'Natkhat' Review: Vidya Balan and Raj Arjun starrer exposes deep-rooted patriarchy in our society

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Short films offer a great platform for young and upcoming filmmakers to showcase their talents. But, making a short film is always a tricky proposition. For, the financial prospects are quite uncertain. However, the one thing that drives such productions is passion as the constant threats and fears often serve as fuel that end up stirring the deepest artistic urges of the filmmaker. One thing, however, is more or less certain. What these films lack in scope they more than make up for it in terms of vision. Of late, the short films are becoming more and more mainstream with big names from the Hindi film industry joining the bandwagon. Also, the pandemic has given a further fillip to this emerging trend of making short films with established stars. Natkhat, co-written and directed by Shaan Vyas, is a fine example of what storytellers can achieve using the short film format.


Natkhat stars Vidya Balan in the role of a mother who takes it upon herself to teach her young son an important lesson about gender equality that he will never forget. The short, co-produced by Vidya Balan and Ronnie Screwvala, has already traveled to many international film festivals. Ever since its premiere at the ‘We Are One: A Global Film Festival’ last year, Natkhat has found a spot on many a most-anticipated short films lists. The short film is now being streamed by Voot Select as part of Voot Select Film Festival—a direct to OTT Film Festival that will showcase more than 15 critically acclaimed movies across genres over an eight day period.


The Shaan Vyas directorial succeeds in singularly pointing why despite so many reforms and new laws patriarchy has still managed to endure in our society. Let’s try and examine the story of Natkhat to understand this better. The short follows Sonu (portrayed by Sanika Patel) who one day along with his friends at school decides to teach a girl a lesson she would never forget. At dinner time when the grown-ups discuss a female politician who is causing them some trouble, Sonu offers them a suggestion with the ghastly admission of the sinister act he committed at school. The bunch of boys had taught the girl who had dared to hit one of them a lesson by dragging her to the woods and threatening her to cut off her pigtail. When he offers the same advice to the grown-ups at the dinner table in order to teach the female politician a lesson, the father (essayed by Raj Arjun) gets up in a fit of rage to scold his young son but he is stopped by the grandfather (played by Atul Tiwari). The old patriarch consoles his enraged son by reminding him about the boy’s gender privilege: “Boys will be boys. What do you expect? Will you crucify him for this?”


Now, the servile mother (essayed by Vidya Balan) in a ghunghat is listening to the conversation from a distance. She is not even allowed to sit and eat with the men of the family even as she serves them hot food and rotis. She can only eat inside her room after they are finished. But even from within the ghunghat we can sense her dread and uneasiness on hearing her son’s ghastly admission of an act he committed at school. She is deeply disturbed by the toxic machismo her young son with an impressionable mind is in the process of inheriting from those around him. So she takes matters into her own hands and decides to teach her son the principles of equality using the age-old art of bedtime stories.  


Natkhat is a powerful reminder that the root cause of all oppression that women are subjected to in our society is a direct result of patriarchy. What children see while growing up has a lasting impression on their impressionable minds. Their conditioning already begins long before they even realize it.  By the time they grow up into adults the damage is already done. If, however, the parents can make conscious efforts to educate their children about the importance of gender equality then the dark influences of patriarchy can be greatly mitigated.  


There is so much that remains unsaid in Natkhat and so the onus is on the actors to convey the same non-verbally and they are up to the mark. In particular, Vidya Balan, Raj Arjun and young Sanika Patel need to be commended for their brilliant performances in the short film. It’s really heartening to see a leading Bollywood actress like Balan taking such keen interest in a project like Natkhat and not just as an actor but also as a producer. While there still there is still a long way to go before the short films start enjoying the same reverence and recognition that's generally associated with feature films, Natkhat proves that short film format is more than capable of delivering a strong message in a most effective manner possible.

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