Shaan Vyas redefines the word ‘Natkhat’ through this short film. The word Natkhat (naughty) has always been an endearing one that we have used for boys in an attempt to dismiss misbehaviour by them and reinforce the ‘boys will be boys’ attitude. While hoping that such movies come with a trigger warning, the film does hold a mirror to our society and shows us how impressionable young boys really are.
Natkhat is one of the four Indian short films that was selected by MAMI for the global film festival ‘We are One’ and is now a part of the Voot Select Film Festival. Being Vidya Balan’s maiden production along with Ronnie Screwvala’s RSVP Movies, it hits the right boxes about schooling boys to raise better men, who are held accountable in the society.
This short film is a story about a mother (Vidya Balan) silently schooling her natkhat lala with a fictional folklore. As soothing as her voice and story is in the background, the visual description is quite horrific. Her son Sonu (Sanika Patel) is drowning in the powerful tsunami of patriarchy & as a mother, she is constantly torn between being his nurturing mother and a woman fighting against society’s shortcomings. In an attempt to teach her son respect for girls, she uses her emotional and physical scars to serve as a cautionary tale for the young boy.
From basing the script in a rural setup to skillful performances by both lead actors, the short film contains some pretty disturbing and alarming scenes. Starting off with talks of isolating girls in order to rape them, we see at the dining table how the toxic conditioning runs so deeply within the family. Hearing his uncle complain about a female politician being difficult, the young boy suggests to his father ‘Toh ussey utha lo na, papa!’ (Get her abducted dad!) as if it is normal for a young boy to say and think all of this. He further goes on to boast about his exploits and how he keeps the girls in his school “in their place”.
It is a well rounded film that aims to educate on gender equality and humanity & denounce the toxic traits of patriarchy. Sanika Patel stands out ostentibly as she plays the role of a boy and delivers justice to the character in an attempt to make this world a better place for little girls like her everywhere. Choosing a girl to play the role of a boy is a powerful message in itself from the ideators of the film. They subtly tells viewers to break the discrimination between the genders.
Natkhat serves as a reminder of the problematic elements of our society and shows the world through the young boy’s lens. As gruelling as it can get, the thing that will make the audiences take notice the most is the trait of toxic masculinity in a young boy who has obviously learnt it as part of his surroundings. The film delivers on multiple fronts and is a message centric film that portrays the harsh state of our world.
I found this film not only deeply impactful but also as a reminder for the society that we aspire for. Seeing how impressionable young minds are, we have to teach them to use gender and identities for good instead of escalating an already widespread epidemic. It teaches us to not only learn how to be decent human beings but also to unlearn decades old, regressive thoughts.
Natkhat is now streaming on Voot Select.