The juxtaposition of narrative and visual give new dimensions to the narrative and open up new vistas of interpretations and possibilities. Reading and watching Duvidha, a story by Vijaydan Detha immortalized on the celluloid by Mani Kaul in 1973 familiarizes us with these feelings. There are various others precedents as well as successors to the story. Reading A.K.Ramanujan’s translation of the Kannada story “the serpent lover” makes you realize the broad similarities between the two. There was a film made on the Kannada folk tale called Nagamandalam and Detha’s story was made into paheli in 2005.
If we try to analyze the narrative, it offers you very contrasting possibilities. Firstly if seen from the perspective of gender and society the story seems to be placed in a feudal patriarchal setup where women’s voice appears in hushes and silences because the norms of propriety are to be decided by her husband and more importantly by her father in law. Property and material prosperity is counterpoised with sentiments and feelings and at this conjecture we feel the need to go beyond the confines of patriarchy to view it in structural and psychoanalytical terms. And I will try here to juxtapose Ramanujan and Freud together. This story is a good representation of what he calls women’s tale, but we must be cautioned against the use of term “counter tales” because nowhere in the text is there any attempt to counter the patriarchal domain but it merely opens up avenues for women’s desires and her voice to creep in a subtle manner. Even psychoanalytically this text can be interpreted in contrasting ways. In a more conservative interpretation the text may point out the pitfalls of transgressing the norms of propriety. The act of unveiling by the women makes her vulnerable to the gaze of the ghost, which sets off the chain of events. Thus this interpretation makes the story similar to the “little red riding hood” where the girl makes herself vulnerable to the gaze of the jackal and using tropes of material pleasure (here the flower in Duvidha the fruit) and was able to encroach her space as well as her sexuality. But if the same story is seen from the perspective of the woman, then the story is very much similar to the serpent’s lover wherein the woman finds avenue for the satiation of her desires through the impostor which is exactly the case with Duvidha. In both the cases the impostor is met with a tragic end but curiously the women is not ridiculed or shunned off but rather accepted in the patriarchal domain easily.thus the text challenges, as according to Ramanujan, the norms of chastity and propriety by inverting symbols and their signification as well as the punitive measures of these transgressions. For example an impostor or a man other than her legitimate husband is seen as a potential threat to the sexuality of women and thus to the patriarchal household. But the woman accepted the ghost as her partner despite being conscious of his identity thus challenging the regulations set up by the patriarchal household
There are couple of other ways to situate and analyse the narrative. For example two hypothetical possibilities can be discerned through a careful reading of the text and the film. One, seen through the lenses of pragmatic Freudian terms, the whole story can be mere pigment of imagination of the woman. The husband never went outside his house, but his indifference was equal to his absence. The woman was easily accepted in the family because the child belonged to the same man and the not the ghost. The ghost represents the unconscious desire of the women of seeing a more loving empathetic and caring husband. Secondly seen from the perspective of the husband the story can actually deal with the existential crisis of the husband who is in dilemma regarding his two conflicting duties- that of a money minded person meant to please his overtly money minded father, and playing a more loving and empathetic companion for her wife. In that sense we can interpret that perhaps the ghost was an alter ego of the husband. Either he went for trade but came back realizing his misgivings to his wife and by giving coins to his father he earned the concessions to live his conjugal life thus balancing his material and sentimental existence. The problem arise when the wife become pregnant and that bring the sentimental facet of husband more clearly and which seems to disrupt and overshadow his material existence. This action created anxiety in the materialist patriarchal domain and the man fell into an existential crisis where one of the identities needs to be purged to maintain the hegemony of the material world. Of course these interpretation are way too abstract and we can’t cite evidence for the interpretation except for the subtle subjective clues that could be interpreted in different ways.
Coming to the film, we also need to consider the way a movie is made and the representations of the film. The very abstract film making style and monotonous dialogue delivery of the actors makes us realize that the film doesn’t make you root for actors or characters but the rich visual spectacle through its spellbinding cinematography makes the film focus on the cultural context and tries to use these visuals as a text in itself. The still photographs are meant to be gazed and interpreted, the excessive use of contrasting lights and shades may be symbolical of different shades of human existence. The movie apart from a narrative is also a visual archive, the most visible example of which is the scene where the whole cycle of time when ghost and woman were together, was represented through a panorama of visual imagery without uttering a single word in those 5-10 minutes. But even then the film is more honest to the original story as compared to Paheli. Now we can see a change in attitude in those 30-40 years between the two. Paheli’s climax gives a subtle hint that the woman is met with the ghost again and not her husband which actually points out women’s choice winning over the patriarchal confines but in Duvidha the victory of the women lie in her ability to re assimilate in the patriarchal family even after her relation to the impostor. Duvidha raise question but as most of the parallel cinema of this time leaves the answer for viewer’s discretion. Paheli in answering the question creates an anachronism by juxtaposing traditionalism and modernity. Also Paheli gives in some detail the mention of the family of the man, which is completely absent from Duvidha, so while the only subtext offered in Duvidha is that of the character of father whose intentions, nature and morality can be gauged through the patriarchal and materialist gaze. Paheli on the other hand gives a narrative to the family and reconciliation of the family become a subplot of the film thus giving a post facto rationalization to the presence of the ghost while the moral compass of Duvidha is very ambiguous and none of the figures appear to be the epitome of morality
Hence what we see here is that Duvidha though rooted in a particular cultural context offers wide range of themes to ponder about. Duvidha is an important text not only of his literary brilliance or its adaptions to film but because it offers templates for discourses on wide social cultural gender issues and questions the moral axis that so dominates our narratives.