More Offensive Than The Munnis And Sheilas, Is Raanjhanaa’s Skewed Definition Of The Modern Indian Woman

By Lata Jha:

Some of you would call me naive and disconnected with social reality. But I really, truly think films affect society. They are a huge deal. They shape, impact, mould and often reflect realities. Along with politics and cricket, cinema is the one topic around which conversation in India tends to veer. You could also say it’s a lighter, creative, more seemingly fun means of not completely submitting to the wave of westernization that threatens to overtake our nation.

In a country where people find it increasingly uncool to read or speak Hindi, it’s a pleasant surprise that we still watch Hindi films. And watch them with such gusto. Not to put down some of the amazing work that regional industries have always come up with, but that Hindi films dominate and impact our lives more than anything else is as true as it can get. Their reach is immense, and so is their ability to make a difference.

Raanjhanaa

When a Hindi film says something, it’s a statement. And it’s a statement that’s more often than not, hard to ignore. Which is why I find it tough to not take notice of what Anand L Rai’s Raanjhanaa seems to be telling me. I have unfortunately not watched Rai’s Tanu Weds Manu, so I can’t really comment on his capabilities as a filmmaker. I’d like to believe it was one of the better made films in recent times. Either way, it upsets me to know that filmmakers are still working with such stereotypical depictions of the coy Indian girl.

I’m not saying it doesn’t happen at all. I’m only saddened to not see the wiser, more mature picture. I don’t say every female in India is equally cerebral. But which sane, sensible girl in the world today would encourage such behaviour? I know of no such person. And why would she? We live in a society where by 13 or 14, a girl becomes acutely aware of who’s watching her and how. She’s not naive or impish, even if she’s vulnerable. Why would she lead the crazy stalker on? Even if he’s the insane lovesick puppy who gets cylinder for the house and is fairly nice to talk to, why would you portray the girl as this hapless damsel who despite having made it to JNU doesn’t know her mind? And also as the scheming bitch who’d take advantage of the guy’s affections? Girls today are neither.

There are no grey areas. Does she like him or not? If not, why is she kidding around with him? Why is she even friendly with him? She obviously doesn’t see a future with him. Why does she blush and act giggly around him then? That she would have a soft corner for him somewhere and somehow, why is that a given?

I’d like to make clear that I don’t think it’s a bad film. It’s just amateurishly flawed in its storytelling. A screenplay that depicts its female lead as the proverbial doll is offensive to me. You’re telling me that she could, very well, be this strong self-reliant woman who goes on to lead a political party, but at heart, she’s a complete fool. She doesn’t even know what she wants in life. Or better still, like every other woman; she gets swayed by flattery and attention. That is what every woman wants. It’s more glaring than say, the JNU milieu (I’m sorry, but whom are you kidding? Which JNU student talks like a seventh grader writing an assembly speech on caste and creed? Why would you simplify things?).

I love robust romances. I love colour, songs, dance sequences, the works. I adored Dhanush in the film. I can’t remember the last time I saw an actor breathe so much life into his character. It’s like you know this guy. I also have great regard for Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Swara Bhaskar who played the friends. But as a girl, I refuse to take that a lot of women are portrayed as airheads, even in, and perhaps especially in, some of our most populist films. To me, it’s more offensive than a Munni or a Sheila. At least those are women just dancing and having a good time. Who are we to judge what they’re wearing or singing? These are women who don’t know themselves and don’t mind getting pushed over. And they are supposed to be depictions of the modern, educated, progressive Indian woman. Either our realities are strangely skewed, or our sensibilities are.

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29 Responses

  1. shruti kapoor

    Thanks for the very interesting post. I completely disagree with your views here. Raanjhanaa’s lead women was not at all coy. As a kid yes ,maybe she was naive and silly but once she grew up, went to college, did her masters, the character was like any modern day girl. One who was smart/intelligent and hence got admission into a good college, studied, participated in street plays and finally when the time came stood up for her love and told her parents off. If she really was a coy traditional Indian women she would have been married long ago by her parents without her say.

    As far as her being confused and getting swayed with flattery, there are dime a dozen girls like this in today’s world. I have personal examples of girls who for the longest time flirted with guys who loved her while they loved someone else. Why? All because they wan’t attention. Who doesn’t wan’t attention. So I am surprised to see you are surprised by this character. The character portrayed here is so common in terms of a girl playing with someone’s emotions and feelings and taking undue advantage of it. We see that so often in our day to day lives.

    I think the movie did a good job in depicting the female character who had varying shades. Much better than a munni or a sheila dancing for a song and then exiting the film!

    Reply
  2. Sridhar

    Madam…

    a) Young girls 13 or 14..like a little attention…on them…that’s what little zoya did…she was not mature enough to casually ignore him…
    b) girl, when she slaps the boy for 16 times..it means it’s game between the two…
    c) Boy tells a big lie that he is a muslim…
    d) Girl should have told the boy that she will inform her parents at the beginning itself….
    e) She uses him through the film for her benefits….
    f) The girl is so self centred that she is willing to sacrifice the one who trusted her…
    g) She takes the job of her Delhi lover as well…

    She is more dangerous representative the present gen.girls…

    You are a girl, u haave not been affected another girl…so u can not feel the pain madaam…

    Srudhar

    Reply
  3. Rajshree Sharma

    Isn’t this the case in every second Hindi movie? Cinema does influence the society and sadly it is the stereotypes which drive the cinema. The girl is always the damsel- in- distress and the boy is always her knight in shining armor. A typical Bolly actress would be anything- a college student, a kick ass spy, the gangster’s mole- but still she needs to be saved. Look at Deepika in YJHD; she is intelligent, is pursuing medicine but still requires a guy to tell her that she is ‘something’. She is also the typical Bollywood nerd; big, dark frames and the moment she takes them off she becomes a swan. It is almost sickening how our movie industry mass produces ideas and a majority of the cinema goers are all too happy to lap it up as it is.

    Reply
  4. Neha

    though i have not watche dthis movie ,I so get what you sai d (It was easy though but ya ) Agree with you but then if you have to see not many films of Indian film industry do have strong roles for women ,difference is being made but you cant deny it is male dominated ! A fresh read though :)

    Reply
  5. Sibi Nath

    I haven’t watched the movie yet and probably that is why I could understand/relate to more than half of what you have written here. My humble opinion is that next time you write about a movie or something in it, pls keep the people who haven’t watched the movie in the mind.They’ll help a lot! :) N yeah, lets not judge anyone by just one movie/work of theirs! :)

    Reply
  6. Nitin

    You are not saying this, you are not saying that, first make your mind what is is it that bothers you before commenting what Zoya (a small town muslim girl, good at studies and gets admission to JNU) wants. And why do you you think today’s modern Indian women dont have right to be bitches. That is what makes you a stereotype. It would have made sense if you bashed the women portrayed in PKP, but for Ranjhnaa, you Mam are wrong.

    And yes films do effect the society(they glorify cases and break taboos), but also India is the only country which makes commercial masala movies(other types dont work). I would rather see movies that show underbelly of Inida, then ones that show masala movies. We men see them so that we dont get judged by you Indian women, and can proudly show them to our kids too. Also Item songs appeal to our sexual craving on screen, as nudity is not allowed :(.

    PS: Although stalking is a reality, what filmmakers could have done is show a post credit of leading actors denouncing it.

    Reply
  7. Tripthi

    @Lata – I have to disagree with your article.Feminism aside,This is also artistic freedom.And the character portrayed by Sonam Kapoor of is so not stereotyped.Firstly your point about people finding it uncool to speak Hindi ,I disagree.Yes in metro’s that might be the case but in the small cities and towns Hindi is still spoken proudly even by the younger generation,rich or poor.

    Secondly,Its a typical small town Romance.If you would have watched Tanu Weds Manu you would have got the style Anand L Rai specializes in.In the Movie ,Sonam although not seeing any future with Dhanush,still giggles and stuff as she loves attention.That was apparent.According to me the Director portrayed her successfully as a Girl who wants all eyes on her.What is the angle of feminism here ? I am a girl and I love attention too.DOes that make me stereotypical??? I think not.

    Lastly,Contrary to the Image of the Housewife and no brainer Image portrayed by Women,Sonam is shown to be an Intelligent women who is liberal and higly opinionated but still has her traditions rooted within her.Otherwise why would she plan to marry Abhay deol in the film( A Sikh).She could have eloped with him but she decided against it.This is a high point of the film which promotes Communal Harmony.

    On the whole it was a beautiful film and I dont think Feminism should have anything to do with

    Cheers :)

    Reply
    • simran

      Completely Agree With You.This movie portrays real,flawed characters and we sympathise with all the characters.No one is being judged here.The movie depicts the real human emotions of the leads and totally succeds in it.Brilliant performance by Dhanush and Sonam.

      Reply
  8. yunus

    Thank god for this post, about stereotyping girls in movies. Although I wouldn’t stand with everything you mentioned, I’ll gladly acquiesce that we do need better roles for girls/women in hindi cinema, or Indian movies at that.

    Reply
    • Raj

      What about men? The ones who face maximum violence (be it the hero or the villains) are always men. Either we define standards for portrayal of both or neither. I support neither.

      Reply
  9. patrakaar

    Can’t agree more with Raj (who didn’t like his name being mocked in DDLJ). He makes much more sense than the article itself. Give me any masala film and i would show you cliched characters. I still don’t know why Raanjhanaa that at first place must be dumped judging it on its cinematic merit is being pitted against feminism. Why JNU is being perceived above human stupidity. That means a DUite or a BHUite can be that stupid but not JNU. Common yaar, let’s judge individuals if we have to and not generalize. I agree that JNU as an institution that produces best minds in India was probably mocked in the film. But I support it. It’s cinematic liberty to poke fun at anyone. Why JNU girl be flattered by praise? Why should she not be sure of her wishes and that too being a JNU student? What rubbish argument is this? Cracking UPSC is tougher than cracking JNU entrance and we all are happy to show our bureaucrats and top policemen as stupid as we please.
    The writer is either reading too much in the film or simply woke upto Indian cinema and its portrayal of women suddenly. A defensive start with ‘Some of you would call me naive and disconnected with social reality’ speaks a lot about what will follow. And to say ‘it’s more offensive than a Munni or a Sheila’, I doubt the writer’s command over Hindi (that she has strangely noticed is uncool these days) otherwise how she fails to read the sexual innuendos of these songs which are more than mere ‘women enjoying singing and dancing’.

    Reply
    • Lata Jha

      I don’t think I said JNU was mocked in the film at all. I said it was portrayed amateurishly. No hint of fun being poked at all. Neither do I intend to eulogise the institution, so you could chill there. The article is not about JNU.
      Also, I’m not saying sexual innuendo or the portrayal of women otherwise in cinema is flattering. I’ve watched films all my life, and I’m quite comfortable with Hindi as well, and I do realise there’s a lot wrong. If you read carefully, you’d know I’m only talking of one recent kind of portrayal, which I found offensive.
      Thanks for reading. :)

      Reply
      • Raj

        @patrakaar : :D Yes it was a bit irritating. But then again, I don’t have a copyright for my name.

        @Lata : I’m somewhat disappointed at the left-leaning academic climate in JNU these days. But it has been that way always.

        Also when it comes to the portrayal of academic institutions in cinema, nothing does it worse than “3 idiots”. Trust me, IITs are nothing like what is shown in that movie

  10. Deeksha Yadav

    Thank God that there is someone who can actually criticise a popular thing! I know that people will call u hyper feminist but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. Hyper or not, such things should be brought into notice. Good Job!

    Reply
  11. Raj

    I haven’t seen Raanjhanaa nor do I want to.But I think you are over-analyzing the movie. It’s like trying make sense of “Rambo” and a middle class Indian guy. Obviously neither will be able to relate to one another. And it could be argued that Stallone’s portrayal of a blood-thirsty self-sacrificing suicidal maniac is deeply offensive to men all over the world. But from what I understand, movies are usually meant for entertainment not serious social commentary.

    Now coming to the general theme about men wooing women (and not Raanjhanaa in particular), it is because our society (including women) think it’s not OK for women to woo men. We rarely see that in the real world, more so in India. Even in developed societies, it is expected the guy ask the girl out, pay for the date, arrange transportation etc. If he doesn’t and tries to put those responsibilities on the girl, he is not held in high regard. This guy isn’t going to get another date with the girl.
    But see it from the guy’s point of view. He has been trained to be a slave in these matters and will not get offended if he ends up paying the check. He isn’t going to dump the girl just because he was “taken advantage of”.
    I don’t approve of this; I’m merely stating what I have observed.

    While you may feel offended by the portrayal of women in certain stereotyped manner, men too are stereotyped as heroes, lovers and villains. It can be argued that such portrayal is offensive to men too. I feel Shah Rukh Khan acts like a moron when he tries to woo Kajol in DDLJ. Enjoy the scenery and the sights in Switzerland instead. And if you must find female companionship, meet some broad-minded unparochial European women instead of running after some regressive NRI girl. And I wouldn’t come within a mile of that girl’s backward family let alone try to stop her marriage with the other moron. But it wasn’t my movie, I didn’t make it , I simply watched it and shrugged it off.

    Reply
    • Lata Jha

      From what I know of relationships (which matter to me in the first place, instead of stalkerish behaviour), the couple shares both the cheque and the responsibilities. In a sane, serious relationship, that is. That is how it works today. And doing a lot of things for your girl is often a sign of chivalry, not being taken advantage of. There’s a lot of difference between the two.
      Also, I really don’t get why we are even talking of DDLJ and Rambo here. Maybe you could explain it to me?
      And I suggest you watch the film first.
      Thank you for reading. :)

      Reply
      • Raj

        I’m talking about DDLJ and Rambo because it could be argued that they portray men in an offensive manner. That was the title of your article albiet for women.

        What you call chivalry is inherently sexist and demeaning to men. Women may benefit from it and men may play along, not caring about their self-esteem. But reverse the gender and think about the karva-chauth ritual and the stereotype of a docile gharelu bahu who goes along with her pati-dev. Neither men nor women should be slaves to each other.

        And regarding stalker-ish behavior, I tried to explain why such a theme is recurrent in cinema. Because usually the girl isn’t expected to make the first move. I am sure you would agree that among the crowd that does indulge in dating (i.e. urban middle and upper classes) , even then the guy is expected to ask out and woo the girl.

  12. shefalisharan

    I just loved the opening . being a movie freak even I believe that movies shape our society and infact our thinking to some extent .
    And you have so brilliantly made us think about movie beyond entertainment !
    kudos Lata

    Reply
  13. Sushama R C

    Lata u nailed it !!!!!!! well even Tanu weds Manu is a silly movie. the movie portrays Kangana Ranaut to be bold and all modern… well on the other hand the last scene screws up everything where she is portrayed as a docile bride.

    Reply
  14. Soumya Raj

    In Tanu Weds Manu, Kangana did a very bold portrayal of the cigarette smoking, alcohol guzzling, potty tongued, small town girl. You should watch it, although it is a little stereotypical too, the portrayal is not that of an airhead. You can watch it for Kangana.

    Reply