I liked the movie and wouldn’t have thought of writing this blog if there wasn’t a big debate on this movie on social media, largely around the Rehana story line. The points of criticism being how the movie got women empowerment all wrong, how feminism is not about dressing sexy, how girls in the movie didn’t set the right example, how the movie goes against all fundamentals of feminism, how the movie did not end with a powerful message and a grand metamorphosis!
First of all, I don’t believe every movie or every story has to have a “message” that we could agree to and apply in our lives. Some stories are simple narratives. Things that are happening around. Like showing a mirror. It is what it is. This one was one of those. This one simply tells about four lives being lived in not-so-liberal sections of our society.
And that’s why they did not attempt to make the protagonists over the top abla naaris or holier than thou (thank God for that!). They are just normal human beings with normal desires – good or bad, empowering or not, that’s beside the point.
The problem is people are looking at the movie with their eyes. It’s very easy for a woman, sitting in a city like Gurgaon who has hardly been denied anything in her life, to self-righteously declare that drinking, smoking, partying is bad! It may be. In all probability it is. But see from the eyes of that girl who is just stepping into the magical land of youth. And she is totally dominated by her parents, she can’t do anything on her own. For her, late night parties, smoking, drinking is a gateway to cool-dom. Remember, how she says that she had been drinking though it was clearly her first time. She wants to fit in. Fit in a world where Miley Cyrus is an idol. And of course, she is making bad decisions, she is shoplifting, for God’s sake! That no one in their right mind can condone. But it’s not lipsticks, dresses, boots, drinking or smoking she is after. She is craving for freedom… she is craving for assertion.
Unfortunately parties, drinking, smoking etc. are symbols of freedom that are given to her by her environment.
All these characters secretly desired was the liberty to be themselves – even if that meant being flawed. Like all humans are! I am not a “feminist” feminist but you can call me a humanist or an equalist. I will be miserable if I am denied the freedom to make wrong choices. A mix of right and wrong in life is what makes me human. If I cannot make my own decisions, it will be hell for me. I don’t care what kind of decisions. They could be life altering or what to have for breakfast. See, I am not an enlightened being. And I am not expecting myself to be anytime soon. So I would want to have the freedom to be a human (who can make mistakes).
Although right or wrong, good or bad is entirely subjective and relative but let’s not go into that.
Rehana thinks lipstick, a glamorous dress or a great pair of boots will make her dreams come true. But then she is not a well-educated well-traveled well-read woman in her forties who can decide for herself. If she were, she would have made different decisions probably. Also know that she has this desire to be cool even more pronounced because it is taboo for her. Anything that is taboo (for anybody) holds a tantalizing charm! A woman like me would find smoking “meh!” Because I have the power to make my decision to smoke or not smoke, so smoking doesn’t hold any unreasonable attraction to me. I could choose to eat beef or to be a vegan, nobody can stop me. Not the same case with poor thing Rehana. It seems far-fetched but I will go ahead and say it – you would want to do the same things if you were Rahana (or you would need some hormone therapy).
A tangent point – I don’t understand why consumption of alcohol is such a loaded concept in India. It is a drink. You drink it, you don’t drink it. That is all there is to it. It cannot make you modern or empowered. It cannot make you not modern and not empowered. Why attach so many connotations and moral baggage to it? If anything, it is unhealthy. But so are pizzas and pakoras. Not to mention soft drinks.
Being liberal was never about the clothes we wear and the food we eat. Dressing, food etc. are superficial things. The real “liberation” is about questioning and breaking mental and emotional chains that we carry around. I know many women who wear skimpy clothes, go to pubs etc. and are narrow-minded as hell! I also know women who wear very desi attire (not even fabindia type stuff) and are very progressive in their outlook.
Coming back to the story, the movie didn’t glorify the glittery world of cool parties etc. either. Remember, when Dhruv walks away from Rehana, it was the moment she realized that the cool life isn’t all rainbows and sunshine.
Similarly, Leela, who could and did make some decisions of her own, I don’t think she made any brilliant decisions. Not from the society or morality point of view, I don’t care for that, she was not making good decisions for herself. Caught between wild primal desires and rational dream of a stable future, she was all erratic. So the movie never took it upon itself to say what these girls was doing was the right thing to do.
Talking of right, do we always make the right decisions? Is there anyone who can say that they have always made the rightest decisions? If yes, their spaceship is waiting to take them back to their planet.
So a movie is a narrative that says – ok, this can happen (in case of fantasy, not even that). You don’t have to do what the characters are doing. Like if Amitabh Bachchan is a thief or a murderer in a movie, you don’t drop everything and become a thief or a murderer, do you? You don’t think he is setting a wrong example. You understand it is a story.
The movie is about lipstick (desires) and burkha (social rules and regulations). Nobody said desires always take you to the happiest or the most empowered place.
This movie never aimed to teach the society anything. And in any case, why should females be the flagbearers of so-called morality? Why is it girls’ duty to not stray, else they will set a bad example? By the way, nobody minded the straying husband in the movie. Nobody thought he was setting a bad example because that toh happens.
And why assume that this movie is about the “correct” or “incorrect” form of feminism? These females certainly are no champions of feminism or empowerment. They probably have never heard of the term or the concept. So we can hardly expect them to lead us on the issue.
And, please, not everything with more than two women in it has to be about feminism! Sometimes they can be simple stories of reality check, among other things.
What is feminism, anyway? It is an endeavor to break away from the moulds society has imposed on women through some vexatious rules and regulations reserved only for women. Now by asking the female characters to be role models, you are imposing another mould: A girl cannot be immoral, even in a story! Isn’t it reverse feminism?
I think the first real step towards feminism would be to try to understand fellow women without judging them all the time.
Lastly, I liked that open ending. The writer didn’t give her own solution or claimed to know the best way to set everything right. The characters did not dramatically become these superwomen overnight who rescued humanity from the clutches of orthodoxy. Not many do. Not many acknowledge or are even aware of their plight. But that doesn’t mean nothing is changing. Today someone had the courage to show these stories on screen. One day something may be that last straw that breaks the camel’s back.
And I am not saying once all the women are “liberated”, they will make all the good decisions. Like men don’t. Nobody does.
Not every story has a “moral” or this question attached: “Is kahani se hamein kya shiksha milti hai?” that we are so used to.
But if you insist, and if there is any lesson at all to be taken from the Rehana thread, I would say it is – let the kids be their own selves. Guide them with your wisdom but do not try to own or possess them. They will not be able to lead their lives to their best potential. Worse, they might end up doing harm to themselves.
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