respectable mothers to rebellious wives to heroic daughters to
romantic lovers and back to respectable mothers, Gulnara Abikeyeva
looks at the role of women in Central Asian cinema.
end of the Soviet period and the beginning of independence brought
a sense of confusion and disorder in the images of cinema heroines
of Central Asia.
essential system of values, of "good" and "bad," had been toppled.
Shameful and unacceptable acts of stealing and lying became the
norm. Behaviour that was once criticised - violence, charlatanism,
prostitution, etc. - became a model of conduct greatly admired
by the young. Of course, the images of women significantly changed
in this disintegrating universe. [In 1967, Gennadi Bazarov's The
Field Of Mother reinforced the national metaphor of motherland;
the theme of women's liberation - not to mention heroic daughters
- and protest against the traditional lifestyle was present in
Central Asian cinema from the '30s until the mid-'70s; and loyal
wives and beautiful lovers had their sway in the '60s. But independence
brought new changes.]
heroine of The Needle (Rachid Nugmanov, 1988) is a drug
addict; the main female character in The Final Stop (Serik
Aprymov, 1989) is a prostitute; in The Touch (Amanzhol
Aituarov, 1989), the female lead is a blind orphan; in Aiganim
(Ulzhan Kaldaulovoi, 1989), she is mute and vulnerable. Two brothers
cannot decide who is going to stay with a girl named Elya and
they kill her in Homewrecker (Amir Karakulov, 1991).
lonely countrywoman feels that she is not worthy of love in Ultugan
(Edige Bolisbayev, 1989). And, finally, the heroines of Woman-Life
(Zhanna Serikbayeva, 1991) are violent lesbian convicts. These
are the types of female characters found in Kazakh cinema of that
brought into the open a taboo subject in Uzbek films - the cruel
tradition of women's self-immolation as their mark of protest
against severe abuse at homes. Until Daybreak (Yusuf Azimov,
1993) tells the story of a 14-year-old girl, who is raped by the
son of the director of a collective farm. She tries to set herself
on fire, unable to live with her shame. The Younger (Rano
Kubayeva, 1994) is the blood-chilling tale of a woman immolating
herself as the only solution to end her unbearable abuse by her
husband. This film became an eye-opener because the subject of
domestic violence and abuse of women has long been taboo in Uzbekistan.
Tajik films of the independence decade too, women are constantly
abused and humiliated. Mira, the female lead of Kosh Ba Kosh
(1993) by Bakhtiyar Khudoinazarov, is lost by her gambling father
in a dice game. A wife of a teacher is sexually harassed by a
powerful and wealthy neighbour in Flight Of The Bee (Jamshed
Usmonov, 1998). And, finally, Luna Papa (1998), by Bakhtiyar
Khudoinazarov, shows the unbearable situation of Mamlakar ("Motherland"
in Tajik), who is humiliated and disgraced by her neighbours for
being pregnant out of wedlock.
characters did not have much luck in Central Asian cinema of the
transitional period. The old moral values were lost and new ones
had not yet taken shape. The image of women was devalued to point
zero. This most likely reflected the real-life situation of a
society in transition. Images of women in cinema are indicators
of a society's well being. Stable periods create images of women
as happy mothers and romantic lovers. Totalitarian systems cultivate
images of heroines overcoming adversity - strong in character
but lonely. Transitional periods result in female victims: abused,
humiliated and unneeded. However, times are changing and the image
of the Central Asian woman is gradually being restored in cinema.
believe that 1997-1999 were a turning point for Central Asian
cinema. Six to seven years after their declaration of independence,
national cultures had truly begun to return to their traditional
ethnic origins. They did this consciously, with detailed analyses
of their national worldviews.
years yielded the best films of independence: The Adopted Son
(Kyrgyzstan, 1998) by Aktan Abdikalikov; The Orator (Uzbekistan,
1998) by Yusuf Razykov; Flight Of The Bee (1998) and Luna
Papa (1999), both from Tajikstan; and Aksuat (1997)
by Serik Aprymov, and Killer (1998) by Darezhan Omirbaev,
both from Kazakhstan.
Khudoinazarov's Luna Papa
was around the same time that positive images of women began to
be formed. First came images of respected mothers as keepers of
the family's moral values, mothers as heads of tribes, mothers
as motherland: Zamanai (Bolat Sharip, 1997); The Adopted
Son (1998); The Dance Of Men (Yusuf Razykov, 2001);
Don't Cry (Amir Karakulov, 2001) and Angel On The Right
(Jamshed Usmonov, 2002).
the Kazakh film Zamanai, an old Kazakh woman illegally
returns to her homeland with her little grandson. She walks through
the mountains from China to Kazakhstan. Their long journey is
filled with memories of the '30s, the disastrous period of collectivisation
and mass starvation, when she and her relatives survived by escaping
abroad. After many years, Kazakhstan declares its independence
and the old lady takes her little grandson back to the land he
belongs to. In the film, patriotic feeling is the subject of respect
and admiration. The old woman's children are a lost generation,
so she kidnaps her grandson from her own children.
general, the presence of three generations - grandparents, children
and grandchildren - in one family is a very important and valued
element in Central Asian cultures. This continuum is a token of
the survival of that particular culture.
three-generation family idea was expressed in the film Don't
Cry; however, it was only a simulation of a family. Three
women - a grandmother, a young woman and a little girl - live
in one house but they are not blood relations. The grandmother
serves as the little girl's foster parent and who the real parents
are is never discussed. The young woman, who could have been her
mother, is the granny's distant relative and has come to visit
her. The little girl is terminally ill, the young woman used to
be an opera singer but has lost her voice, and the granny doesn't
know how to help either of them.
film dwells on the disconnectedness of generations. The past (granny)
is disintegrating, the present (the young woman) is voiceless,
and the future (the little girl) is destined to die. However,
the realisation of the situation is a step forward - a correct
diagnosis is the beginning of a treatment.
The Adopted Son there are five women. Beshkempir is the
name of an adopted boy (the continuing image of a person without
blood relatives) and, in Kyrgyz it means "five women." These women
perform the initiation ritual, the ceremony in which the little
boy is adopted not only by a family but also by a whole community.
They are tribal heads, and the very existence of the Kyrgyz lies
the grandmothers represent a mother figure. And the little boy
is practically adopted by the granny. When the granny dies, the
little boy performs the ritual of settling all her worldly affairs.
The ceremony is usually performed by an adult, and the fact that
it is performed here by the little boy symbolises his entry into
adulthood. With the death of the granny, his mother figure, it
is time for the boy to grow up.
The Dance Of Men, a grandmother functions like a female
divinity. She foretells the true love of her granddaughter Sanam.
The boy's name is Tashtemir. Despite the hardships of life - the
death of Tashtemir's grandfather, his getting drafted into the
army, his desertion and subsequent arrest - the grandmother insists:
"You have to get married tomorrow no matter what. Even if I die
The grandmother serves as a guardian angel for the young lovers
and makes the wedding happen.
role of the grandmother in Angel On The Right is very special.
The responsibility for home and family lies with her. She raises
her grandson, while her son - the boy's father - is off chasing
his dreams somewhere. She feigns illness to oblige her son to
come back to their village. He returns, his moral values are gradually
restored and he assumes the role of a true father. Only then does
the grandmother die. One can be sure that her son is going to
do good deeds, listening to the angel on his right shoulder.
think that the process of self-identification of a nationality
and the restoration of its cultural world begin with the reconstruction
of established positive images. For Central Asia, it is primarily
the image of the mother. And these images have begun now to appear
in our cinema. Hopefully, this means that the destructive transitional
period has come to an end and that our future will be stable and
productive, a future in which women can be happy, active and loved.
The above article first appeared in Cinemaya (Autumn 2003). It
is also included in Gulnara Abikeyeva's new book, The Heart Of
The World: Films From Central Asia (Almaty, 2003).