There is a philosophy that seems pessimistic at first sight but if analysed correctly proves to be otherwise. It is called antinatalism. The long and the short of it is that it views human procreation as unethical as there is too much worldly suffering and this is how it has been since Adam was a boy — people have inflicted so much harm on Earth that it is best if nobody births and we could all end the misery by self-annihilation as a species. I fancy myself an antinatalist so I am reviewing the Malayalam film ‘Sara’S’ that is endowed with both antinatalist and spiritual insights. While there are debates among antinatalists about what it truly means to be antinatalist, my point of departure is in the critique of creaturely life and reproductivity from where social injustice emanates. This means all forms of it would go if there were no people to receive it. In other words, why would anyone suffer if there is no ‘anyone’? The application of antinatalism on wokeness, human rights and the social sciences is vast. I will confine my piece to ‘Sara’S’ and show how it is vitally critical from an antinatalist lens. I will explore the traces the film leaves on my mind and connect them to larger spiritual projects such as the Hindu idea of liberation from the cycle of birth and death and self-realisation.
Directed by Jude Anthany Joseph, ‘Sara’S’ revolves around a girl named Sara (Anna Ben) whose parents want her to marry. It is a bit meta — we watch her work as an associate director for a Malayalam film and later hunt for a producer for her first movie. She finds Prince Charming (Sunny Wayne as Jeevan) who is like her. Both do not want to have children so they get along; but their families want them to have, and their truthiness of how the couple (now married) should birth creates familial and emosh undercurrents that lead them to express their displeasure at the couple’s decision. Hoo boy, that is how old-line families are around the globe! There is an undertow of uneasiness throughout the film as Sara and Jeevan seek to find better positions in their workplaces amid tensions in their families that appear and vanish at one remove only to be followed by humour that any filmgoer would enjoy… until Sara gets pregnant and all hell breaks loose. Up until then their thoughts and actions against kids are revealing, so we are left to wonder what happens after her pregnancy. Their effulgent love soon turns to marital discord. There is Sara’s gripping silence. There is anger. There are eyes bedewed with tears.
Sara can be a kind of feminist; however, she speaks from her position of being an ingénue who does not want to give birth. She wants to focus on her career in films and puts all her energy into securing an offer from a producer. We watch her grapple with notions of child-rearing. She exercises her right to choose in the end and that is commendable from a director’s viewpoint. She does not undergo any transmutation. She muddles through. And we follow her. Having understood the world and its innumerable problems, she chooses to enter the professional space and live her life on her own terms. Her identity as a married woman is clear. This is exactly what antinatalists want: society accepting that humans have committed innumerable sins in so far as the only path towards self-realisation is to subscribe to antinatalism so that no other human will suffer anymore. Is it not the case that the body itself is the cause of suffering? Ramana Maharshi once said, “The body itself is a disease.” What he could have meant was giving up worldly existence for a higher cause should be the cornerstone of our faith. Why unnecessarily burden another soul with a body that feels pain? The Maharshi was characteristically precise and to the point. So long as there is a body there will be suffering — bodily pain is inevitable.
Self-realised masters like Mata Amritanandamayi had said in 2005 that we need to control the population: “Controlling the population explosion is the best way to control the exploitation of nature. It is enough to have just one child.” She went on to say that India will have the biggest population problem in 30 years if we do not control it. Other Gurus like Shirdi Sai Baba who lived many moons ago said, “How could he whose mind is engrossed in progeny expect to know the Brahma without removing his attachment from [it]?” The Yoga Vasistha says, “The child is easily offended, easily roused to anger, easily bursts into tears. In fact, one may say boldly that the child’s anguish is more terrible than that of a dying man, an aged man, a sick man or any other adult.” I hasten to point out that antinatalism underlines these varied aspects of it. The Hindu idea of freedom from the cycle of birth and death, with our latent mental tendencies and karmas, is a perfect example of antinatalism too. What it means is to free oneself from rebirth one can stop the entire process itself, and what better way to do so than to stop reproduction of our species? If we did not reproduce, there would be no rape, no violence, no killing of animals (many antinatalists are vegans), no social injustice. Our entire planet would be free from the destruction humans do to others.
Joseph argues through his film that the burden of parental responsibility lies in the woman’s hands due to society’s imposition of gendered norms. Sara and Jeevan’s families represent the orthdodox elements of any society. Their being Indian Christians does not impede the narrative from locating itself in a brittle critique of birthing or stop it from showcasing how women are burdened with the lion’s share of responsibility. Had Joseph been a Hindu, he would have portrayed a Hindu family in a similar vein. Interestingly, Malayalam cinema is very secular when it comes to the crunch: films that deconstruct cankers of inequality by not only exposing the majority’s problems but also minority cultures of subjugation have been doing the rounds. There is a new liberal groundswell of opinion that demonstrates that the binaries of ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ reflect the political continua of modern thought that cleaves any perspective that trenchantly argues (only) for the elimination of the majority’s attitudes, preferences and beliefs. I find this view an exciting moment in our history. Sara’s individualised identity marks it even more, she chooses not to have children and to pursue her career, taking the brunt of her family’s ignorance. Her strength and moxie resonate with antinatalist theory.
Merging with the Infinite has been the mainstay of Hindu philosophy for centuries. The idea that “we will be born again” underpins a crucial juncture in antinatalist thinking that rejects birthing and seeks a more liberal theology that wants to do away with all forms of oppression and disempowerment. Sara and Jeevan are aware of their choice to be married without kids. She does not contemplate even for a minute about wanting a child while he does. Joseph has given a voice to people like her who would like to see our planet uninhabited and free from the clutches of human beings who have caused so much damage to the world. As we are beset by the pandemic, this film is a must-see for anyone who wishes to lead a peaceful life sans the burden of parental responsibility and causing another soul to be born into a body that is the fount of all pain. I see this film as a powerful vindication of dharma and consciousness. This does not mean we should disrespect our parents for birthing us. On the contrary, we should respect them as divine personalities so that we are free from the endless cycle of birth and death thereon. We need to rethink philosophy through the axiological function of antinatalism in a positive context. Although there is a certain pessimism about it, just think about it. We would be free.
Student – LVPA Bengaluru
Disclaimer : All views and opinion belong to the writer and not L.V. Prasad Film & TV Academy.