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

Posted on July 16, 2014

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.


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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