Bollywood has its way of reinforcing gender stereotypes, which justify and normalize all kinds of unfairness and violence meted out to women. Some movies, however, also did their bit to reverse this narrative. This women’s day, I am sharing a few movies that have inspired me to set on my own journey of understanding feminism.
The movie is about Rani who sets out to her honeymoon alone after her wedding is called off at the last minute. Withstanding a series of cultural shocks that she faces one after the other in the strange new land, she meets people who rejoice in free will and fun. Finally, she emerges unbridled, free and unapologetic for rejecting people who have restrained her choices. Giving back the wedding ring to her fiancé (who dramatically wants her back) and thanking him for calling off the wedding is one of my favourite parts in the film.
The movie begins with a man wanting to coach the women’s hockey team – an assorted bunch of girls representing India’s diversities. “Chak De India” is about the victory of this team, but more than that, about the aspirations of all these girls who do not follow their coach blindly or put up with his condescension. Each one has her own individuality, her own dream. And when the girl from rural Haryana passes the ball to the rich Chandigarh girl who she previously despised, only because the Chandigarh wali needs to ‘show a man what a woman can do’, we know the movie wins even before the final match ends.
Veera is gagged, bound, kidnapped and forced to travel with her kidnappers and yet experiences joy and freedom that her protected and privileged life could not give her. Her revelation of being a victim of sexual abuse by a ‘trusted person’ perhaps explains her ecstasy in moving away from the hypocrisies of her family and society which had shut down her voice. Her hysteric outbreak towards the end and her brazenly calling out her wrongdoers – the uncle who molested her as well as her parents who remained silent, celebrates freedom from the long suppressed hurt and violence in the most heartbreaking way possible.
Remember Sridevi in “Chalbaaz” and “Nagin”? She physically fought the villains to show them their place. In “English-Vinglish”, only words have sufficed.
Ridiculed by her husband and daughter for not being able to speak English fluently, Shashi (Sridevi) secretly enrolls herself in an English class. Making a common cause with people from different nationalities facing the same prejudice, she forges ties and makes friendships. The film is about her assertion and the self esteem that she rebuilds, not just by learning English but also by understanding her own worth. In the last scene, she graciously asks in English for a vernacular newspaper she has always read; because knowing or not knowing English does not change the choices she has always made.
The film has its loopholes, but it cannot be denied that it is still one of the few films that voraciously stand for consent and a woman’s right to say NO at any stage in a relationship. The hallmark of the movie is one of the girls standing in the court of law and shouting, ‘Yes, she is a sex worker, has taken money and then refused her services. Does that mean that she is wrong to allege that she was molested by the guy?’
The movie amazingly is all about all of the above, and much more. It is about the bond that women across their differences nurture, which saves each one in the end. Women are always accused of competing with each other, and the film effectively reverses this by showing women supporting each other to gain agency in their own lives.
Can you think of more such films?