Four shades of Lust.

So far, the done-to-death Bollywood plot has revolved around one four letter world – LOVE. The kind that makes the protagonists run around trees, The one that up until the late 90s, didn’t even acknowledge that emotional attraction resulting in physical intimacy was a perfectly natural, biological process. I, for one, am reminded of days when anything with a slight hint of carnal affection was substituted rather poorly by showing two flowers brushing against each other?

Flash forward to times today. Audiences have evolved. Even though mention of sex does raise eyebrows, we’ve moved past the flowers kissing phase, showing real people. In such a scenario, what happens when LUST, another four letter world, one that has so far been socially booed and shame-shamed, gets thrown at four stalwarts of contemporary Bollywood, and each one of them is given the opportunity to interpret this in their own manner?

Boy, do they come out fantastic results. Each one different, yet very relatable. Perhaps the only thing that’s uncannily common in all four of them is that in all four cases, the protagonist happens to be a woman.

Each tiny tale, takes a life and path of its own, not shaming carnal desire, but rather accepting a normal, human need.

A free-spirited schoolteacher, who openly experiments with her sexual adventures, breaking convention, stereotype and the stigma associated with open marriages.

A household help who gives in to her employers sexual advances, only to be reminded , of her status quo in society. Confronting the harsh truth that her employer will bed her, yet will wed only someone who belongs to his own strata – socially and educationally.

A middle-aged woman, who resorts to infidelity as her only solace, her escape route out of a loveless marriage, a career she ditched in favor of domestic bliss, and a husband who prides himself on the fact that he owns her.

And finally, my personal favorite of the lot, the dilemma of a newly-wed woman, who is coming to terms with the fact that her husband treats sex as an act of one-sided pleasure, not even being able to comprehend her hints about being unsatisfied.

As a millennial, urban Indian woman myself, the takeaway I get when I watch a series like this is that none of the situations seem unfamiliar. The multiple facets of love, sex, relationships presented on screen depict slices of the huge pie that is contemporary Indian society.  One that’s realizing over time that sex and sexuality, are not physical privileges, they’re basic human needs. One that’s only still coming to accept that sexual pleasure is as much as a female prerogative as much as it is of a male. One that’s opening up the idea of sexual pleasure being prevalent in multiple colors, flavours and forms.

The feisty kind. The guilty pleasure kind. The unapologetic kind. The desirable kind.

And to each one of them, a woman has equal right as much as a man. While ironically, a land that produced the world’s encyclopedia to sex, the Kama Sutra, shouldn’t have to be emphasizing the fact that love making is a two way traffic, I’m glad we’re having that conversation. Or at least, beginning to.

Post Veere-di-Wedding thoughts

This could almost be a follow-up to a piece I’d written earlier, on the evolution of the quintessential Bollywood heroine. If you haven’t read it already, find it here.

When a film starring four female actors, hashtagged #NotaChickFlick revolves around a plot of reunion of friends on the occasion of the wedding of one, you know you want to watch it. Irrespective of what reviews and critics say. Out of enthusiasm, and curiosity.

So, for a 27-year-old, single woman, one who has made several bold decisions in life, yet is far from claiming that she’s figured it all out, a movie like this sends several thoughts down her spine.

She relates with many of the tensions that the protagonists in the film experience. The conflict of an emotional heart with a rational mind. The challenges that arise from being in the no-man’s land between following your heart, yet wanting to match up to the social pressures of a society that occasionally wants to take charge of your life narrative. Dealing with plenty of first world issues, especially when you’re a millennial Indian woman balancing on yourself on the tight rope hanging between tradition and modernity.

She realizes that in many ways, she shares a note with all four of them. Kalindi’s free spirit that struggles with emotional baggage she’s trying hard to not bring in way of her life decisions, yet get in the way anyhow. Avni’s go-getter attitude that wants to be successful from every angle –  professional, personal and social . Sakshi’s impulsive, rebellious heart that takes her places, both wrong and right. And finally, Meera’s insecurities about life and love especially when the people unintentionally causing you grief are your own.

But her takeaway, is that like her, the protagonists in the film aren’t perfect either. And that everyone’s concept of a Happily Ever After varies. And that every girl needs her own little wolf pack , one she can count on, to make life a little lesser tougher when chips are down.

The film has its flaws, though. It restricts itself to a wafer-thin crust of Indian society that lives in posh bungalows with manicured lawns, and is able to whimsically take, off to Thailand when it wants to escape life’s harsh realities for a while. Multiple forced product placements that feel anything but natural (especially Air India. I wonder if the in-trouble airline is expecting a revival simply by featuring in the film). Few moments excessively over-the-top, right from the costumes to the dialogue.

However, what VDW essentially does, is bring to light, the multiple shades and undertones of the realistic urban Indian women. One who is confident enough to make her own choices when it comes to career and marriage, yet occasionally question her own sensibilities in making those choices. One who is paradoxical, ferociously guarding her sense of independence and identity, yet craving companionship. One who hides her insecurities and fears that arise as a result of her own life experiences, or others, to make sure her life is Instagram and Snapchat ready.

If you’re seeking a film that highlights women’s issues or brings forward women empowerment as a cause, you’re much better off watching a Chak De India. This film is feminine, not feminist. Watch it with your girlfriends on a casual Sunday, and make sure you play the game of who-is-which-character. And leave the theatre without over-analyzing what you saw. Though in my own sense of optimism, I do hope the film somewhere paves the way for mainstream Bollywood films featuring women. Ones where female protagonists don’t necessarily have to  inspire women to change the world,  scream girl power, or tell stories of women changed the world. Yet canstrike a chord by propagating the message that sometimes before you save the world, you have to save yourself. That’s not called being selfish, its called being sensible.

 

 

 

Evolution of the Bollywood Heroine – From Darling to Daring

A week ago, I had the absolute pleasure of watching a Bollywood film, Raazi, one based on Harinder’s Sikka‘s book Calling Sehmat. I term the experience a pleasure because it had all the elements of what great cinema should comprise of – a crisp storyline put into place with splendid direction, stellar performances by the cast and finally, that feeling that lingers on after you’ve left the movie theatre. One that starts as a lump in your throat, and stays on as that tug in your heart.

For me, that feeling entailed, a sense of unadulterated admiration for Sehmat, the protagonist. At the tigress esque spirit of a patriotic 20 year old woman, who decided without a slight inch of hesitation, to become a spy, cross borders and carry an entire mission on her shoulders. An female character which completly comflicted with my internal image of the quinesstinal Bollywood heroine. Remember, I was the 90s kid growing up in India, who was fed on a staple of Bollywood films which followed a cookie cutter plot. Girl and Boy fall in love. Girl gets kidnapped by villains. Boy recuses her and wins her heart. In a nutshell, it was the always the male version that was doing everything, while the female revelled in blushing, dancing and flaunting her designer wardrobe. No wonder we called him the hero.

Yet, over the last decade or so, the trend has reversed. Films aren’t just being made with women, rather, about them, with an entire list of exemplary films and characters who we’re not forgetting anytime soon. Jab We Met, where Geet a bubble, feisty woman decides to take her destiny in her own hands, and even bear single handedly, the consequences of  her actions. Or Rani from Queen, the jilted bride-to-be, who instead of shedding tears at being left at the altar, decides to fulfill a dream of a European honeymoon, sans her husband. Or Veera from Highway, who confides in her kidnapper about her childhood trauma. Or a daredevil Kaira from Love You Zindagi, who’s not afraid to confront a therapist about her dejection that stems from life’s many setbacks. Or even Shashi from English Vinglish, who takes on a seemingly mammoth of a challenge, one of learning a foreign language, within the realms of a city that’s alien to her, and waking up to a confident, capable version of herself in the process.

And the list can go on. In my opinion, what makes these films winners is that they don’t necessarily focus on feminism, girl power, or even on making a statement of sorts. The protagonists aren’t exactly superwomen, rather refreshingly relatable. Real women living in real times. Ones in whose stories, we often end up finding our own.

The female protagonist has evolved, and how. She no longer is the Damsel-in-distress, who waits for her Prince Charming to rescue her from a bunch of villains. She fights her own battles, her own demons, sometimes even entire social institutions that dictate what she should do, wear and behave. Neither is she Miss Goody-Two-Shoes. She flaunts skin, drinks, goes on solo trips, even loses her virginity without being apologetic for any of it. And finally, she is an individualistic woman of substance. One who is comfortable with creating and living her own sense of identity, claiming her own sexuality,  and pursuing her individual dreams and aspirations. None of whom are dependent on labels, stereotypes, or man. She isn’t just part of the tale anymore, she is the tale. One she’s not afraid to write, rewrite and live. Herself. In her own words. On her own terms.

 

10 reasons I cant wait for #VeereDiWedding

Like any other Indian girl, we’ve been brought up with the notion that one day you will find Mr Right who will sweep you off your feet. And then you’ll get your big fat Indian wedding. And then you will live happily ever after.

Right? Wrong. Because if you asked me, Indian weddings are gorgeous, but a tad-bit overrated. And today I watched the trailer of Veere di Wedding. And it set my heart on fire.

All the girls who are reading this, I urge you to please go watch it here. Now. It brings to life a few truths of the big fat Indian wedding. So much so, that I could show it like a 101 on Indian weddings to my buddies in the West

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Things I already knew as a millennial Indian women, but were only reemphasized by  the trailer:

  1. Every girl’s standards of what an ideal life, husband and sex life look like are different. Being cookie-cutter about this is recipe for disaster. 
  2. The unfortunate harsh truth of our Indian samaaj: Irrespective of how educated you are, society validates you only when you’re married, if you’re a woman. 
  3. In one of the moments from the trailer, the guy asks his wife why she doesn’t get a job. To which her reply is that if she did, who would make rajma-chawal for him? Gender stereotype strikes again. 
  4. Marriage can start with the man going down on his knee for his lady love, but that’s just the beginning. In India, this goes from having to please his mother by wearing an outfit that can make you look hideous, to becoming chaachi, even acting like a clown on your own Sangeet
  5. Indian weddings are about everyone except the bride and groom. So much so that when the prospective groom suggests to his father than they limit the guest list to 200, he is met with a ‘Are you drunk on weed.’? The Indian dad had to mention weed as an analogy. This is how grave the problem is.  
  6. Even when the bride and groom look like they’re stepping into marital bliss, they actually have no idea of what the f*** is happening. 
  7. Girls. Ditch the mama’s boys. They won’t stand up for you if mummyji doesn’t approve. 
  8. A girl always needs her besties. even when she’s annoyed with them. And no-one but her girlfriends can help her get through the marriage tamasha
  9. Just because you’re married, doesn’t mean you’re happy.
  10. Oh and last yet my favorite, even I didn’t know what an orgasm is called in Hindi. (I genuinely hope my mother is not reading this). 

Judge me all you like, but an honest confession. Even if its a chick-flick, I cannot wait!

Five times Bollywood made me a proud woman

As a millennial Indian woman, I grew up on a staple diet of Bollywood movies which essentially were cookie cutter versions of each other. Rich girl, poor boy. Constant dance around trees and in snow-covered mountains. Girl getting kidnapped by a bunch of baddies and then her knight-in shining armor lover rescuing her.

However, a pleasant trend came along. The actress stopped being the damsel in distress. Suddenly, Simran stopped needing a Raj to come to her rescue when she missed her train. Instead, our female protagonist now became in true essence, the heroine. The one the movie revolved around. The one who didn’t need a man to protect her, anymore.

There still lies a debate whether cinema is supposed to be a reflection or an influence to society. In either case, I couldn’t be happier. For as an independent go-getter female, I couldn’t relate to being the Cinderella-waiting-for-her-prince character anymore. I wanted stronger, more realistic ones. And fortunately, I have a list of movies that are my go to, whenever I need a dose of girl power.

 

chak de india

  1. Chak De India : In the last decade or so, the sports movie genre, especially in context of women, has been explored by several films (Dangal, Mary Kom). Yet, nothing screamed girl power more than Chak De India. Especially when Shah Rukh Khan plays the coach, of a team that has everything on its mind except the sport itself. One divided by geography, politics and internal conflict. There wasn’t a soul who could watch this movie without being convinced that once they have a common goal, there’s nothing a team of passionate young women can’t achieve. And if there’s oe dialogue in the movie that sums it all up, It’s when coach Khan says on the eve of a match where his team is taking on a team of male hockey players – You’re not just fighting 11 men, ladies. You’re fighting every man who’s forgotten that if a woman can produce a creature like him, she can do anything.

 

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2. Dil Dhadakne Do – This wasn’t a movie around feminism in particular, focusing on dysfunctional families, instead. Yet one scene in the movie specifically reeked of the internalized misogyny that exists in contemporary Indian society, even today. One where Rahul Bose, the stuffy husband, proudly announces that he ‘allows’ his wife to work, to which a witty Farhan Akhtar (who is also a former lover and admirer of Priyanka Chopra) interrupts, And why exactly does she need your permission? Further going on to explain that when you ‘allow’ someone to do something, technically, you’re reassuring yourself of your own superiority complex.

 

queen3. Queen – How can any discussion on Bollywood and feminism not involve Queen? A shy, reserved woman gets jilted by her fiance on the eve of her wedding , and instead of breaking down, Rani our heroine, takes off on her honeymoon, alone. Where she engages in a series of adventures, discovers her lost self-esteem, and finds her true self. One who doesn’t need a man who isn’t sure whether he wants her in his life or not.

 

English Vinglish Movie Stills

4. English Vinglish – The reason I loved this movie was because of the way it celebrated the average Indian mother. The one whose life revolves around her family, the multitasker who manages domestic responsibilities alongside an entrepreneurial gig with finesse , and then finally, one who overcomes what she considers her biggest barrier – her inability to speak English. Showing the world that there isn’t anything that can’t be accomplishedas long as have the grit and resilience to do so. This movie had me smiling throughout and thinking, Every mom, supermom.

 

kahaani

5. Kahaani – If this film had a tagline, it’d be, Hell Hath no fury where a woman concerned. An enraged woman, still mourning the death of her husband to a terrorist attack and her consequent miscarriage, takes on an entire bureaucracy, and a dreaded politician, in her quest for revenge. And succeeds. Because every woman is at heart, is a goddess. One that is worthy of respect. One that protects, nurtures and even slays, to bring back peace and justice.