How does patriarchy keep itself alive? By passing itself from one generation to another. It’s just as genetic as any physical trait that gets passed down the generations. When a boy sees that his parents treat him better than his sister, it gets permanently registered in his system that he being a male is ‘superior’ to the female of the species. Every time a boy sees his father mistreat his mother (and the mother meekly accepting it as her fate), he buys the notion that it’s absolutely fine for a man to treat his wife like that. When a girl sees this, she is also forced to accept that a man can treat his wife the way he pleases. These are dangerous ideas that our society keeps feeding the young and impressionable minds. That’s precisely what has kept patriarchy alive for so long.
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Kanu Behl’s short film Binnu Ka Sapna, currently streaming on MUBI, is an attempt to capture this transmission of patriarchy from a father to his son. Binnu, who has grown up seeing his father constantly abuse his servile mother, now hopes to discover the same traits of servility in the woman that he loves. Binnu’s voice also serves as our narrator that first introduces us to his father who is said to have a furious temper. “Dad had quite a temper. He’d lose it every time he got angry… He wasn’t much of a thinker either. He was just good at vomiting out what he felt,” the voice plainly tells us. Strangely, the only person we see him taking out his anger on is his wife, Binnu’s poor and hapless mother. The voice also tells us, “Mum says she’d never have gotten married, if she knew.”
The voice then takes us back in time when Binnu’s parents were a newly married couple out on honeymoon. It is here we see Binnu’s father hit his mother for the very first time after he sees her giggling with his handsome brother. It’s all pretty innocuous but it makes Binnu’s jealous and insecure father lose his temper on his obedient and dutiful wife. The narrative cuts back to the present as the voice tells us, “Even after years of being slapped there was one thing mum just couldn’t resist. My dad’s tea brew.” It overlaps with the latest episode of domestic violence which ends with the now elderly couple having tea together. The narrative subsequently shifts to Binnu’s college days where while working in the chemistry lab he falls in love with a classmate. On completion of the course he takes up a job as he slowly distances himself from his mother, refusing to take her calls. The semblance of kindness and the empathy in voice soon makes way for a more feral and toxic drive as we witness him have a physical intercourse with a girl. But, it is all about Binnu. There isn’t an iota of intimacy in it. It is toxic masculinity at its most abysmal.
Kanu Behl who previously made the critically acclaimed film Titli isn’t averse to depicting abuse and violence in his film. But in Binnu Ka Sapna it’s more internal. The unconventional use of voiceover, aspect ratio, freeze frames, and camera movements makes Binnu Ka Sapna a constantly demanding experience that can easily unsettle a casual viewer. For, Behl is constantly playing with the form, in the vein of the great Mani Kaul, to draw our attention. And, he is really lucky to have a gifted good young actor like Chetan Sharma at his disposal to play the eponymous character. Those who saw Sharma in the second season of Sacred Games (wherein he plays a passionate young cricketer who gets subjected to mob lynching) would really be surprised to see a very different side to him in Binnu Ka Sapna. Sharma deserves a lot of praise for what he achieves together with Behl. He simply lays his soul bare. It’s really heartening to see a young actor exhibit such raw intensity and force so early on in his career. It reminds one of a young Leonardo DiCaprio in Basketball Diaries. Hopefully, he will continue to get such roles which keep pushing his limits as an actor. Jatin Sarna also deserves a special mention for his cameo appearance as the younger version of Binnu’s intemperate father. MUBI is really the home to many cinematic treasures and Binnu Ka Sapna is right up with the best that the platform is known to offer.