Skip to content

When #Divorce Means Freedom and Not Shame for an #Indian #Woman

December 9, 2013

arth poster

by Mallika Sharma

“Arth” means “meaning”, and the movie “Arth” which revolves around the life of a married couple,  Inder and Pooja, tries to examine meaning of their relationship in context of their marriage and their individual needs and personalities.  This 1982 film by director Mahesh Bhatt is probably one of very few Indian films that takes such an introspective view of marriage and the individuals in it, and I think it is one of Bhatt’s best works.

Inder is a struggling filmmaker, who is having an extra-marital affair with an established actress, Kavita. Inder’s wife Pooja is a housewife, and all she wants is for them to own their own house, and keeps prodding Inder to find ways to shift out from their rented apartment. Kavita who is suffering from schizophrenia,  is capricious and insecure, and is extremely possessive about Inder. With Kavita’s help, Inder manages to buy a house for Pooja and promises her, that in return, he would soon take a divorce from his wife! Pooja however is made to believe that Inder has bagged a big budget film, and has bought the house with the advance payment. She is ecstatic and thrilled and gets busy doing up her new home! With her dream finally coming true after 7 long years, she finally feels that she has arrived and that good times are here to stay! However, her joy is short-lived, as she soon finds out about Inder’s illicit affair with Kavita.

mass weddingPooja pleads with Inder to forget Kavita and promises him that they would start afresh. However, Inder, knee deep in his relationship with Kavita by now, turns a deaf ear to her poignant imploring, and leaves her in the lurch. While leaving, he grants her the permission to stay in the new house. Pooja spends a few days in disbelief and self-denial, struggling hard to come to terms with the painful reality. Having lived as Inder’s shadow for most part of her life, she cannot imagine thriving without his support! Eventually, she pulls herself together and moves out of the house. From here on, she begins her journey as an independent woman, which is the highlight of the movie.

Pooja then finds herself a job and an accommodation and is introduced to the ‘big bad world’ for the very first time. She eventually manages to find her feet, and meets a great guy, ‘Raj’ along the way. Raj, with his optimistic self and cheerful disposition, helps Pooja slowly recuperate from her marital woes. Just when Pooja is on a new high of life, in terms of work and her newfound friendship with Raj, Inder lands on her doorstep with divorce papers. This final jab further liberates Pooja and helps her come into her own. Kavita too eventually abandons Inder. Helpless and repentant, he goes back to Pooja and asks for forgiveness! But Pooja is no longer bitter or needy for him. What follows, is a beautiful and exemplary illustration of woman’s dignity, conviction and mental strength!

Indian-women-Bharat-India-Wallpaper- ProudPooja’s unsuccessful marriage becomes the stepping-stone to her realization of ‘self’. She takes her harrowing experience in positive stride, and finally manages to establish her own identity. She turns down a more than willing Raj’s marriage proposal, breaking all bastions of female powerlessness. In the India of the1980’s, divorce was still a taboo and was often discouraged and looked down upon.  Grappling under the social pressure of keeping their marriage and the so-called “family honor” intact, women used to endure harassment, violence, humiliation and much more. There were others, like Pooja, who had infidel partners, but still opted to stay in their marriage, as they were financially reliant on their husbands.

This path-breaking film surely splinters the stigma associated with divorce, and inspires every Indian woman to value and preserve her individuality. It also expounds the significance of self-reliance for women, encouraging them to stand on their own two feet, so that they can exercise greater freedom of choice and action! Here’s hoping that this movie enkindles every Pooja, to break all women related prejudices and stereotypes, and discover the true ‘arth’ (meaning) of life, without ever feeling the need of a man’s support!

To mark 100 years  of Indian films, we are inviting people to submit reviews for our “Gender in Indian Films @ 100″ film review series.   To make a submission click here. To read previously published reviews click here. 


Mallika Sharma  holds a major in Finance and Investment from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.  Currently she chairs her family run export house. Besides being an avid traveler and a voracious reader, she also plays tennis and is learning to play the piano. She  likes writing about a many issues from a gendered perspective.  She blogs at

© The 50 Million Missing CampaignAll Rights Reserved. To share please refer to ourcopyright guidelines.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. December 9, 2013 8:07 pm

    Thank you Mallika for a great review! And we apologize for the delay in posting. There were a number of gender related issues of national significance that came up that we needed to put out urgently.

  2. Mallika Sharma permalink
    December 16, 2013 9:48 am

    You bet there were! Thank you very much!!! 🙂

    • December 16, 2013 9:17 pm

      I have this film in my permanent collection, and I think it one of the most powerful feminist voices and not just in Indian films. Even in western films, women who divorce are often shown as going through a vacuum and somewhere at the end of that dark tunnel there must exist a man in some form, to give her life meaning! But that’s what is so powerful here. She opts not to go with either man because she finds her freedom and joy in her own personal space and makes that her choice.

  3. December 16, 2013 11:34 am

    i have not seen this movie yet, but i will remedy that situation asap! the review was very well written and this movie seems to hit close to home. i too am separated and faced social pressures in various forms against that unpopular decision. like Pooja, i too have found my ground and it was no where near the end of the world quite a few people tried to convince me off. in fact, i am living a much more fulfilling life after the separation and although there is a long way to go, it is the best decision i took!

    • Mallika Sharma permalink
      December 21, 2013 10:06 am

      Thank you very much rainbowfeminista! And yes- you must watch the movie 🙂

  4. December 30, 2013 12:55 pm

    Rita – i once saw The contender (, it was going great and it seemed promising that the woman stood up for her choices and questioned the misogyny. but in the end, it was still left to the man to give the main female character legitimacy! i was so so disappointed. because it seemed like all that she said and stood for meant nothing until a man also agreed with her. i haven’t seem a hindi movie in years, but the recent trailers of rowdy rathore et al make me shudder – what a giant leap backward.

    • December 31, 2013 10:38 am

      “a big leap backward!” I completely agree. Going through Hindi films in the last 10-15 years, every single issue be it domestic violence, divorce etc. seems to have this overtly not just sexist, but misogynistic tone to it. What’s going on?

  5. December 31, 2013 4:47 pm

    and let’s not even go into the TV serials. i remember watching Tara, Saans and even hum panch as a young teen and then came ekta kapoor with her two-dimensional women in multitude of “family serials”. i feel sad for young women who see these serials and think that what women must aspire to be. here is a case of a powerful woman actively participating in patriarchy and perpetuating misogyny.


  1. Wenn Scheidung für eine #indische #Frau Freiheit statt Schande bedeutet | The 50 Million Missing Campaign: "50 Millionen verschwunden"

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: