When you hear the term “B.A. Pass”, you think of a graduate who has limited to zero prospects in the professional job market. Heck, with my meager 84.6385% in XII board examinations (it pays to be precise to the umpteen decimal point), I would have gained admission in a similar course in Telangana Institute of Technology and Science (T.I.T.S, yes this is a real college in India) or Mika Singh Bijiness College, or any fancy name along those lines. Excesses of population, reserved seating and corruption all make a lethal concoction for deserving students to receive quality education and access to on-campus recruitment. On that note of admission, I can’t wait to have my own kids in India and then sell all my vital organs so that they make secure admission in Kindergarten. Kindergarten, for god’s sake!
Shelling outrageous costs for tuition, room and board to study abroad versus shelling bribes to unscrupulous admission officers to secure admission in a private college in India – you tell me, which is the lesser evil of the two?
I guess I should feel fortunate to have studied abroad in a University that awarded a merit based scholarship to finance my “glossy adult labor certification”, also known as a degree.
Now coming to the actual movie which was inspired by the book, “The Railway Aunty” –The Youtube trailers are rampant with comments from lecherous Indian men stating, “Oooh xxx me want to be da guy, he rockzzz!!” and some Astrologist Baba claiming to have the jhadi-booti that resembles the effects of Viagra. The creators of these trailers have done a great job creating that air of mystery because the storyline exposes a truth that is rarely addressed in Indian movies or cinema in general- male prostitution.
The protagonist is Mukesh, a humble man of great aspirations. Orphaned and jobless, he resides in his aunt’s house with the hopes to start his own tutoring business so he can move out and support his two sisters. Indebted as he is to his aunt for letting him have a roof under his head, he obediently follows all the tasks she assigns to him.
One of the tasks includes visiting a distant relative’s house to pick up some merchandise. This relative is no other than the cold, sexually (and I assume, affection) starved Sarika Aunty. In the guise of providing some revenue for selling the merchandise, she takes advantage of his innocence and uses him as tool to satisfy her physical needs. This is just one of many instances where Mukesh gets fucked over by the people he gradually gets to know. She pays him handsomely for his services to appease her in bed and enlists him in a tangle of other “aunties” who require the same. In this tangled web of sex, lies and deceit, we see a demographic of city women who are willing to cheat on their husbands for a multitude of reasons, ranging anywhere from the cheating nature of their own husbands to women who need someone to express their desolation and loneliness. Mukesh is, at first, hesitant to continue on such a path of “for hire gigolo” but he continues because of the flow of monetary remuneration which gives him hope to become financially independent and help his sisters. We see some moments of loving emotion displayed by Mukesh to Sarika, the woman to first steal his virginity but she rebuffs any advances that trespass the nature of their purely sexual relationship. Eventually, Mukesh is caught cheating by Sarika’s husband, even though he was a mere pawn in her sexual fetishes. He is unable to get back his life’s savings of serving as gigolo from Sarika due to her husband’s powerful interference.
There are some excellent characters in the story that I would like to highlight:
Johnny, the graveyard owner: Mukesh befriends Johnny over games of chess at the graveyard. He cements his trust in Johnny in the way that he gives him company and even helps him find a place for rent where Mukesh can eventually live with his sisters. When Mukesh is caught by Sarika’s husband and is kicked out of his aunt’s house, it is Johnny who lets him move in to his humble abode. The audience is appeased to see that a man who in the same financial woes as Mukesh empathizes with his condition and offers him whatever little support he can provide from his end. His advises Mukesh to forget Sarika and all the pain she caused him by stating, “Bahut paise wale log hain woh.” (They are rich people). Johnny’s quote about money and deceit sparks as a contradiction to his own integrity when we learn that he cheats Mukesh by stealing his payment from Sarika on Mukesh’s behalf. This truth is revealed from Sarika herself. She seduces him yet again and tricks him into stabbing her with the knife in his hand. In that fit of rage and helplessness, Mukesh kills Sarika and flees from her home, thus turning his status into a criminal who is being chased by the police.
The Phd student: Johnny introduces a man who works diligently to complete his Phd during the day and serves as a transvestite gigolo who gets picked up by clients in the Red Light area. This demonstrates another reality of India – it is not only women who are forced into prostitution but many men follow the same route to make a living. When Mukesh loses all his income and has no other means to survive, he becomes desperate enough to follow the route of this man who guides him on how to get customers on the first night of his prostituted self. Mukesh’s life is only worsened, and his innocence further scarred when he is brutally gang-raped by a slew of ruthless men in a big van. Men are just as much of victims of sexual assault as women and I thank the creators of this movie for shedding light on such a grave topic.
The Aunty who refused Mukesh’s services: If we see any hint of authentic humanity in this movie, apart from Mukesh himself, it is the lady who initially agrees to have a one night stand with Mukesh but comes back into her senses when he approaches her. It is then we realize that this older woman did not want to cheat on her husband but she had become so mentally frustrated with her husband’s terminal illness and lack of care from her own family members that she needed to vent her emotions to another man, without the need for sex. Mukesh empathizes with the lady and respects her decision. He even goes as far as to take her husband’s dead body to her home for due respect and eventual cremation. In this woman, we see a glimpse of how people succumb to certain negative behaviors because of the circumstances they are in. Circumstances and ill fate is also what leads an innocent man like Mukesh to turn into a murderer.
The sisters: We don’t get much information about Mukesh’s sisters apart from the fact that they live in a girls hostel overseen by a haughty female warden who has supposedly turned it into a house for sex trafficking. The sisters complain of being harassed by the warden and seeing other female residents leave in fancy cars at night and return with great sums of cash in their hand. They wish to escape from this hellish environment and beg Mukesh to take them away. Throughout the movie, we see Mukesh’s burden of providing for his sisters. His helplessness to do so drives him further into his own misery.
The Police: I had to make special mention of the Indian police because they play an integral role at the end of the movie. As soon as Mukesh’s sisters call him to pick them up from the bus station, they trace his location and Mukesh is trapped. He is chased by the police till the roof of the building. One of the policemen utters the following line as Mukesh teeters near the edge.
“Saale, itna bhagaaya humein. Teri chamdi utaareinge hum aaj.” (You made us chase you for so long. Now wait till we harass and beat you up.”
That single quote killed me — as if Mukesh hadn’t been abused and violated enough by Sarika, her husband, his friends, his aunt, and the men who assaulted him in their van. His only sense of deliverance from the pain and suffering was to jump off the roof in the final scene. We finally see a hint of a smile on his face after all the hurt, anger, and tears. His sisters are on the other end of the phone line, asking about his whereabouts. Where can he go? Either more torture at the hands of the police or death. There is one scene in the movie where Sarika tells Mukesh, “Tum kuch bhi nahi sikha na mujhse, sex ke alawa.” Mukesh never learned the conniving ways of the city life.
Death, it seemed, was his only means of liberation.
We use to movies as a means to escape reality. What happens when reality is exposed in the movie itself?