Ask And Ye Shall Receive

I watched Queen over the weekend.

 

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Once upon a time I’d blogged/whined about the dearth of coming-of-age-films with female protagonists in the bromance genre.

From my blogpost circa 2012-

What gives Bollywood?

How long do I have to wait for THIS movie to be made- the *definitive* female-protagonist driven movie about friendship and coming of age?

You know, where you take three young girls and document their stories- the class bunking,the road-trips, the philosophic conversations in scenic settings , the drunken declarations, the ‘finding’ of themselves (or whatever self-actualisation stunt you want to pull). May be you will have to include the bits about their paths to love, but hopefully you can do that without making them ditch their friends enroute to the altar.

 

Queen (Kangna Ranaut, Lisa Haydon) is probably the closest thing to what I’d asked for. Reaffirms my belief that the Secret (aka Central Philosophy of Om Shaanti Om) kinda sorta does work 🙂

I loved it for the most part . It’s always nice to watch a film and find a character who sometimes thinks and reacts as you would do.*

 

What REALLY got my attention, though, was Rani’s fiance- Vijay, because once upon a time , I too dated a Vijay.

My Vijay was a real piece of work, who’d joined college after a lifetime of fancy boarding-schooling in the hills. Now I was a bindi wearing, salwar donning lass circa 2005. The bindi was by choice, an experiment of sorts; the salwar, the campus norm. I gave up the bindi after he made a huge fuss one day about how I looked ‘like a villager’. Also, he once tried to ‘forbid’ me from attending a party that he wasn’t invited to. (He succeeded.) He wasn’t all uniformly villain-ish levels of bad, though I wish i could say I’d dumped him first.

As it so happens, he broke up with me. I was terribly heartbroken, for about five minutes.

(Okay, five days, mummyji-daddyji ki kasam.)

And then he returned, wanting to make amends.

That last scene in the movie is a gem. It’s possible to feel sadness happiness affection pity indifference for one single person, in one single minute. And to hug them. Then walk away. Which is naturally what I did, without the kick-ass soundtrack in the background and the slo-mo effect. But still.

 

*I am totally the kind of girl who would make sure my cardigan was stowed away safely in my bag before getting smashed.

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In Defense of Mallika

A guest post by CNG

Mallika Sherawat has been in the news for calling India a ‘regressive’ and ‘depressing’ place for women, in an interview with Variety magazine at Cannes. The Bollywood fraternity, predictably, has wasted no time ‘slamming’ her for it , in newsspeak. CNG, a friend of mine and the author of this post, rises to defend her- sort of.

In Defense of Mallika

Well, not really. This article is more a commentary about the state of our nation than it is about the marginally successful actress who has managed to attain a level of fame and importance that is well beyond the merit of her talent or work. Everybody knows the story so far. Mallika labeled our nation and its attitude towards women in general to be so “regressive” that she finds it “depressing”.
Not surprisingly, Bollywood was quick to react with many actresses taking offence and clearly expressing discontent. The blogosphere was less forgiving with many self-proclaimed columnists making no effort at hiding their contempt for the actress, even as they mocked her newly acquired, strange, alien accent. However, such attacks don’t work well in any arguments. It is called ad hominem – arguments that are made personally against an opponent and not against the opponent’s argument. It is a strategy that never fails to betray the inner hollow when employed. But as already confessed, this isn’t about what Mallika said, or the right and wrong of it. Not for me. The reactions that followed Miss Sherawat’s comments call for more outrage than her original statements do; and for a number of reasons.
   First and foremost, India is not just the largest democracy in the world, but also has one of the lengthiest constitutions; written to incorporate all the finest elements from the other great constitutions of the other great democracies. Or so we are taught in school. It is a fundamental right we are told. The freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed to every Indian citizen, they have us believe. The words do look inspiring when you are a teenager staring into his book, complete with the four lions of our national emblem adorning and overlooking those very words; promising words indeed. But then, you grow up eventually, and sooner than later, every other day, very often at times, you have this thought in your head, and then you hold back. That is just about it. The thought gains no voice, sees no ink, reaches no audience, and causes no ripple. It just dies like the other thousand that did before.
This is the narrative for every ordinary citizen in this country. Being one among them myself, I feel comfortable voicing my problems about any number of people as long as they are other ordinary citizens. But that is the beginning and end of it. That is all the freedom my country allows me to exercise. Step across that line, and I wouldn’t be sure anymore. A twitter tweet is all that is required before you get into trouble with the law enforcement. It does happen. Though the incidents are few and sparse, sound logic dictates that there should be none at all. Freedom of speech does not have an asterisk attached over its head. It was meant to be unconditional and absolute. This isn’t about a rich and poor divide where different rules apply to different sections. It doesn’t matter where you stand in the hierarchy, every strata comes ready with its own version of what is deemed acceptable. You could be a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist from Bombay, and get away with that scathing article about our Prime Minister; you could probably even get away with attacks on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi; even Mother Teresa perhaps. But try Lord Ganesha for a change. I know Salman Rushdie couldn’t. Deepa Mehta will vouch for him.
All of this may force you to arrive at the conclusion that the only real threat to this very basic fundamental right is fuelled by religious extremism, but that isn’t the whole truth. India is a country with a very poor record in law enforcement and human rights. The judicial system does little to inspire confidence in public; while hatred, intolerance, violence can all be easily manufactured and propagated by any person or group with a vested interest of its own, not necessarily religious always.
So, here is the question begging to be asked. Why would anybody in his or her right mind talk? It is better to keep your head low and not rub anybody the wrong way. The situation may not be as bleak as my words suggest, but the danger is real. I am not sure about everybody, but I am constantly editing and censoring myself all the time, even as I write this piece. It is the big players that I fear. It is that fear which curtails my expression. However, are we really going to impose this on one another now? It sure does sound like that. We don’t need politicians helping us land in a hot mess anymore. Apparently, even well educated, well traveled, well off fellow citizens would want Mallika to just shut-up already. And that is just unconstitutional to me, only the first of my problems with these folks.
Secondly,in all honesty, you are better off being a man than a woman, regardless of the country you reside in. That is the simple but sad truth.
While the Nordic countries fare exceptionally well in terms of closing in on the gender gap, the rest of the developed world too is trying hard to make amends and bridge this gap. We see constant discussions about gender inequality and its problems. There is a lot of talk surrounding the under-representation of women in government and the top offices of the corporate world. Hillary Clinton has long acknowledged the glass ceiling which still does exist; and she was talking about the United States, not Nigeria. Sheryl Sandberg has had to come out with an entire book addressing women and work place.  The Fair Pay Act may have failed to pass yet again, but America continues to talk about the income inequality between men and women. Same job, same hours, less pay – that is the harsh reality for women in almost every country. Call it what you will, simple disparity or plain regressive, it is all one and the same.
But there appears to be a silver lining when you realize that the majority of the populace is not in denial about this key issue. Not in the first world at least. And that is where our problems multiply in a country like India. Mallika’s statements forced the patriot out in every celebrity. And they came out chest-thumping, flag-waving, and deriding. They need to understand that debate is good. Meaningful dialogue is essential. Only a fool would risk being dismissive about the appalling state of affairs regarding women in India. In a nut-shell- they are not wanted at birth, but the parents shall tolerate them even as they continue to remain hopeful about a future boy; her education is not a priority; her nutrition is less important than that of her brothers; from an early age, her duties include washing, scrubbing, cleaning, mopping; her responsibilities are not limited to self and family, but extends to the community at large; her employment options are dismal; she has no say in her marriage; her husband gets to verbally/physically/sexually abuse her on a regular basis; if not set on fire over dowry harassment, the husband gets to decide on the number of sons he would prefer; she then gets blamed for bearing a daughter; is depressed and over-worked; neglected and under-appreciated, soon to hit menopause. As dreadful as this may sound, a majority of women in India are subjected to all of the above or some of the above. They live through it only because they don’t know any better. Ignorance helps them. But when a smart, educated woman such as Priyanka Chopra tries to discredit Mallika’s statement, I am not sure if she doing anything other than pandering to the media and public.
Priyanka Chopra may have made one sweeping remark claiming that India is indeed a ‘progressive’ state, but then again, this isn’t about class divide. A girl born in rural India is probably going to be battered and bruised for life. My sisters on the other hand will definitely not be battered and bruised; however, they are not allowed to wear certain clothes, or drink certain beverages. Being male, I am of course free to do all of it and some more, even if condoms be necessary. But a girl engaging in pre-marital sex is a whole different matter, regardless of the girl’s standing in society. Unlike my sisters, Miss Chopra may have all the freedom to dress/drink/party as she pleases, but do you really think that when she turns forty-five she would be paired opposite a twenty-something-year-old new male lead in Bollywood. Not a chance in hell-O!!! Meryl Streep gets to work in Hollywood while Rekha and Jaya get to skip Parliament. Why aren’t these two lovely actresses working in cinema today? If Steve Martin can pair-up with Diane Keaton, why can’t Shah Rukh work opposite Juhi? This is regressive. This is depressing.
India is regressive even by Indian standards. I am not bringing up the topic of pregnancy outside wedlock. I am not even talking about legalizing prostitution. Indian women are simply held to a different standard as opposed to the men. Remember that scandal in Karnataka when unsuspecting politicians were caught watching porn while at work? Now imagine if it were female politicians that were caught watching porn while at work. You get my drift, right? Well, note to all the female actresses in Bollywood, the first rule to solving any problem is- don’t do an ostrich! Get your head out of your hole. And stop with the denial.
   Finally, it is time we spoke of shame. It seems to appear that everybody is up in arms against Mallika mostly because she was talking to VARIETY, being interviewed by a firang, while at Cannes. If it were Kiran Bedi that described India as regressive and depressing during one of those segments on NDTV where you have a plethora of experts on the panel, I doubt we would be seeing this reaction. I am not sure why anybody would grant less respect to the words of a beautiful woman. Beauty does not necessarily mean a missing lobe. But, that is another topic for another day. Heading back to the point I was trying to make, Indians are more apologetic than they need to be.  There is no point in painting a rosy picture for the western media. Had Mallika been addressing these same issues in an African country, she would be hailed for her contribution to the cause. If Angelina Jolie were to visit the slums of Bombay and express her shock and sadness at the state of Indian women, the Indian media would again no doubt applaud her. This is a simple case of how the Indian public is not comfortable with an Indian woman talking to an outsider about problems back home. My folks chide me every time I poke fun at their disputes in the presence of visiting friends. The root cause is shame. You feel it only when you know you are in the wrong. My folks know deep down that they shouldn’t be quarreling like cats and dogs. And the Indian public knows of the massive disservice it does to its daughters. And the public feels this shame. You deal with it by battling the problem, not by shooting the messenger. This is who we are. This is us. There is no harm in calling it as it is, and admitting the need for more intervention. That is the only way out of this shame.
   On a closing note, I would like to point two things. Yes, India is hypocritical as Mallika claims. Of course, more than half our population would pick the sunny sands of Los Angeles over the crowded Chowpattis of Bombay. Mallika was only brave enough to say it out loud. Secondly, she is wrong when she claims that India is a regressive country for women. India is just regressive, period.

Reel Reflections 5- On Imtiaz Ali

I re-watched Jab We Met recently discovered that, like a good wine, it still impresses and manages to hold it’s own despite the onslaught of new age-y love stories that have been churned out by Bollywood since then-almost as if on schedule.

I’ll admit I was quite blase about the film when I first watched it;it took a second time watch after gentle admonishing from a dear friend to really LISTEN to the dialogues that made me appreciate this story.

Which brings me to the writer/creator of Jab We Met -Imtiaz Ali.

In the years that have followed, he has been feted as the bard of Bollywood romance, for follow-ups such as Love Aaj Kal, Rockstar and Cocktail.

I feel however, that none of these movies comes even close to Jab We Met. All his works, since then suffer from 2 fatal flaws-without exception.

The first of this is his insistence to make his newer characters ‘modern’-in the Bollywood sense of the word. JWM worked because everyone knows someone like Geet and Aditya. They were distinctly relatable, and lived in India. Love Aaj Kal, Rockstar and Cocktail feature characters who are trying SO hard to be cool that you almost feel a twinge of sympathy for their furious efforts.

The only characters who are well etched out in these movies- old-timey Punjabi loverboy (LAK), pre-stardom Janardhan (Rockstar) and Meera (Cocktail)- are creatures of a middle class milieu and sensibility- and this comfort between the writer and his more ordinary creations, really stands out onscreen.

All said and done, there’s only a couple of writers who write swish and privileged characters well in Hindi films- namely Zoya and Farhan Akhtar- probably because they’re so swish and privileged themselves.

It’s not just the ‘cool’ characters that seem contrived in these 3 movies, but also the whole  foreign-location rigmarole that seems to hark back to the YashRaj/Johar belief of yore that only Non Resident Indian’s are capable of romance- because obviously gambolling in  Switzerland or (INSERT FILM SUBSIDY-GIVING COUNTRY HERE) is such an important part of True Love (TM).

The second fatal flaw of all post-JVM Imitiaz Ali films is the unfortunate recurrence of non-actors playing female parts. Deepika Padukone and Nargis Fakri have extremely vapid on-screen presences-not a patch on the effervescence of Kareena Kapoor who can go from OTT to normal with ease. Better casting is in order.

On my part, i think Imitiaz Ali should go back to writing people he (and we) can actually relate to and use actors who can project characters we can care about. Leave the OD-ing on existential angst to Bhansali, the overseas OTT-styling to Dharma/Yashraj and the effortless hipness to the Akhtar duo-and do what he knows best.

Blast from the Past

I was a child when the whole Aishwarya Rai/Salman Khan break-up happened, but from what I’ve read, he allegedly actually hit her and put her in hospital for a bit. I’m a bit fuzzy about the exact details, but this much was established back then-that he harassed her on sets and physically abused her as well.

From Aishwarya Rai’s own statement at the time

While I have maintained a dignified silence about him and his wrong-doings, he (his family and friends) has repeatedly attacked the respect, dignity and pride of me and my family (with irresponsible rumourmongering. I stood by him enduring acholism, misbehavior in worse phases and in turn, I was at the receiving end of his abuse (verbal, physical, emotional), infidelity and indignity.

That is why like any other self-respecting woman and God is witness, I said enough and ended it almost two years ago but because of a dignified silence, all have misrepresented my stand and spread rumours about my character and baselessly alleged affairs and tried to spoil healthy working relations with costars. I do not want to get into the gory details and obnocuious (sic) experiences, which incite washing dirty linen and other ugly untruths.

What amazes me is that back in 2002, he went completely scot-free. I wonder if that would happen in 2012.

What really takes the cake though , is this 2003 article, written by Manu Joseph for Outlook Magazine. I don’t know whether he intended to go for sardonic, but he comes periliously close to defending Mr.Khan and painting Ms.Rai as an opportunist. This is the same man who is now the editor of Open Magazine.

 

 

Reel Reflections-4: Deja-vu Dosti

So. Yet another movie about yet another male trio. Kai Po Che may be based on a book, but it’s only the latest in a long line of films with multiple central characters , all of whom happen to be male and twenty-ish. This ‘bromance’ genre has taken off mightly in Bollypur, especially since it seems to garner a lot of box-office moolah.

Off the top of my head, I can think of Dil Chahta Hai (the first and the best), Delhi Belly, 3 Idiots, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara,Pyaar Ka Punchnama and Rock On. Most of them have done exceedingly well- granted they had what it took in terms on plot , but the dynamics of bonding were definitely centrestage.

One reason for the abundance of films in this genre is that the theme is universal and popular.Make a movie about friends,the crowds will come.

Friendship/’dosti’ is seen in India as something purer than even ‘pyaar’/romantic love. This lofty pedestal, however, is reserved only for male friendship, if Bollywood is to believed. 

The only movie I can think of , with some depiction of female friendship was perhaps Aisha, but honestly, the friendship angle was so underdeveloped that it does not even count as a true example.

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What gives Bollywood?

How long do I have to wait for THIS movie to be made- the *definitive* female-protagonist driven movie about friendship and coming of age?

You know, where you take three young girls and document their stories- the class bunking,the road-trips, the philosophic conversations in scenic settings , the drunken declarations, the ‘finding’ of themselves (or whatever self-actualisation stunt you want to pull). May be you will have to include the bits about their paths to love, but hopefully you can do that without making them ditch their friends enroute to the altar.

Discomfited with my ‘narration’? If you think we collectively bought into the 80’s and 90’s bharatiya nari BS that you dished out, think again.

I know I am probably biased because I have gone to college with some truly fun female friends in my time, and am a little aggrieved that only boys get to have all the (onscreen) fun.

Anyhow, dear all-of-Bollywood, if you decide that there’s something to this after all, you know whom to hire for the script:)

Reel Reflections-3- The MPDG

So. The Internet introduced me to a new cinematic trope recently-that of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG). In the words of the reviewer who first coined this (very long but accurate) term-

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition

In other words, an MPDG is a female movie character who:

  • has many of these attributes : bubbly, cheerful, crazy, bohemian, spontaneous, unconventional, talkative and
  • exists purely to “help” the male character out of a tough time/depression/loneliness and
  • does not seem to really have a character graph of her own, that is nothing really changes for her /in her life from the start to the end of the movie, apart from maybe the male character falling for her.

A classic example of an MPDG is Zooey Deschanel in 500 Days of Summer.

Now, a lot of feminists and reviewers get annoyed by MPDG characters, mostly because they are based on ‘dream’ girls of the scriptwriters (a combination of muse+lover) instead of being based on ‘real’ or ‘ordinary’ women.

Considering Bollywood HARDLY EVER bases ANY characters on normal people(male or female), it’s possibly quite meaningless to think of a Bollywood MPDG, but I did try.

After much research (a.k.a wracking my brain for ten minutes), the only  Indian MPDG I could think of was:Image

Yup, Kareena in Ekk Mein Aur Ekk Tu. Bubbly, carefree girl, who exists solely to improve Imran’s character and make him enjoy life more, with no progression of the story of her own life. Classic MPDG. There MUST be others; but I cannot come up with more.

The other thing I thought of was the sheer abundance of similar characters in the first half of Hindi movies, who ‘change’ in the second half due to the circumstances of the story.While they cannot be called MPDGs (there’s forward progression in their arc, after all), it does seem odd that so many writers first create such delightful creatures and then quite literally, bring them crashing to the ground-think Geet/Jab we Met, Deepika/Break Ke Baad,Cocktail and Preity/pretty much all her movies just to name a few.

Makes you wonder about the psychology of writers when they write these ‘people’. Are they just subliminally envious of these characters, hence seek to bring them down? Or are they just unconsciously telling us a cautionary tale?

Honey Singh- Facing the Angreji Heat

I noticed today that the WordPress Annual Report  stated that my post on Honey Singh (circa July 2012) was the most popular one on this blog in December 2012. I was baffled till I checked the news- and voila! The mystery is solved.

I find it silly that he’s trying to ‘deny’ responsibility for his lyrics on the grounds that he didn’t personally write them- he IS the performer , after all, and there is enough by way of public performances and music videos to prove that he knew exactly what ‘message’ he was trying to push.

While i think calls to ban his songs are a tad excessive, it is true that his music is ‘dangerous’ because it is pure misogyny wrapped in slick and highly-produced packaging. By that standard , then, half the self styled magnum opuses out of Bollywood would also need to be banned.

There’s no doubt he’s popular. I am so far removed from the world that listens to him and yet, I’ve been to weddings where almost all the songs the DJ played were courtesy Mr. Honey Himself. And this was before he exploded onto the Bollywood playback scene in 2012.

Instead of preventing him from making his music, it’s far more important to create a society that refuses to consume his brand of trash. Sadly, there are plenty of takers for his work- some who subscribe to his views on women and others, who do not glean the full import of his words until they’ve looked up a translation- and even then don’t really care, ek song hi to hai, na?

Until we individually stop consuming the misogynist c**p dished out to us in the name of entertainment, we’ll just have to resign ourselves . To dancing at weddings to songs about women’s ‘measurements’ , fevicol-photos, and badnaam munnis – while congratulating ourselves on being so cultured and classy:)

Cringe.

At 10:35 , I couldn’t believe what Anupama Chopra asks Sunny Leone-

“So how do you then have a partner, how do you then…sort of…conduct a personal life?”

I mean- why should Sunny have to explain how she ‘manages’ to have a steady boyfriend despite working in the porn industry- I don’t see what business it is of Anupama’s! To her credit, Sunny answers the question without the faintest bit of offense. I however. cringed inside at such a intrusive, almost malicious question.