s financial situation. As it happens, she becomes the quality control person at ‘Can Do Condoms’ factory.
Of course, her family is too old-school — her husband (Sumeet Vyas) runs a small shop that deals in puja items, so she lies to them that she works in an umbrella factory. Her brother-in-law is such a prude that despite being a biology teacher he sidesteps teaching sex education. He is also the type to shy away from using male contraceptives even if it means his wife has to suffer many health complications thanks to popping contraceptive pills. The town is no less hidebound, and one of the medical shops does not even sell male condoms.
Sanya too is initially reluctant in her job, and over the course of time she wraps her head around the importance of work, and more importantly the need for sex education. Once the secret is out that she is working in a contraceptive factory, things get tough for her in the family and community. But she remains steadfast in her convictions.
A film of this nature, which has a message at its core, sometimes brings a metaphorical megaphone to drive home that. Chhatriwali is preachy at places (inevitable, when you get down to it) but not loud. It is not also lewd even if a dialogue or two is in that territory (again understandable, considering the territory).
Rakul Preet Singh, whom we saw as a gynaecologist in DoctorG, is impressive in a role that gives her good scope to parade her skills. Mostly reduced to being eye candy in most films, her Rakul has an author-backed character, and the comely actress is in fine form.
The gaggle of characters around her, Sumeet Vyas (her husband), Rajesh Tailang (her brother-in-law), Prachee Shah (his wife), veteran Satish Kaushik (condom factory owner), Rakesh Bedi (local chemist) have all good parts to play, and they have acquitted themselves more than adequately.
But there is a certain one-dimension to all the characters, and the end seems a tad pat. But the larger message that men need to be more responsible in matters of marital sex comes across well as it should. The director sticks to the predictable path- better to be safe than sorry.
Chhatriwali streams on Zee5 from January 20
An engineer-turned-journalist, K Balakumar’s career began in print publications as a sports writer. That also opened doors for other journalistic avenues like films, music, finance, technology and politics, which nobody can escape in India. After 30 yrs in mainstream journalism, now a freelancer for various digital publications.