Pink, a film which primarily focuses on the struggle of three women against stereotypes and prejudices of our society, was path-breaking. It’s not just the centrality of women, it’s also the way a man very subtly helps them. The humble portrayal of Amitabh Bachchan, an actor of unparalleled stature, in a support role is noteworthy. There is also an added depth to the plot which comes from maintaining the balance between the importance of all the characters.
The movie is about sexual violence and what survivors go through, and right from the beginning till the end, it has immense gravitas. Every scene is intensely made with meaningful dialogues. When such a film was being remade into Telugu, I felt happy. I was glad that there was finally going to be a serious and sensible feminist cinema in Telugu.
When the cast and title were announced, I was dismayed. The name of the movie is ‘Vakeel Saab’ (Lawyer Sir) and the protagonist is the much-hyped “hero” Pawan Kalyan.
The feminist ethos of the original film got lost right here since the title suggests it is all about the man, who was originally just supposed to be a sidekick.
The title perpetuates the notion of a saviour man who faces all the odds and goes to great lengths to save the women involved. This in itself reduces the image of the women to that of weak and subservient beings awaiting protection from a strong masculine person.
Every line of the song ‘Magua Magua’ from ‘Vakeel Saab’ can be criticized. Each word glorifies the stereotypical feminine image. The song praises women for having “boundless patience” and for managing both their job and home as if it’s the inherent responsibility of women to take care of the family.
The worst part is when one line reads “women’s immense hard work is simply incomprehensible” and “every man is just a child in her lap”. The stress on motherhood and traditional image of women as caregivers is disgusting especially since it’s in a movie which is supposed to challenge these very norms.
‘Vakeel Saab’, unlike ‘Pink’, seems like it has no nuances and it definitely doesn’t intend to initiate a rational dialogue about the ‘woman question’. It seems to reinforce the dichotomous protector-protected relation between men and women. This troublesome depiction is lauded by the sexiest and misogynist fans, who by the way have a history of slut-shaming critics of their favourite hero/god, Pawan Kalyan. The movie fuels the political image of PK, an image of him being the strong, masculine voice of the oppressed.
A one-minute-long teaser was released yesterday and there was not a single frame which properly showed the survivors or their struggle. Filmmakers have ensured that the entire spotlight goes to a man in a movie about women. The only time one can see them, very vaguely though, is when the “hero” fights the goons while the women helplessly stand by and watch. Women till this day are constantly made to prove that they are capable of looking after themselves and yet a movie, which was supposed to make people aware of the female agency, depicts them as vulnerable humans awaiting a knight in shining armour to save them.
It is not surprising, to be honest. The Telugu film industry, just like its fans, reeks of sexism and misogyny.
The stardom, privilege, and spotlight enjoyed by the so-called heroes are proof of that. They get to act for twenty years or thirty years, with women half their age as their partners on screen, “heroines” on the other hand retire within seven or eight years. Women-centric movies are absolutely rare and even if they are made, nobody watches them. In fact, acting in such movies marks the end of the career of an actress in TFI.
Actresses in Telugu movies are treated worse than props, they exist only to serve the male gaze, sexualised, lifeless, and subservient. Every movie portrays them as damsels in distress and what is disappointing is that a remake of a feminist movie does not deviate from this vicious pattern. Any movie which tries to escape this mediocrity is bound to fail commercially. Presence of a star “hero” sells the movie to the Telugu audience and the plot does not really matter. In this instance, the message and nuances have been sacrificed to meet the market demands.
‘Vakeel Saab’, far from being a bad remake, is just going to be a commercial movie which irresponsibly elevates the role of the lawyer to that of a protagonist, and stands against everything pink stood for. Sadly, in this madness, the struggle of women, discussions about violence, and in totality a feminist cinema, are lost.
Watch the teaser here.