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.


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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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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