When I first watched Queen, I was joyous of the fact that here came Bollywood with its hangover of the love formula, and it problematized ‘love’ so authentically, catching the little details of how it many times is the oppressor. And then I saw Vikas Behl’s video of what was supposed to be my Utopia.
Really? Is being stared at part of my Utopia? Or playing dumb and ignorant of the problems I need to face every single day of my life? To begin with, these were just a few things that made meÂ cringe. Before I go forth in the rant, let me take you down memory lane.
In 2012, when the people walked the streets of Delhi, demanding justice, a lot of discourses brewed in the cauldron. Some screamed Bharat Mata ki Jai, while some laughed at the ridiculousness of this elusive ‘mata’, which they were obviously not. Some said ‘kill and castrate the rapist’, some said at-least convict the rapist beyond your 24% conviction rate. Slowly, Bekhauf Azadi jostled for space in people’s minds. Could I unequivocally ask for freedom, even freedom from my husband’s constant need for surveillance? Freedom even from my father who wanted me to marry whereas I wanted to study? Could I even have the right to, knowing the health advisory, light up a cigarette, drink at a bar, and yet not be looked at as someone who was asking for it?
The cauldron burned.
This movement was the first time a dialogue was raised over one event, which began to encompass a lot of other things which were hidden away. The Supreme Court decided to live in the 1860s with regards to the LGBTQI rights, a courageous journalist lashed out against her boss and lent her politically valiant voice against what happened at workplaces every day to a lot of us. Custodial rapes, AFSPA, Rupam Pathak’s imprisonment, Sangh Parivar, Sri Ram Sena, Durga Vahini, a plethora of Modi brands, were all a part of the movement. And now, Bekhauf Azadi dynamically reinvents itself in Jadavpur University as Hok Kolorob.
We fought not only on the roads, not only for the women, the LGBTQI, not only for the employee of Tehelka, but we also fought within ourselves.
And then the market caught on, as it always does.
Suddenly, stories on women ’empowerment’ were sale-able, marketable, and profitable! And so, what filmmaker friends were warned against – women protagonists, became the hot selling cake. One day my story could be thrown in the bin. And the next day, when the news shows 1000s of young people standing bravely against watercannons, my story becomes the first thing the company will want to produce. I’m simplifying obviously, but you get the drift. Since ‘what will sell’ is just the drift, proclaimed as a prophecy. And then, money is put on it. It’s a constant gamble.
So then, an industry based on prophecies, cut off from the movement on the streets, dabbles in the preaching. Some are lapped up, some go way wrong. For instance, a goodish film called ‘Mardani’. The furore remains, why must the film with a solid female protagonist be called ‘Mardani‘? We were almost reclaiming even Jhansi ki Rani as Janani!
We were reinventing what it was to be a woman and a man, with a plethora of sexualities, with even the compartments of man and woman breaking free of themselves into human beings! We are even questioning whether its possible to live in a world where man and woman were suspiciously reduced representations of a person. The cauldron brews on volatile and inflammable.
But the problem comes when people detached from these inconvenient brewing cauldrons, conveniently sit back, watch, prophesise and try preaching to those who have been fighting, burning in this cauldron of vanities and travesties and heresies!
And so comes upon us, dropping straight from the cosmetic heavens of Vogue, a film on women empowerment. Which in the first place is a tickling irony. But the irony sharpens its edge when a film-maker who floored us with Queen, and his understanding of the acute manoeuvres of patriarchy within love, makes such a film. And moreover, fields it in as every woman’s Utopia.
This video though does other great things. It brings back to us questions that we might, in the adrenalin of the movements, have become complacent of.
1. Why do we need a helpless damsel in distress to justify her protection?
2. Why do we need protection to justify empowerment?
3. Why do we need to call upon chivalry, to appeal to the Indian Male and their virtues of considering this fight as worth fighting for?
4. Why must we forget about self empowerment? Seriously, she needed him to open the bonnet?
5. Ever wondered why ‘protection’ requires sexist conduct? She then has to be a damsel in distress, unable to fix her car. They dont need to be justified. Their mothers don’t call them at night to ask where they are. They are macho, prowling the streets, drunk of course, can’t help but harden when they look up her skirt. And yes, basically, she wont make it in life without the men?
6. Why do we need to redeem men with glad eyes?Â “They’re looking, jerking off on you… but see, wow! they’re dropping you home.”?
7. Why does women empowerment and its cinematic imagination get stuck in all of the above? Ill give you a situation. A woman loved. And then she fell out of love. He kissed her back one last time. Told her she was wonderful. Told her he will always love her. Told her, maybe he’ll break down, but will survive. Ill give you the counterpart, the dis-empowerment – He let her go, but followed her, stalked her everyday, inundated her phone/fb/classroom/chai tapri with recurring public humiliation, of how she used him, of how she was a slut etc.
Ill tell you what. The dis-empowering counterpart is a joke on Bollywood. That’s how the boy gets his girl. For Bollywood, that’s Prince Charming sweeping you off your feet.
Would Bollywood ever understand –
“Agar ek ladki bhaagti hai,
Toh zaruri nahi ki koi ladka bhi bhaaga hoga” (Alokdhanwa)
8. This recurrent need to justify the male position, He For SheÂ et al is hogwash.Â This is a newer, more tactful patriarchy we are going to be tied down to. Or maybe its way too old! Maybe Vikas Behl should’ve given credits to Cinderella. Good adaptation! Bad Story!
9. Get over trying to define/redefine what ‘Real’ men do, or what ‘Real’ women do. A lot lies in between. Its called Human. And I don’t need to call upon Manliness/Womanliness to justify or ever romanticise that. Set a human precedent! Beyond Men and Women. As we’ve seen in cases of many female athletes, the ‘realness’ of being a man/woman is rather oppressive!
10. A brother/Husband/Father/Mother/Sister/Friend/Boss/Teacher have all been brought up within this patriarchy. I am as socially conditioned to patriarchy as is my brother.
At every step, we must choose, fight it within ourselves. How many decisions are we trusting her with? Or how many decisions of her’s are we labelling as that of a Slut/Love Jihad/against the Khap/Against ‘Nature’/Against ‘tradition’/Against her own good or safety?
I dont need you to come and help me
Because I am beginning to see what’s tying us down
I need you to come and fight alongside me
Because your liberation is tied to mine
Or something like that!
Our message should be loud, clear and Bekhauf. This is not my Utopia, this is not the Utopia of the people you are trying to tap as your market. Not yet. Lets fight this within ourselves a little more. Hok Kolorob!
Save me from this brand of Bollywood Feminism!