Bollywood portrays, consciously or unconsciously what is evident in the society. And in turn, continues the trend, with society being formed by what is shown in cinema.
Best thing about the latest releases? None of the female protagonists are shy, coy and helpless. Queen, Gulaab Gang, Hasee Toh Phasee, Dedh Ishqiya all have strong female characters.
Imtiaz Ali called Queen a coming-of-age movie. Another such bollywood flick is Highway with a girl figuring herself out as she travels with her kidnapper right before her marriage. Indian Cinema hardly gave its audience any other buildungsroman with girl protagonists. From Dil Chahta Hai, Three Idiots, Udaan and Life of Pie to even British and American movies like Slumdog Millionaire, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Forest Gump, do you notice a disturbing, recurring difference in the stories between those of a male protagonist and those of a female?
The boy coming-of-age movies begin when the boy is a child, teen, or in college and still has life to explore. For the movies like Queen, and English Vinglish, it is evident that had it not been for the utmost breaking-point moment, these protagonists would NEVER have grown up and ‘came of age’. Rani was ready and happy to get married to a boy who would try all his might to let her remain passive in her emotional, psychological and intellectual growth, and for sure—she would have settled in the role quite comfortably.
A Bollywood movie with a strong empowered character would be Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, with Naina having the choice of travelling the world, or staying in India. That is what actual empowerment is. It is not the situation a person is in, which makes him or her helpless or empowered; but the option given of choosing one’s situation is.
Good thing about Gulaab Gang, the 2014 movie is that the concept is not purely a work of fiction. And though a gang of only girls, they fight not only for women, but for the whole village, and even against issues like corruption and politics, which might be headed by another woman itself. Now that’s true liberation, where the concept of a woman fighting the battles of even a man does not come off as a surprise, and shows that the society is mature enough to accept the change.
Have a look at foreign coming-of-age movies with girl protagonists, like Big Girl, Juno, The sisterhood of Travelling Pants, Bend It Like Bekham – even they have natural occurrences and opportunities that make the protagonists grow morally and psychologically while they are in their tweens, or teens; much before they are already typically ‘grown up’ and ready to marry.
In Queen, Rani ‘thanks’ the boy who left her a day before her marriage, for letting her realise her potential and giving her a chance to explore herself as she travels alone (which she would have never done had she been ‘happily’ married). At that moment, when the boy is thanked-for for being an arsehole, the movie loses its feminist approach and becomes a movie that painfully shows the societal reality. Why should the boy be thanked? Why should he, in an ironic way, hold the reign of empowering her, by ditching her?
What could have been more empowering and liberating was if she herself had realised the shallowness of Vijay’s love when he refused her to take up a job, or got mad at her while she tried to learn how to drive a car. Why Indian Bollywood women characters need the ‘last straw on the horse’s back’ situation to realise what’s as plain as nose on the face? And why does it always have to be a boy who pins that last nail on the coffin?
Nevertheless, it’s a step ahead than movies like Raanjhanaa which seem like they are portraying the society of the 60s.
This post was first published on Women’s Web.