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Does The Title Of Rani Mukerji’s Upcoming Film ‘Mardaani’ Contradict It’s Very Essence?

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By Satya Musica:

I want to watch this movie, and most likely will. I also know that if I do, I’m really going to get into it, like I get into any film, and be all angst-y for those three hours and afterwards, much to the amusement of my partner. I think Rani is a top-notch actress and deserves to make all the films she can, and I actually want to like this movie. It is really tough to find a female-centric film in Bollywood, tougher still to have a female lead who actually looks convincing, going by that trailer. And most importantly, for the subject matter as advertised, which we absolutely, urgently, must be talking about in the most open manner. I really hope this film is widely watched.

Mardaani

But that title. Mardaani? Really? Why?

I don’t want to be cynical. I try hard everyday to not be, despite watching rigged social networks, political tamasha and PR driven celebrity gymnastics. Sometimes I catch myself being an open-mouthed voyeur, getting off at the sheer audacity of those with influence, awestruck by where they are pushing the envelope on crowd control. I can’t resist thinking – isn’t it the most natural behaviour for a commercial film-house to capitalize on the flavor of the season – gender issues. Because if this film were really about sending social messages, should they not have put some thought into the title? Yet, I don’t want to be cynical. So I tell myself that it is commendable that Bollywood is at least producing a film with a female protagonist, tackling a difficult subject head on, it’s pushing its own envelope forward and this must be welcomed.

The title of the film also brought back to mind Subhadrakumari Chauhan‘s “Jhansi ki Rani”. That was where many of us heard this word for the first time. The poem’s reference to “mardaani” had bothered me when I had read it in school. So, Rani Laxmibai is some kind of a mini-man because she chose to fight in battle? She fought valiantly while, as the legend goes, her baby was tied to her back – this makes her a mini-man to the poet? Why did the poet not see her as a mother protecting her child, her kingdom, her nation? This was the sort of thing that would run through my secondary-school mind. It would incense me, along with all the other incendiary things all around those young days in the 80s, when times were simpler and sexist behaviour more habitual – like if you raised your voice against street harassment, those around you, even if they themselves were subject to that harassment, would shut you down much more comfortably those days. I digress. So, this movie title made me revisit that poem. Nowadays, having attained advanced age and some amount of understanding after a little reading and experience, I get that artists can be bound by their circumstances, their time and place in history, even as they try to break through, as they present their visions that don’t gel with their fellow people.

Chauhan, the first woman Satyagrahi to court arrest, jailed twice for nationalist activities, was a poet who wrote predominantly in the Veer ras. I found some resolution in a book by Harleen Singh called The Rani of Jhansi: Gender, History and Fable in India that just came out just last month. Singh says – “Chauhan refers to the inaudibility of women’s stories in the colonial and nationalist archive by indicating that a figure such as the Rani does not need a voice to be bestowed upon her: ‘Even if history remains silent and truth is hanged, / even if the foreigners are victorious and destroy Jhansi with their cannons. / You will be your own memorial, / you are the undying sign of our freedom’ … The Congress and the Gandhi-dominated national politics of pre-independence India, did not adopt the Rani of Jhansi as a symbol of resistance. It was, in fact, the stereotype of the submissive and suffering Indian woman, a far cry from the warring Rani, which was the guiding feminine principle of Gandhi’s rhetoric. Chauhan’s poem should be read then as a corrective to the masculinity of widely adopted nationalist symbols; making visible the erasure of the Rani and the gradual removal of women, as anything except for symbols, from the public sphere.”

Whoever it was who named the film, was he or she inspired by this poem and the obvious connection with the lead actor’s name? Sounds reasonable to me, from a catchy-title perspective (that is, if kids are still taught this poem these days and if people still remember what those harbols of Bundelkhand narrated). And yet, why did it not strike the film makers that this title may be just a bit outdated? That a person who fights back need not be defined in terms of degrees of masculinity? That their entire premise for the movie, from what I see from their PR so far, is at odds with the title? Should I hold out some glimmer of hope that they might address this word in the body of the film perhaps?

So then how about “Pratighaat” for a title? Ok, “Pratiighaat”, if you feel queasy about ripping off from that 1987 flick. How about “Ghrina”, “Droh”? Not hip enough. OK, how about you suggest some alternate titles?

Anyway, in any case, my best wishes to the film makers, let’s hope their message gets through!

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  1. Shweta Sachdeva

    I agree completely! We associate all strength, power and virility with such words. Who decides its so? Why can’t feminism or girl-power be associated with these adjectives? Our society so transfixed by these things that words become an easy way to subdue a female or even the third gender. There is so much power in language that its use apparently reduces us to a lower level than men. WE give them that power. Why do we have to “Man up?”, why can’t we “Woman up”??. It’s all just a play of words that trickles down into our lives and finds itself evolving from the very formation of our chromosomes.

    1. Green Lantern

      Why do we have to “Man up?”, why can’t we “Woman up”??

      That is because women are physically weaker than men, something that the movie is reluctant to show, and something women are not willing to accept. In all forms of martial arts, be they taekwondo, karate jiu-jitsu, cage fighting, and boxing, women only compete with women. It is a fact that women cannot compete with men when it comes to physical strength.

  2. Ritwika Sharma

    Thank goodness somebody thought of this and brought it up!!

  3. Lets Wait & Watch

    Though I don’t like the terms mardaani or its analogues like man up or grow some balls etc ..I think we should wait for the movie to pass judgment on the title cause in this era where everything in Bollywood is being judged very aggressively especially with regard to Feminism etc I think the makers might have considered the repercussions of giving the film such a title unless there is an ulterior motive to it which we may come to know after watching the film…..So with the hope of seeing some brilliant acting from Rani and hoping the title has a meaning and was not simply bestowed upon…….Let’s just wait & Watch 🙂

  4. Aman

    It is not just our country …history has witnessed that the biggest battles were fought only by male kings….be Alexendar the great ..Nepolian…Ashoka the great.the spartans etc..so mainly a man is always been seemed to be involved into fights politics …and for his ruthlessness to even kill people for his needs and greeds or revenge. and they do it with pride and feel nothing about it…it can ben seen in criminal activities as well mostly it is men who are mainly involved in rutheless crimes as murders …dacoits rapes..as they are very less emotional ..where as women is not termed as weak in comparison of men but is always termed as …loving caring delicate.. emotional .very rarely gets to a level of ruthlessness…numbers say it for itself..across the world only a very few women who have fought ruthless battles to an extent of killing some one or are involved into criminal activities…When a women almost opposes the nature of a common women and goes or adopts nature of men who dont hesitate to kill or be ruthless …that is why such women are called mardana…as it is against there very nature of been polite

    1. reader

      Hi Aman,

      Female animals will fight to protect their young, they will fight to kill. Therefore, there is the potential for ruthlessness in the female too.

      Now consider human society – men were taught to do certain things, whereas women were taught to do certain things. This segregation became entrenched into societies – men were expected to do certain things and women were expected to do certain things. Stereotypes emerged (such as men are strong and women are weak, men are ruthless and women are emotional). Then Taboos emerged – that men should not cry and women should not take up arms, which lead to ideas such as – men who cry are not masculine and women who take up arms are not feminine. These are all societal definitions which are not healthy for anyone, males or female. It is time that we evolve out of such outdated definitions.

    2. Aman

      Of course I do agree that the streotype thinking should not be build up nor should the taboos be created ….but examples have to ve created to change this long sterotype thinking…as I still see very few women trying to prove there masculine ability as compared to that of men…a very few enter politics or IPS or the military for that sake….it is not just the thinking for male that needs to be changed ….women have to play a more vital role as well…they have to prove that they are self sufficient to fight for themselves and they do not need a mans protection

  5. Proiti

    FINALLY SOMEONE SAID IT.

  6. Green Lantern

    Women are physically weaker than men, and “mardaangi” is only for men. Let me be men and women be women. We should not try to turn women into men, just as we don’t try to turn men into women.

    1. reader

      Hi Green Lantern. I hope you receive a Bharat Ratna for your profound contributions… your intelligence is clearly evidenced through your deeply insightful and relevant comments around this site, which can only be rooted in long study and much research. I too agree with you, “mardaangi” is a word for masculinity, why apply it to women, or to words such as “courage”.

    2. Green Lantern

      Dear reader, why should we not differentiate between men and women? Men are physically stronger, and that remains a fact. A man can outperform a woman in any feat of physical strength, otherwise women would not be competing separately in sports, whether at national or international level. All research in biology and psychology shows that they are different.

      I hope you have a good day.

    3. Reader

      Hi Green Lantern,

      So?

  7. Rajib

    Green Lantern, why are you hell bent on the stupid fact that men are strong and women are weak ? If that is the case, explain the birth of a child that comes out of women, do you have any idea of the pain they go through and yet be strong to bring a life into this world. You have given ref of sports, biology etc. but have you ever considered the fact that reader has pointed out ^ – stereotypes ? Jeez! Why the segregation has come into place to start with ? You are just copy pasting what was taught to you by the ‘society’ (specially the society formed by men). What is wrong with a woman working and a man baby sitting ? Oh wait, it’s the bloody male ego, that is the problem.

    As for the title, I guess that’s the best bollywood could come up with and hope that it serves the purpose it was chosen for.

  8. Vishal

    Hey, feminists! Aren’t you going to barge at the title of “Boyhood” and ask why isn’t it Girlhood or something more feminine?! After all, even girls grow and this privilege isnt only applicable to boys! No, you won’t. I bet you haven’t even seen the movie, or most of you haven’t even heard of it – its brilliant cinema, that’s what it is. And you know why you won’t come up with a charade that the title is highly misogynistic? Because it is world class cinema and even the feminists here know that their contribution is just noise. And because it isn’t Bollywood, where the makers give a crap about every single opinion published online (and there are way too many of them now). They don’t care about amateur opinions from bloggers. This form of “feminism” while talking about the film title as being offensive when all it does is give you a glance into the story of the movie, is perhaps the worst level of hypocrisy imaginable. You can go on blogging like growing weeds in a garden but trust me, no one gives a damn, not at least to two-facedness. Have a nice day!

    1. Smriti

      why all the antagonism? what is this us vs. them mentality? you know next to nothing about the author and you can certainly not know every single “feminist” – so you make assumptions based on your own generalisations and misconceptions of what a “feminist” is. your propensity for generalisation – that’s the first thing you need to go think about before you go raging and giving yourself an ulcer. check your own ignorance first before speaking out about others’.

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