Exploring Divya- Mani Ratnam’s finest written female character
A free-spirited 20-something young girl who does not easily confine to traditions or stereotypes. She keeps questioning these traditions and has very strong opinions which she does not shy away to share. That’s Divya, one of the finest and most maturely written women by Mani Ratnam.
As someone watching it nearly 40 years later, I must say I’m quite taken aback by the progressiveness and modernity that Mani Ratnam’s film Mouna Ragam contains. It is the same film that turned out to be a major breakthrough in Mani Ratnam’s career and I’m not surprised why.
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How we are introduced to Divya
Despite persistent objections, Divya is forced to oblige to an arranged marriage. The thought of being with a complete stranger does not sit well with her and her disturbance is evident throughout her marriage. The most straightforward scenes from the film strengthen the foundation of Divya’s character.
When she meets CK, her future husband, without a second thought she blurts out why she won’t be a good fit for him and lets him know that she doesn’t understand the idea of arranged marriage. The scene during her wedding night where a scared and confused Divya asks her mother “How can do this with someone I have never known” is so simple yet so intense. No films from that time have ever challenged this idea. Through Divya’s confusion and fear, Mani Ratnam subtly questions the Indian hypocrisy where women are never allowed to be with male friends or meet anyone outside, and all of a sudden, they are expected to be absolutely fine with the idea of sleeping with a complete stranger.
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We clearly know why Divya does what she does. We completely get her right from the beginning of the film. Mani Ratnam leaves no stones unturned as he introduces us to Divya from head to toe. Through his precise storytelling, we get to know Divya. An energetic Revathy adds life to Divya.
Manohar, Divya’s past lover who is shot dead in front of her, is one of the reasons why Divya finds it difficult to come to terms with her present with CK. But her entire dilemma is not just limited to her past lover. It is also a matter of her opinions and desires that contradict her present. So, things would have been pretty much the same even if Manohar was out of the picture because that’s who Divya is.
On a second thought
Now here comes the tricky part. If you were to see the film from a politically current lens in 2023, it is a flawed film in many ways. The typical parental pressure forces Divya to agree to a marriage she is least interested in. And then there’s the heartthrob ex-lover Mohan who too forces her to admit her love for him and later forces her to agree to marry him are elements from the story that will never work today.
The bottom line for Divya
But the truth remains that for a story set in the 80s, a time when there was no regard for female desires a character like Divya gives agency to women, and gives them a sense of individuality. Toward the end, she does not let her ego get in the way of expressing her love for CK. But when he stands there confused about his own feelings, she does not wait. She holds her head high and walks away, without the incident taking away any of her grace. And that’s why I find Divya one of the finest women written in Indian cinema.
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