Delhi Mellei reflects Meitei society's sexist attitude towards women

Kumam Davidson *

Delhi Mellei' : Movie, Story based on NE Victims of crimes at Delhi

Delhi Mellei' : Movie, Story based on NE Victims of crimes at Delhi'

Delhi Mellei, perhaps the first Manipuri film that tries to capture the ugly side of Delhi, a city infamous for sexual violence, racist abuse to its weaker gender and race. A film that could have been a radical breakthrough ends up being a mere commercial entertainment film with completely misled ideas about gender, race and questions of violence and morality.

The first scene in college is heavy on poorly done cliche about racist harassment in Delhi. After a soft spoken Manipuri student is verbally harassed by a small bunch of city boys, Mellei (Bala) is forced to say impromptu "I love you" to a random guy in college. She says it without much hesitation, to Tomthin (Boney). Their first meeting partially establishes the character of the protagonists. Mellei through the words of Tomthin is conveyed "mamai kalli", utterly shameless. Her boldness is projected as a degrading quality rather than simply associating with the idea of an outspoken person.

In the next sequence, a Manipuri girl is molested in a juice shop by two men. On seeing the incident reported on IMPACT TV, Mellei's father comments that if a girl is scantily clad then such abuse and violence is inevitable. The meeting held in Delhi among the circle of the victim concludes on exactly similar ethos. Though one of them highlights on the necessity and absence of government attention all of them including other women and the victim as well stick to the idea that they have to keep a check on how they dress and behave. The film completely fails from the beginning. What follows is a melodrama of friendship, love, heartbreaks and reconciliation, the formulae of a commercial blockbuster.

Through a series of sequences that starkly compares a bold, daring girl and a moralistic and an idealistic boy, the film builds on the possibility of a usual love story which is broken by the sudden appearance of an intimidating, charming rich brat who does the first step of turning a simple Manipuri girl Mellei to a city girl with foul habits. Each and every sequence leaves a strong impression on the viewers of an outspoken, daring girl who will inevitably bring her own downfall because she doesn't have any moralistic values (patriarchal notions of the good girl). She is daring but she is also gullible.

Her roommate Sanatombi, a Manipuri girl who dyes her hair blonde, smokes up in their room, bunks classes, lies to her parents is Mellei's bad influence. This blonde haired Manipuri girl with her "bad" habits is a shame for the Manipuri society. Her story goes like this; she comes to know that her boyfriend of five years in Bangalore relationship is seeing other women. In anger and despair she goes to party with random guys.

There is no value judgement on the boyfriend while judgement awaits her. When she expresses her desire to be with Gunano, he dismisses her as a difficult girl to handle while an intelligent viewer knows that she is the faithful one in her failed relationship. The point of view of the film is extremely judgemental, moralistic and biased against the female gender. The entire film works towards judging the moral and social conduct of the female, from a patriarchal, misogynistic point of view.

The rich brat, son of a DC in Manipur woes her, introduces/forces her to alcohol and clubbing. Clubbing lifestyle and the space of the club are defined as un-moralistic and degrading. In an argument Tomthin screams at her calling "lairik laisuda pukning changdaba, mathong oktaba". He doesn't want to associate with reckless and botched people like her who are not attentive to studies as well. He also believes he is one of the guardian protectors of her and she has shamed her own people by taking the sides of the city people and insulting him.

Pankaj and two other men who apparently the villains in the film are never clearly identified. They are simply called as "mayangs" which is an extremely loose and problematic category, racial in nature. While the film wants to talk about issues of racial discrimination, it fails to even understand racism. The storyline is that Mellei feels insulted by Tomthin so she encourages the trio "mayang" to insult him which leads to a violent bashing up of Tomthin.

Tomthin's brother like figure Gunano and his fellow Manipuris who are angry and concerned about the cause of the Manipuris in Delhi starts a drive against using certain drugs which are again not clear. Such a drive reflects the moral policing ethos of the Manipuri society. Such a drive is the last thing that can happen in Delhi, a city not theirs at all. They catch two lanky Manipuri fellows and lecture them on the purpose of their time in Delhi and the importance of education, blah blah.

The moralistic tone of the film now vents towards saving the name of the Manipuri society according to the group some irresponsible boys like them defame. This might be a popular notion but there are deeper question of racial profiling, stereotyping and discrimination. It's not because some irresponsible boys and girls take drugs and hence the society is defamed and discriminated. The problem of racial discrimination is more historical, political and nuanced. On the other side, Mellei's moment of destruction is almost about to take place.

Pankaj and another man try to molest Mellie in a drunken state. During the strife Sanathoi accidentally though unconvincingly arrives at the scene and saves her, so that he can give a whole lecture on her behaviour and how she will ruin the reputation of women from northeast. He introduces her to this lifestyle in the first place but now he has a long lecture on how she should behave. Obviously he has double standards that too a twisted one. She can drink and dance and do even more with him, but not with other men.

She will defame herself and the women from northeast that way. She owns her. She can be a slut with him, but she has to play chaste and decent with others. Instead of dropping her home, he leaves her. In a state of fury and drunkenness, she buys more alcohol. While she is drinking a crowd of men surround her only to be saved by Tomthin.

The most shocking part is when the official group threatens Sanatombi on her lifestyle and bad influence on Mellei. She apologises to them for whatever has happened. The film never for once tries to understand why women are victimised and those too "northeastern" women. Just because a woman drinks or goes clubbing one cannot say that they invite molestation or rape. That is completely ridiculous but the film consistently vent towards such an ideology.

How do gender and racial violence overlap in the case of Delhi? That's another question. The film cannot think of it, it just tries to prove one single point that the nature if women from "northeast" do not behave properly, they might land up in situations which not just ruins personal prestige but social as well.

Sanatombi burns her so called "western clothes" and change into "Meitei phanek" because that is the film's idea of an ideal woman. Like Sanatombi Mellei will also be tamed and domesticated eventually. The review is already lengthy; I won't go on to the ending and reunion of the lovers. But one cannot really skip IPS Robin Hibu's commentary on the film in a short review on epaonet.

He writes, "I am happy to share with you all that a blockbuster melancholic sad movie on story of NE boy and girl in love......come to Delhi for higher studies.....for better future......face every day discrimination..... finally how naive NE girl succumbed and spoiled by Delhi's ephemeral short-lived glamorous enticements, betrayed her lover.....culture....morality.... ...........back home...her parents..... still hoping bright future of their daughter........unaware of her hedonistic life at Delhi....Finally became fallen "flower"...."

He calls her the "fallen flower", and he shares the idea that she defames the culture and morality standards of the Manipuri society. It is disheartening to see such opinion from an IGP in Delhi who is also the Nodal Officer for Northeast People Delhi which has nineteen thousand followers on Facebook meaning a huge potential of influencing the opinion of the masses.

It would have been still an acceptable idea if Mellei has been portrayed as an irresponsible character that needs to take life seriously without unnecessarily gendering but calling her names and accusing her for defaming culture and society along the lines of gender is a patriarchal, orthodox and sexist point of view. The film definitely reflects Meitei society's deeply sexist attitude towards women. I wonder how girls react to this character and film. Girls in Delhi, got anything to say?

* Kumam Davidson wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at davidsonkumam(aT)gmail(doT)com
This article was webcasted on July 07, 2015.


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