The film, also called ‘Wings of Butterfly’ is an 80-minute feature on an abused woman and her complex relationship with a Chapania.

Lonely or single women in parts of rural Assam have been known to keep male farmhands as partners. The practice has now taken the wings of a reel butterfly.

Ahsan Muzid and wife Archana Bhattacharjee wanted to put their life savings into a socially-relevant film after taking voluntary retirement from their jobs in television. They came up with Pokhilar Pakhi (Wings of Butterfly), an 80-minute feature on an abused woman and her complex relationship with a Chapania.

Chapania is the status of a male who eventually becomes a live-in partner of a spinster or a young widow who keeps him for assisting in household chores or in agricultural activities. The relationship, derided by some but accepted by village elders conditionally, is usually seen as a marriage of convenience.

‘Quite common’

“The film deals with the complexities of the man-woman relationship in an unusual situation where a couple starts living together without the bond of marriage through the Chapania practice that prevails in a few agrarian societies. The practice was quite common in the central Assam village where we shot the film. In fact, the fifth house from the one shown as the home of our central character had a Chapania,” Mr. Muzid told The Hindu after a special screening of the film on Thursday.

Besides directing the film, Mr. Muzid wrote its screenplay based on a short story by Kumud Goswami. Ms. Bhattacharjee is the producer.

Mr. Muzid said he did not have enough written material on the Chapania practice but his team researched deeply on the practice across several villages. One of the very few studies titled ‘Social Status of Women in Assam’ says the definition of Chapania may vary.

In some cases, a woman takes a man of her choice as her “husband”. Sometimes, the parents of a girl select a young man of their community as the Chapania or ghar-jowai (son-in-law at home) for their daughter owing to the desire of having a son or a “proper man” to look after them in their old age, or to guard their property.

Challenges faced

But, Mr. Muzid insisted, the film is more about the challenges faced by an unmarried woman in rural Assam than taking a practice out of the closet. “This is the story of Pokhila, who as a schoolgirl was raped after her illiterate father lost much of his farmland and life to a schemer, and how as a self-righteous middle-aged woman entangles herself in a complex situation by deciding to keep a man with her without marriage,” he said.

In the course of time, the man — Phuleswar, a job-seeker who lost his home in another village to erosion — leaves her to become the Chapania of a widow in the neighbourhood. He returns to Pokhila after the widow dies while delivering his son.

Pokhila’s response to an ex-Chapania is the twist in the tale told in a linear narrative.

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