Calling Suffragette a feminist film is wrong. It

Calling Suffragette a feminist film is wrong. It's a film for humanity

I was very lucky growing up. I had love and support around me at all times; I was never told that this is 'what a girl can do' and this is 'what a boy can do'. No differentiating line was ever drawn.

That skewed my thinking in many ways. I believed both men and women are equal; are human. Of course, this didn't blind me to the many injustices women around the globe face on a daily basis - but somehow I always doggedly continued with my belief going about life exactly how I wanted (with parental permission, of course).

And then, a few years ago my ideas of feminism changed in one fell swoop. I was angry about a series of posts that were, for lack of a better word, very 'feminazi'. "If feminists are like this," I declared to my father, "I guess I'm not one".

I'll never forget the look he gave me when he said the following words: "Baba, if I'm a feminist, you most definitely are." After that we continued with a conversation that helped change some of my beliefs for the better.

Also read: New York's I View Film festival arrives in Delhi. We can't wait for these 7 films

That's one of the reason why Suffragette, shown as part of the international film festival I View World at The British Council, really struck a chord with me emotionally. I've never had to fight for such freedoms because of women way back when who fought hard to change the way the world was and is run.

I'm grateful to them in so many ways as without their fight I would never have been given so many choices.

The power of film

Sarah Gavron's film focuses on a few of the many women who were forced underground to fight for equality and for their right to vote in Britain.

It's a strong indictment on the institute of man. It's frustrating to see women told that they do not need the vote because they have fathers, brothers and their husbands to represent them. It's horrifying to note that until a few years after the vote kicked in, women didn't even have an rights when it came to their own children.

But of course, it's not the fault of men exactly is it? At the end of the day, we're all a result of the sum of our experiences and if our experiences dictate women are inferior - it would take an immense moment of courage to change that opinion.

Of all the complex and contradictory feelings I had as I was watching Suffragette, the most interesting was the revelation that the story was long overdue. It's a huge reminder of the absence of the female narrative in cultural history - making it all the more important.

Also read: A quirky docu, a powerful 'short': the Mira Nair films you've never seen

The workings of patriarchal power

The film's story takes place in 1912 and 1913, and its sets and costumes vividly and convincingly evoke a bygone age.

But it's written, shot and acted with a hot-blooded urgency that reminds you the struggle it depicts is an ongoing one - especially in times like this when stereotypes are back in full force on the internet and social media.

The story begins in a laundry in the East End of London and is based around the main protagonist, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan). She became an accidental suffragette and eventually an intrinsic part of the movement when she finally finds her voice as she begins to recognise how unjust the world and the Law are to women.

The shabby conditions of her workplace also worsen immeasurably by the seedy boss of the establishment - a sexual predator continually harassing his female employees in the full knowledge he will get away with it.

Also read: 29 February is when women could propose to men. Here's why we still need it

It's only when she's drafted in at the last minute to putthe case for women's suffrage to the then-chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George (Adrian Schiller) - her politically active friend Violet (Anne-Marie Duff), whom she's there to silently support, arrives beaten black and blue, and unable to speak - that she begins to grasp the bigger picture. And when the Prime Minister, Asquith, scuppers the voting reform, she realises she can't do anything but join the cause.

Her allies include Violet and also a pharmacist Edith, played by superb and rarely subtler Helena Bonham-Carter. Edith is both "educated and without scruples - which makes her particularly dangerous", according to Brendan Gleeson's bearlike police inspector Steed, who's charged with surveilling the movement with a view to locating their weak spot.

Maud's actions get her arrested but she fights on. Her husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw) throws her out, cutting her of from her little boy (the scene where she loses custody of her son is truly wrenching), but she also knows that this is a battle that must be won.

Which is why Gavron's film has more in common with a political thriller than a period drama.

Halfway into the film, whispers are heard that the movement's champion, Emmeline Pankhurst (Streep, in an extremely brief appearance), is to speak. The real strength of this scene lies in the reaction of the women gazing on, showing the hope for a better world that they're more than willing to fight for come what may.

Also read: Forget salary, women make 20% less than men even when they sell on eBay

Mulligan is on seriously good form here, showing Maud's gradual transformation from bystander to activist with riveting emotional precision.

Writer Abi Morgan's perfect balance of the melodramatic personal story and political enumeration comes to vivid life under Gavron's direction. Suffragette depicts the reality, long thought to be a myth, of female civic solidarity and the link women see between politics and autonomy.

The timeline also, the shocking statistics regarding votes for women that bookend the film, give a "very now" cultural context. Women are not an oppressed minority, claims Suffragette over and over again. They are an unrepresented majority.

And it must be underlined that getting the vote meant so much more than just getting the vote. It is not only inaccurate to say men can speak for the needs and tastes of women, it's emotionally hysterical to think they can, and Suffragette shines a light on this hysteria.

"If you want me to respect the law, make the law respectable," one protester offers during a demonstration. Which is why even if Suffragette comes cloaked in respectability, it's fire in its belly is hot and real.

I want to finish with the words Mrs Pankhurst used to spur the women on: "never underestimate the power we women have to define our own destinies - we don't want to be law breakers, we want to be law makers". Her words ring out clearly at the end again: "I would rather be a rebel than a slave".

Thousands of years of patriarchy are obviously not going to disappear with the wave of a magic wand. Which is why it is incumbent upon us to continue the fight.

RATING: 4 out of 5

More in Catch:

Hot Feminist is a book no-one should read. Especially feminists

Feminist Fatale: an essential lesson in feminism from the Powerpuff Girls

Aleesha Matharu

Aleesha Matharu @almatharu