Copyright 1995 ABC-CLIO. This review was taken from the ABC-CLIO Video Rating Guide for Libraries on CD-ROM, a 5-year compilation of over 8900 video titles and reviews, 1990-1994. For information regarding order VRGL CD-ROM, contact: ABC-CLIO, P.O. Box 1911, Santa Barbara, CA 93116-1911; 805-968-1911

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Knowing Her Place

  • Rating: ****
  • Audience: High School to Adult
  • Price: Home use: $250.00
  • Date: Copyright 1990. Released 1990.
  • Descriptors: Women. Hinduism. Acculturation. East and West.
  • Production Information: Live action. Directed by Indu Krishnan. Color. 40 min.
  • Production Company: Women Make Movies 462 Broadway, 5th Floor New York, NY 10013 (212)925-0606 Available from production company
  • Cataloging: 305.4 Women, Hindu - Psychology||Culture conflict
  • Print Entry #: 2:535
  • Reviewer: David Hoppe

    Knowing Her Place is an affecting portrait of a woman whose cross-cultural background and family history have left her psychologically displaced and desperately trying to rescue her self-esteem.

    Vasundara Varadhan was born into an upper middle-class Hindu family in India. Her parents immigrated to the United States while she was still a baby, and throughout her first 12 years she was raised in Queens, New York. She attended public school and gradually became acclimated to the American lifestyle. However, at the age of 12, she was sent back to India to live with her grandparents. Her puberty was spent within the context of a traditional Hindu household, and culminated in an arranged marriage at 16. Vasundara then returned to the United States with her husband, and eventually gave birth to two sons. Knowing Her Place documents her situation as she approaches a major crossroads in her life.

    In an interview, Vasundara describes herself as a "cultural schizophrenic," torn between traditional and newfound values. We see her in India with her mother and grandmother, playing her traditional role with a seeming ease and assurance. Against these scenes are others showing Vasundara lecturing to a class of college students in New York, taking the subway, keeping house in her city apartment. Early in the presentation she gives a disarmingly intense interview in which she flatly states that she no longer knows where she belongs. Viewers learn that shortly after granting this interview, Vasundara tried to kill herself.

    Director Indu Krishnan narrates the program, bringing the viewers into her own process of discovery regarding Vasundara. Initially, she believed Vasundara represented a successful fusion of cultures. However, as her project progressed and she became better acquainted with her subject, she began to learn how deeply unhappy Vasundara was. Krishnan employs cinÇma veritÇ and such video techniques as slow-motion and stop-action editing to draw the audience into the circle of Vasundara's pain. The psychological tension builds steadily to a Thanksgiving dinner scene. Vasundara, hoping to please her husband and teenage sons, serves an American-style meal. One boy begins to criticize her cooking - and things go downhill from there. It becomes clear that Vasundara has become an object of ridicule in her own house.

    This is emotionally powerful material presented with unflinching technical skill. However, the extent to which the documentary succeeds in actually plumbing the nature of cultural conflict is questionable. Virtually nothing is learned about Hinduism or traditional Indian gender expectations. Why, one asks, is it so difficult for Vasundara to break away from tradition, or (perhaps a better question) what is it about that tradition that she finds so compelling?

    Interviews with Vasundara's husband and sons reveal an all too typically dysfunctional American family - a pack of males self-absorbed, anxious to downplay any turmoil, and ready to deny the validity of Vasundara's unhappiness. Vasundara's dilemma, while certainly acute because of her circumstances, will not seem foreign or strange to any number of women, whether they come from two cultures or have lived in the same place all their lives. The key issue in Knowing Her Place has to do with a woman's finding her own foothold in a male-dominated world. Vasundara's struggle is universal.

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