‘Soni:’ A placid attempt at highlighting violence against women

The horrific case of Nirbhaya brought into sharp focus the crimes against women in Delhi. (Screen shot)
Updated 12 September 2018
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‘Soni:’ A placid attempt at highlighting violence against women

VENICE: The horrific case of Nirbhaya — a young medical intern who was raped on a moving bus in 2012 — brought into sharp focus the crimes against women in Delhi. Ivan Ayr’s “Soni” plays on its after-effects as two female police officers show us what it takes to keep the streets of the city safe at night.

Screened at the Venice film festival, “Soni” is a no-nonsense movie about a young policewoman by the same name (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan) and her boss, Kalpana (Saloni Batra). Together, they scout the streets of Delhi to prevent rape and other acts against women. In a highly male-dominated, patriarchal society, theirs is no easy task.

Ayr’s narrative relies on the simple complexities of a young female cop whose married life is in shambles, but whose passion and dedication toward her profession continues to remain strong.

And while “Soni” could have succumbed to exaggerations and unnecessary dramatic turns, Ayr stops himself short of falling into this trap.

That doesn’t mean the movie is not flawed in any way. The protagonist has a mercurial temper and is not forgiving. When her estranged husband arrives home to surprise her, Soni is cold, distant and hostile even as he begs her for a second chance.

Outside the home, her temper gets her into a slew of troubles. In one of the early scenes of the film, as she cycles through Delhi on a cold night, she is harassed by a man. Something snaps in her, and, in a fit of rage, she unleashes her wrath on him, eventually landing him in hospital. The incident puts Kalpana to shame, forcing her to question whether Soni needed to “have hit him so hard that he had to be rushed to hospital.”

Ayr walks us through several such confrontationist situations, where Kalpana is at her wit’s end trying to help Soni curb her temper.

But even that does little to temper the film — while it has its emotional high points, it runs a mostly placid course otherwise.


Ivory Coast looks to solar vehicles to replace bush taxis

Updated 54 min 24 sec ago
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Ivory Coast looks to solar vehicles to replace bush taxis

  • A switch to solar and durables may appear paradoxical in Jacqueville, however, as the area produces the lion’s share of the country’s gas and oil
  • Ivory Coast is targeting an 11-percent share of national consumption for renewables by 2020

JACQUEVILLE, Ivory Coast: Hi-tech, cheap — and quiet. The Ivorian resort of Jacqueville just outside Abidjan is betting on solar-powered three-wheelers as it looks to replace traditional but noisy and dirty bush taxis.
“It’s cheaper and relaxing!” says local trader Sandrine Tetelo, of the Chinese-made “Saloni” or “Antara” tricycles, which could eventually spell the end for old-school “woro-woro” four-wheelers as Jacqueville looks to make itself Ivory Coast’s premier eco city.
The mini-cars, 2.7 meters (8.8 feet) long and two meters high, are covered in solar panels each fitted out with six 12-volt batteries, giving the vehicles a range of 140 kilometers (87 miles).
Returning from a visit to China, the solar cars’ promotor Marc Togbe pitched his plan to mayor Joachim Beugre, who was immediately sold.
“We are used to seeing (typically old and beaten up) bush taxis pollute the atmosphere and the environment. We said to ourselves, if we could only replace them by solar trikes,” said Beugre.
“The adventure started in January with two little cars,” added Togbe, who has created a partnership with local businessman Balla Konate.
“I went to China with a friend,” says Konate, “and afterwards I sent four youngsters to Lome for training with a friend who had spoken to me about the project.”
He wants to extend operations to Odienne and Korhogo, towns in the north, the country’s sunniest region.
“Today, a dozen cars are up and running. We are right in the test phase. More and more people are asking for them,” says Beugre, seeing a chance to kill several birds with one solar stone.
Long isolated, his town, nestled between a laguna and the sea, has flourished in terms of real estate and tourism since the 2015 inauguration of a bridge linking Jacqueville to the mainland and cutting transit time to Abidjan to less than an hour.
For the start of the school year in October, Jacqueville plans to bring on stream a 22-seater “solar coach” designed to help deal with “the thorny issue of pupils’ transport.”
Many schoolchildren typically have to travel tens of kilometers from their home village to urban schools.
So far, the trikes have also provided work for around 20 people including drivers and mechanics.
“We’re on the go from six in the morning and finish around 10 or even midnight, weekends too,” says Philippe Aka Koffi, a 24-year-old who has been working as a driver for five months.
“It’s pleasant for doing your shopping more quickly,” says an impressed passenger, Aholia Guy Landry, after riding in a vehicle which can carry four people, driver included.
A big plus is the 100 CFA francs (0.15 euros/$0.18) price of a trip — half a typical downtown “woro-woro” fare — helping to attract between 500 and 1,000 people a day, according to the town hall and promoter.
A switch to solar and durables may appear paradoxical in Jacqueville, however, as the area produces the lion’s share of the country’s gas and oil.
The wells outside the town produce 235 million cubic feet of gas per day, while several foreign firms run pipelines taking oil and gas across the town to feed the refineries at Abidjan.
But the municipality — total budget 140 million CFA francs — sees none of the profits, an issue which has drawn public ire in the past.
The 50-million-CFA trike project is just one piece in a much larger jigsaw which includes the construction of a new eco city on a 240-hectare site among coconut trees.
“It will not be a city for the rich,” insists Beugre, showing off a blueprint replete with cycle paths and a university.
“All social strata who respect the environment will be able to live there,” he adds.
Yet at national level, such plans are conspicuous by their absence.
Ivory Coast, west African leader in electricity production — 75 percent of which comes from thermal energy and the remainder from hydroelectric dams — is targeting an 11-percent share of national consumption for renewables by 2020.
Even though by September the country had burned through barely one single megawatt of solar energy for this year, Beugre is undaunted.
“Our ecological project will go all the way” and “stand up to the power of oil and gas,” says the cowboy-hatted local politician.
“In years to come, we want to ensure that these solar-power machines become the main means of travel in the area.”