“When you choose to fight for truth and justice, you
will have to face serious threats.” Sister Rani Maria, the protagonist of the
movie, is counselled by her mother in a letter. Face of the Faceless
is a movie that shows how serious those threats are.
This movie is a biopic. It shows us
the life of a Catholic nun who dedicated her life to serve some Adivasis of
Madhya Pradesh [MP] and ended up as a martyr. If it were not a real story, this
movie would have been an absolute flop. Since it is the real story of not only
a nun but also the impoverished and terribly exploited Adivasis in a particular
village of MP, it keeps you engrossed.
It is a sad movie, right from the
beginning to the end. It is a story of the good versus evil, the powerless
versus the powerful, the heroic versus the villainous, the divine versus the
diabolic. Having said that, I must hasten to add one conspicuous fact: the
movie does not ever present Christianity or its religious practices as the only
right way(s) of doing things. The protagonist is a Catholic missionary nun. But
she is not the kind that spends too much time before the crucifix. On the
contrary, she is there with the poor and oppressed people of the village. She
even digs a well along with them. Her habit-skirt is soiled with real mud.
Much more striking is the scene in
which a new nun comes to the convent and makes delicious chicken curry but is
told that it is a day of abstinence. But the nun is ravenously hungry and she
needs food. Sister Rani Maria, who is the Mother [authority] of the
convent, smiles her assent to breaking the ritual of abstinence for a day. Humanity
matters far more than rules and rituals.
Sister Rani Maria does derive her
spiritual sustenance from prayers. But she knows, like Rabindranath Tagore,
that her god is “there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where
the path-maker is breaking stones.” This nun’s god’s garment is covered with
Here is a nun who has internalised
the teachings of Jesus in all its essence. Religion is not some prayers and rituals.
It is service to humanity. It is love for other creatures. It is truth and
justice. Sister Rani Maria puts that religion into practice. Even the
objections from her superior [the provincial] do not deter her. Her soul is on
fire with love. Nothing can douse that fire.
So much goodness does not belong to
the human world, however. The human world is not driven by love, goodness,
truth, and so on. Such virtues belong to the holy books. The real world is
driven by people like Amar Singh in the movie who is a typical exploitative
landlord, the kind you will find almost all over India. Amar Singh finds that
Sister Rani Maria is becoming too much of an inconvenience for him. The people on
whose blood and sweat he was fattening himself are now refusing to kowtow to
him and his henchmen. He finds an easy solution: eliminate the nun.
The movie ends with the transformation
of the nun’s murderer. I remember the Malayalam
newspapers reporting the arrival of this killer in Kerala to apologise to
the nun’s family members for the gruesome crime he had committed. The movie is
true to facts.
The movie is good to watch if you
want to know the life story of Sister Rani Maria and about the exploitations of
the Adivasis and such people in many parts of India. It will even help you
understand why the Christian missionaries find easy acceptance among these
oppressed people: they give them a “face,” an identity. These people who are
treated as worse than animals [even today many people in North India are valued far less than cattle] gain respectability from what the missionaries do. A very
simple fact is that most religious conversions in India can be prevented if the
low caste people are given due respect in their own religion. But that doesn’t
happen even today in spite of all the ‘spirituality’ that the current
dispensation has brought to politics.
Actress Vincy Aloshious has done a
remarkable job in the role of Sister Rani Maria. Sonali Sharmisstha’s part as
an Adivasi woman named Kerly is also outstandingly played. These two together
make the movie an art which otherwise would be nothing more than a hagiographic
What could have made the movie an
outstanding work of art would be to look at the entire sequence from the
perspective of the nun’s killer. What prompted Samandar Singh to kill Sister
Rani Maria so brutally? What transformed him later? I hope Dr Shaison P Ouseph,
the director of this movie, will make another film on that.
Why did this director make this movie? Read this Hindu article to find out.