When an infant girl opens her eyes after leaving her mother’s womb, the first thing she sees is the hospital ceiling. Everything that follows from that moment, everything she will ever set her eyes on and try to grasp an understanding of— will be through the understanding of a male gaze. As Shulamith Firestone eloquently wrote in her book The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, “The tool for representing, for objectifying one's experience in order to deal with it, culture, is so saturated with male bias that women almost never have a chance to see themselves culturally through their own eyes.”

How women perceive themselves— their bodies, their thoughts, their interpretations are influenced by the world, which ultimately means patriarchy, which ultimately means how men see women or rather, how men want to see women. When Linda Nochlin talks about how hard it is to dig up women who are insufficiently appreciated in her ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’ she was definitely talking about women like Pushpa Rawat.

In this article, we will be traversing Nirnay by Pushpa Rawat, an experimental-observational documentary that revolves around Pushpa making sense of her own life and the lives of her friends in a small village of Ghaziabad. In the documentary, Pushpa has concocted a brilliantly woven narrative of her story by asking difficult questions from people around her. In Firestone’s work, she mentioned a couple of phrases that hinders female artists from creating art that is original to their thoughts such as “The Muse was Female” or ” the notion that women cannot be “authentic” as “women have to imitate male psychology [as] they have no means of coming to an understanding of what their experience is or even that it is different from the male experience” Firestone, (2003). and it seems that Pushpa’s work is a glaring contrast to what was expected out of her.

Nirnay (2012) is a bold contradiction of these two notions: the muse and the question of authenticity. In the documentary, the muse is Pushpa’s fiancé Sunil— a man and the dreams of her friends— figments that exist but could not be achieved. The women in the film are subjects and they are treated as the subjects, not as an object of the male gaze. The angles Pushpa chose to frame the subjects played a giant role in this. The close-up shots relayed the emotions of the women in the rawest form possible— from the way, Lata’s skin twitches around her lips as she talks fervently about her ardour for singing or the tears pooling in Mithlesh’s eyes as she recalls a life that feels like incarceration to her. The unexpected was shown and the expected was dismissed, which makes the documentary a contradiction of Male Gaze. The content from the observational interviews is so powerful that the mind doesn’t even linger to wonder what Lata, Mithlesh, and Pooja’s bodies look like. Additionally, since we see the village of Ghaziabad through Pushpa’s eyes, it is astonishing how we understood her, even rooted for her, without ever having to see her body or her face on-screen.

The documentary feels like an attempt towards reversing the Male Gaze by providing a platform for Pushpa’s friends to talk about their dreams, to get inside their heads and understand what they want, even if their dreams bite the dust. Instead of seeing women as wallflowers, they become the center of the world that Pushpa has concocted— which affirms Firestone’s point that “the difference between the ‘male’ approach to art and the ‘female’ is not, as some like to think, simply a difference of ‘style’ in treating the same subject matter but the very subject matter itself.”

The style that Pushpa had adopted to make her documentary handed women the autonomy to exist as themselves with no fear of objectification. There is no doubt that Objectification sells as Stankiewicz (2008) argued that the regular images of women as sex objects in media may cause people to think that a woman’s physique and sexuality are what makes her precious. This adorned “Preciousness” was completely eliminated from Nirnay as women were free to exist within their rooms, outdoors in the field, or even dancing at festivities. In one scene by the end of the movie, a room full of women are enjoying themselves by dancing and grooving to the music. Their dance is merely a verb they employ to express themselves, there is no sexual objectification and it had everything to do with Pushpa’s style i.e how she chose to hold the camera that makes her audience feel part of the documentary instead of becoming the viewer that has the power to objectify.

Talking about autonomy, the space that allowed the women of this documentary to utter their truths with complete honesty is positively shocking because their truths are neither glorious nor malicious. Their truths revolve around their deepest desires that we get to witness as they resurface on their faces as Lata rambles about running away to become a singer, Mithlesh wistfully wishes for adventures, and Pooja craves for some autonomy in her life. But, answering Pooja’s hard and uncomfortable questions about their personal freedom, choice, contentment, and compromise were not easy for her friends. It took a push from the filmmaker that urged her friends to be honest with themselves and connect with their “unconsciousness.”

This can be understood through Adrienne Rich’s text about women and honour, as she begins her essay by stating blatantly that, ‘Honesty in women has not been considered important.” In mainstream media that we consume, we usually get to hear what we want to hear and what aligns with the patriarchal norms. Women’s reality, their broken dreams and lived realities, is not effervescent or glamorous. In Pushpa’s documentary, the raw truth uttered by her subjects is hard to digest because the truth is unfiltered and honest. As Rich wrote: “In lying to others we end up lying to ourselves. We deny the importance of an event, or a person, and thus deprive ourselves of a part of our lives. [We] lose faith even in our own lives” (Rich, 1977). and during the interviews we see that when Pushpa’s friends were asked the hard questions, they were taking time to reconnect with themselves, to realize at that moment that their dreams still exist even if they don’t think or talk about it anymore. In the essay, she further wrote that when two women trust each other and lean on each other with their truth, what blooms is “the possibilities of truth between us. The possibility of life between us” (Rich, 1977). The reconnection of Pushpa’s subjects with their dreams and flickering hopes and reconnection between Pushpa and her female friends felt like the firm click of a lock that was lying on cold sand for decades. Sometimes, the win is just to discover the truth even if you can’t explore it because as Rich concretized her thoughts, “the unconscious wants truth, as the body does.” The women in Pushpa’s documentary had their small victory as they reconnected with their Truth.

Lastly, let’s try to traverse the main subject of the documentary, which is Pushpa’s journey in trying to heal from her heartbreak for not being able to marry the love of her life due to caste differences. Usually, the damsel in distress is saved by the knight in shining armour and they live happily ever after. That is the mainstream narrative we get to see when talking in context about women’s heartbreaks. There are hardly any poets or writers that got the fame for talking about their heartbreaks. Women are expected to be silent in their misery. Pushpa defied this notion as not only does she talks about her heartbreak, she goes as far as trying to explore the set of reasons that broke her heart. Questioning her father, brother, mother, her lover’s parents, his sister, himself— Pushpa’s thirst for the Truth and rationality is unquenchable, and in doing so she is effectively proving herself to be a counterpoint of mainstream media. According to Helen Cixous, “Women should break out of the snare of silence. They shouldn't be conned into accepting a domain which is the margin or the harem” (Cixous, Cohen & Cohen, 1976). And, that is exactly what Pushpa did as she set out of the place she was expected to stay in— silence and obscurity— and talked about her journey without faltering or depicting herself as the overtly emotional being without rationality. Cixous wrote jestingly, “Hold still we're going to do your portrait so that you can begin looking like it right away.” Pushpa, however, instead of holding still— went into a state of constant motion as she paints her own portrait through a documentary that is Nirnay.

Nirnay is everything that is not expected. When you take off the glasses that have Male Gaze smeared all over them, it gets easier to digest and connect with the documentary. Pushpa’s determination to elicit emotions in her audience and subjects and not falter when it comes to depicting the rawness of women’s truth— is what makes her work monumental.


Cixous, H., Cohen, K., & Cohen, P. (1976). The laugh of the Medusa. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 1(4), 875-893.
Firestone, S. (2003). The dialectic of sex: The case for feminist revolution. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Nochlin, L. (1971). Why have there been no great women artists?. The feminism and visual culture reader, 229-233.
Rawat, P. (2012). Nirnay [video]
Rich, A. (1977). Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying (1st ed.). Pittsburgh, Pa.: Motherroot Publications.
Stankiewicz, J. M., & Rosselli, F. (2008). Women as sex objects and victims in print advertisements. Sex Roles, 58(7-8), 579-589.