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.
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.