Tracing the State through two indie films: Loktak Lairembee & Soni
- Part 2 -

Rajkumar Panthoiren *

Haobam Paban's 'Loktak Lairembee (Lady of the Lake)'
Haobam Paban's 'Loktak Lairembee (Lady of the Lake)' :: Pix - TSE


In "Soni", we follow the story of two policewomen in Delhi passionate about fighting crimes against women, but that doesn't mean they are to be bracketed as gender-specific police as they are efficient police officers in all aspects. Being women gives them the extra edge in comprehending certain nuances involving crimes related to women. Their job involves decoy operations at night while being undercover in the streets of the capital city.

The title character Soni is the junior of her Superintendent rank boss Kalpana Ummat, and both share a warm, sisterly bond that cuts through the formal hierarchy. Both are passionately devoted to their job of fighting crimes but their temperament is diametrically oppositeŚ Soni is the hot-headed, righteous rebel while Kalpana is the balanced and well-meaning officer who gives importance to protocol. This film is a character study of these policewomen done in very realistic terms.

The rational bureaucratic structure is being scrutinized by questioning its efficacy on the ground level (policy output vs. policy outcome). Several questions can be framed through the film: what is the root of crimes such as drugs-related, kidnapping, extortion, political and bureaucratic embezzlement of funds etc. and gender-related crimes? Does one reinforce the other, or are they complementary? How does the perversion of economic base structure come into the picture while looking at the dysfunction of the politico-ideological superstructure?

On top of the gritty law enforcement work they do, Soni and Kalpana also have to fit in the gender roles expected of them at home, more so in Kalpana's case who is constantly reminded by her mother-in-law of her wifely obligations such as bearing a child. Kalpana's more practical husband Sandeep who is also an IPS officer, with a higher rank than her, berates her for not being authoritative enough while dealing with subordinates (referring to her empathetic support of the "problematic" Soni). Now, there are certain important moments in the film which shape the characters' assertion of their organismic selves (Carl Rogers), each time being cornered by the State's vested check and balances system (to maintain the anomic status quo, a false sense of societal equilibrium).

At a checkpoint, Soni slaps an uncooperative and misbehaving drunk Naval officer after several of her warnings were retorted by patronising threats. In the beginning scene, while undercover in a night decoy operation to check crimes in the streets, she beats up a molester chasing after her who also didn't relent despite being ignored initially. The checkpoint incident induces an institutional enquiry on her and she gets transferred to a desk job in the police control room. She gets reinstated to her normal post shortly after Kalpana bats for her.

In the third instance, while she and her supportive boss Kalpana were in a restaurant having a quiet time, she again gets into a major fight when she found some pampered hooligans holed up in the ladies' toilet and consuming some Class A drug, thus causing public nuisance; in this case too, her reasoning attempts were futile and she was provoked to physical action when one of the hooligans breached the sexual lines (the provocateur being a corporate honcho's ward).

As expected, the police unit's head (Sandeep) is pressurised by the corporate honcho, an influential election funder, using his political links. Sandeep, the practical officer that he is, considers the consequences and relents and the hooligan is made to go scot-free, which is resented by his wife Kalpana. Soni is put in the dock again.

So, it can be clearly seen how the very concept of law enforcement entails dysfunctional adjustments and accommodations that are concretised through the strict hierarchical set-up. And the Weberian rationalisation of bureaucracy prescribing one-fits-all framework is demonstrated by the inter-institutional consensus (the police and the Navy, in this case) on what is within bounds and what is not.

The Naval officer's drunk misdemeanour is sidelined as a stray and excusable thing while Soni slapping him for the very act of disruption of police work is seen as an act of excess; would this have been the case if in the place of the Naval officer was a civilian having no political or otherwise backing? Or rather, would a simple civilian have the motivation or nerve to display such privileged misuse of authority even in place where their authority, if any, is not in force? Highly unlikely, except in rare cases of psychological deviance.

This exposes the beautiful lie of the so-called equalising effect of law enforcement (all equal before the law) because at the end of the day, the law enforcers are more like authority posers than anything else who are constantly kept in check by the State's various vested requirements. And all of these institutions are subservient to the State and its constant will to the maintenance of its power concentration.

In order to maintain this happy nexus, the State has to make several "small adjustments" such as the case of Soni's temporary transfer to a desk job to satisfy the inter-institutional equilibrium and also reinforce intra-institutional hierarchical role allocation's strict adherence. Also, in the case of the restaurant hooligan, Soni was supposedly at fault just because she responded physically to a serious nuisance causer, while the nuisance causing hooligan's ticket to exoneration from lawful persecution was not legal defence but extra-legal "adjustments".

Police brutality, even to the extent of death, done on weaker sections of society rarely invites recall and reprimanding of the personnel(s) involved but even non-deadly physical escalation in cases involving the privileged sections results in consequences for the personnel(s) involved. This is the dangerous dichotomy that the State promotes.

In an interesting turn of events, in the penultimate scene, we see that Kalpana goes ahead and brings in the already let off restaurant hooligan and this time, frames several charges on him (drug trafficking, criminal trespassing, attempt to kidnap and assaulting an officer on duty), to the utter shock of the hooligan who still threatens her by invoking his privilege. It's a redemptive and cathartic act on her part and her own kind of rebelling within the bounds of the system (set protocol).

Despite the potentially aversive consequences involved, she doesn't relent which is sort of an act of reclamation of her conscience. It can also be read as a reassertion of her "position" of an IPS officer that she had achieved through her own struggles which carried genuine meanings for her (righteousness, sense of duty, sensitivity for the less fortunate and so on).

In the final scene, Soni is back in the police control room with a book in her hand which was gifted by Kalpana: 'Raseedi Ticket' written by the acclaimed Punjabi writer Amrtia Pritam. It's a symbolic gesture because the book is the autobiography of a non-conformist of a different era who lived her life on her terms and so in a way, the solidarity and solace that Soni and Kalpana shared between them is solidified by the historical link of another person they mutually admire. They trace their own turmoil and inner dissonance arising out of their being in acute contact with harsh social realities to an identifiable figure who, to them, sort of lived through similar turmoils in her life.


In "Loktak Lairembee", the State manages to subdue Tomba and his nascent rebellion which anyway was borne out of his psychological disturbance rather than a real, concerted will on his part to better his life chances. His inability is not something personal to him because like him, his phumdi dweller ilk does not have the intellectual and physical resources to match up to the State. Their material conditions bring them down, the reversal of which they attempt through investment in their children's education.

But then, they are unable to ensure top-notch education for their children because education is also a pricey commodified enterprise meant for the well off and the burgeoning middle class. Tomba's attempt to reclaim his lost ground through the discovered gun results in cognitive dissonance, which gets resolved through his act of abandoning the gun, out of his view and reach, deep in the lake's waters. And so, the meek resolution seals his fate and we are not given any hopes of betterment of Tomba's life condition. Tomba's story is just the tip of the iceberg.

On the other hand, Kalpana and Soni, even though they are bound by the dysfunctional and self-serving diktats of the State, are better off as they still have a scope to right things in areas they can to compensate for the areas they cannot. The State's bureaucratic machinery intends to make and expects of one to become depersonalised, efficient work cogs. The invisible hand that sustains the iron cage of capitalism doesn't allow for conscience to function.

This way, many young and bright people who initially were principled and optimistic get absorbed into the system's tentacles and become either psychopathic converts or regress back to the unconscious realm of void, with no personal stand or opinion on anything.

In "Soni", we see the struggles of Kalpana and Soni to remain sane and maintain their integrity while bearing the onslaughts of the State's dysfunctional adjustments. Their triumph lies in the fact that they do not relent as easily as the State might want them to. And maybe, it is because of the existence of many actual Kalpanas and Sonis in the real world that the State has a slight semblance of humanity.

All in all, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the State as we know is a repository for potential and actual criminalities, with its existence necessitated by the human need for a representative and symbolic consciousness, and sustained by absence of fairer, viable alternatives.

"Loktak Lairembee" won the National Film Award for Best Film on Environment Conservation/Preservation at the 64th National Film Awards in 2016, among many other accolades. "Soni" won an award in debut category at the Pingyao International Film Festival, 2018. Both the films were received positively in various international film festivals.


Read Part 1 here

* Rajkumar Panthoiren wrote this article for
The writer is pursuing MA Sociology in the University of Hyderabad and can be contacted at panthoirk94(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on 27 February, 2019.

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