Counterfeit Kunkoo: A Powerful Commentary on Identity, Agency, and Rape
The short film selected by Sundance Kunkoo counterfeit, directed by Reema Sengupta, is a powerful commentary on the redundancy of Indian society in recognizing marital rape as a crime. As the premise of the film revolves around the issue of marital rape, Sengupta highlights various issues at the intersection of women’s sexual agency within the institution of marriage. Kunkoo counterfeit, the title of the film, calls for a quick interpretation. Sengupta uses the image of a kunko (vermilion stain on the forehead of a married woman) to communicate to us the suppression of the power of women in heterosexual marriages.
The story of Kunkoo counterfeit has such that Smita Sunil Nikam, the protagonist of the film, played by Kani Kusruti appropriates these instruments (mangasutra and kunko) of subjugation to escape the shackles of domestic oppression. Using these visuals throughout the story, Sengupta attributes a negative connotation to them. Semiotics reveals to us the honor and the value attached to heterosexual marriage, becomes a prerequisite for determining the merit of femininity. In addition, by counterfeit the role of a wife, Smita ridicules the institution of marriage for its autonomy and liberation.
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Smita Nikam is a middle class woman, who lives alone in the chawls of Mumbai. The story tells us that Smita had recently separated from her husband Sunil Nikam (Vijay Verma) whom she accuses of having raped her. Without legal aid for justice, Smita manages to isolate herself from her attacker. It also draws attention to the fact that there is little or no legal support to the idea of rape in marriage. On the contrary, the legality of marriage in India is based on the act of “consummation”, while the inability to have sexual relations constitutes a ground for annulment. Most importantly, the husband has the right to demand “restitution of marital rights” or to obtain state support to gain sexual access to his wife who may not want to participate in sexual relations.
Thus, the lack of any legal remedy for marital rape has been compounded by social attitudes that fail to recognize that there might be grounds for lack of consent within marriage. The attitude of society also affords both legal and social impunity for men accused of rape in marriage. Sengupta sums it up in a particular scene from Kunkoo counterfeit where Sunil ridicules Smita for accusing him of rape. In addition, we also see that Smita does not take any legal remedies against the crime which speaks largely to how society views the issue of rape in the construction of marriage.
Much of the film focuses on the aftermath of sexual violence, depicting Smita’s struggle and frustration while finding separate accommodation for herself. Smita is a taciturn woman who earns a living by donning imitation mangalsutras. Therefore, despite being an ideal tenant, Smita faces housing discrimination based on her gender and marital status. Smita’s single status after her separation from her husband forces her to leave her old home and obliges her to find a new one.
Her cathartic experiences of finding an apartment in Mumbai’s Malad East neighborhoods expose housing discrimination and the social stigma conspired against a separated woman. Smita, who is determined enough to get rid of her abusive husband and is financially independent, struggles to find accommodation simply because her husband is not standing next to her, acting as a “certificate of character”.
Kunkoo counterfeit reiterates how marriage is becoming a prerequisite for women to seek respect in society. The notion of a woman to be considered “complete” only after her marriage is in the background of various scenes throughout the film. It also tells us about gender inequality and the significance attributed to women’s marital status, equating their value to the heteronormative imperatives of an “ideal woman” in India.
Throughout the short film, Sengupta uses an element of “ringing doorbell”, a symbol to reinforce the misogyny in Smita’s daily life. By showing the cyclical occurrence of a doorbell as a result of which the broker introduces a client to Smita’s house, the director leans on his rage and vulnerability in the face of failure to find alternative accommodation. . In the process of finding a home, Smita encounters the sexism and misogyny of various real estate brokers and owners who remind her of marital status. So, at every crossroads, Smita receives unsolicited reminders of her so-called personal inadequacy as a single woman.
In the opening scene of Kunkoo counterfeit , Sunil accompanies Smita to the hospital for an abortion. The scene reveals the insecurities and vulnerabilities of a rape victim in the presence of her attacker. Likewise, in another scene we see similar anxiety and tension as Smita pulls her bare feet back under the fold of her sari, hugging on her knees to defend herself against Sunil’s presence in the same room as hers. . Her body language is punchy and communicates to us the emotional agony of a rape survivor. The scene also comments on the impunity that cis-het men get after committing a heinous crime like rape in India.
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In addition, Sengupta wields two objects, the mangasutra and the kunko all along Kunkoo counterfeit , offering powerful visuals that make it easy to tell the story. His prolific leadership is seen in a climax scene when Smita resiliently washes the kunko of his forehead, after having forged his marriage to have procured an apartment. Another aberration is followed in the sequence when Smita masturbates vigorously in order to reclaim her sexual agency from an abusive husband. The view of female pleasure and empowerment is used to signify liberation of Smita from the shackles of an abusive marriage.
The footage also opens up conversations about female sexual pleasure and why women need to educate themselves about it. The taboo around female sexuality and pleasure perpetuates negative stereotypes that prevent women from speaking candidly about their sex life. Failure to do so, among other things, makes women complacent in abusive marriages, submitting to the hegemony of consent and coercion within a patriarchal setting. This particular scene breaks free from these ideas and is empowering in the sense that it asks women to take charge of their bodies and assert their sexual freedom, regardless of building a marriage.
Smita’s quest to find a new home also teaches us about the importance of spaces in the process of healing from trauma. The complexities of family relationships are such that they prevent women from accessing safe spaces that can provide them with both emotional and physical security. In this case, victims of rape in marriage are forced to coexist with their abuser, further aggravating their trauma. For most women, domestic spaces become places where trauma is perpetuated and reinforced. Thus, access to safe spaces becomes a matter of social and economic privilege. Plus, what beats an overworked script is the confident visual language. In one of them interviews, Sengupta tells us that “the quadrant angles rotated in a 16: 9 frame highlight Smita’s relationship to spaces. Thus, the woman is cornered and locked up, unable to claim her space even in a frame.
In a particular sequence of Kunkoo counterfeit , we also find that Smita is denied the support of her native family. Indeed, in a deeply patriarchal family structure, sexual coercion is an indistinguishable part of the whole spectrum of the absence of freedom and coercions that define the family. Consent, coercion, duties, demands and rights are inextricably linked that it becomes impossible to target one without harming the other. A middle class native household in India cannot afford to undermine and question this construction, removing all support and care from the survivor.
Finally, films like Reema Sengupta’s Kunkoo counterfeit and Jeo Baby’s Great Indian cuisine Deliver us stories that are not feminist accounts of women’s empowerment. Rather, these stories are based on the peculiarities of patriarchy, which manifest themselves in the fundamental circumstances of middle-class reality. Kunkoo counterfeit is promising and honest in her description, accusing her audience of some guilt over the harsh realities of women in India.
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