Esha Deol returns to acting alongside turning producer with Ek Duaa. Directed by Ram Kamal Mukherjee, the film attempts to showcase the evils of gender discrimination but ends up as a convoluted piece of storytelling.
Deol stars as Abeda, a docile homemaker trying to make ends meet in her humble household. While on one hand, her cab driver husband Suleman (Rajveer Ankur Singh) is struggling to fulfil the financial requirements of the family, Abeda's mother-in-law yearns for another grandson who, according to her, will be a 'barkat' (blessing) for the family and grow up to become an added earning member.
Ek Duaa begins with Abeda walking through a crowded market. She skims through a meat shop, whose owner reprimands her for not paying long-drawn dues, a similar situation occurs with a vegetable vendor. Abeda is accompanied by a daughter (so we are told in the beginning), who has set her eyes on a pink dress, but the duo is pushed away by the shopkeeper, for he too is aware of their limited finances. This entire process feels staged, almost a hard attempt to establish the family's modest financial capacity.
Back at home, Abeda steers clear away from her mother-in-law, an obvious past tension simmers. She readies her son her school, while the daughter, named Duaa, looks them on. The son leaves with Suleman for school, Dua calls them out but neither of them turn their backs or pay heed. Abeda carries on with the day and asks Duaa to go play.
Suleman, who drives his late father's old-beaten cab, struggles to sustain himself and his family. When a friend suggests selling the cab, and join a corporate taxi company, Suleman says he cannot because that is the only thing left of his father's memories. Singh fails to put across the emotions, his acting almost bordering to banal. His physicality contrasts to that of Suleman, who is supposed to be frustrated, worried about life, a weathered man. Singh's lack of conviction to the character and deadpan expressions are quite jarring.
As the film unravels, we find that Abeda had lost her first child due to a miscarriage (planned by her mother-in-law, the film reveals), which has left her traumatised. However, as each layer uncovers, we see the film peek into the muddy waters of female feticide and the patriarchal hold over women's bodies. During her first pregnancy, Abeda's mother-in-law had opted for a sex reveal determination test, which is illegal in India. Upon learning that Abeda is having a girl child, she forces her to have an abortion, much against Abeda's wishes. Suleman, who had accompanied both women to the hospital, tries hard to break up the argument and rebukes Abeda by saying, "Ammi must have thought well about it." Unfazed by the lack of support, Abeda stands her ground, refuses to have an abortion, and yet loses her fight.
Under his mother's constant pressure to 'complete' the family, Suleman decides to have another child without consulting Abeda, his wife, the bearer of his children. Abeda, who clearly is still traumatised by the past, tries a last attempt to change Suleman's mind and offers him a contraceptive, which he crumbles and throws away from Abeda's hand.
To gain a better understanding of the message of 'her body, her choice,' I must recommend everyone to watch Jude Anthany Joseph's recent Malalaym film Sara's.
The film revolves around parenthood and a woman's right to abortion. If you wonder why there is an apostrophe and s after her name in the film's title, it is the director's way of giving her agency and emphasising that it is and always should be the woman's decision.
Ek Duaa is a brave attempt to showcase women's agency over their bodies but falters due to bad acting performances and a wafer-thin plotline. The unnecessary conservative setting fails to create any dramatic tension in the narration, and ultimately loses out on the chance to relay an important message.
Ek Duaa is streaming on Voot Select.