Recently, there has been this tidal wave of Bollywood movies with a particular brand of feminism: “Pink,” with its message on consent (though, ironic, considering many of India’s colleges and school lack comprehensive and compulsory consent classes), “Lipstick Under My Burqa,” a movie promoting sexual freedom, and “Veere Di Wedding,” a perhaps superficial, neoliberal but slightly sex-positive film – I could go on, but the point is that the Hindi film industry is slowly, but steadily shifting towards a brand of feminism that combines fighting against the overall disenfranchisement of Indian women.
But has it been effective? I’m not so sure.
My dad LOVES watching Bollywood movies when they first come out – I’m not even sure whether he actually loves watching the movie itself, but if it’s a first day and mind you, the first show viewing, we’re going. So, you’ll probably see me sweating and rushing to the theatre in my drab office clothes on a Friday evening, more excited for the nachos with the sticky, banana yellow cheese sauce rather than the actual movie itself.
Last week, we went to watch “Stree,” a comedy-horror film based on the folk legend Nale Ba. Truthfully speaking, the film was hilarious, filled with excellent acting and effective quips. Among the laughter, there were also times where I was silently squirming in my seat because of the recurring allusions to sex and I was sitting RIGHT NEXT to my parents (I’m pretty confident that most, actually, all brown kids can relate to this).
For example, everyone in the charming town of Chanderi referred to sex as “doing friendship.” As embarrassed as I was, a silver lining was how the film showed the normalcy of having sex, reminding the audience, the conservative aunties and uncles that sex, was, in fact, a normal, primal process and pretty much the reason the aunties and uncles were there in the theatre, existing.
The film’s premise was about a ghost named Stree, who haunts and abducts the town’s men during a festival period, for revenge. Stree’s vengeance stemmed from the townsfolk cruelly murdering her and her lover, a man who apparently loved her for her soul, but not her body – unlike the other men of the town. Hence, every door in the town is painted in lurid red, saying “O Stree, come tomorrow.”
After a series of comedic and rather horrifying events, the film concludes with the idea that not only should women be respected no matter what their profession is, but it also shows that women are as powerful as men (hence, indirectly nullifying the overarching misogynistic concept of Rakhi).
The movie ends with a pan of the doors, which now read, in the same startling red: “O Stree, protect us.”
Overall, the movie was great – the message while a bit indirect, was effective, especially in the current climate for today’s Indian women. But, there was a fatal flaw, actually two fatal flaws, in the movie that diminish its entire message.
Oh, why oh why?! Why must a Bollywood movie always have the dreaded item song?
What is the point of hypersexualizing the female body for male privilege, in a country that is already ravaged with such potent misogyny? My blood boiled when the dance sequence started, a scantily clad woman swaying her hips, while semi-drunk men surround her, wolf whistling, swooning and leering at her.
I find it ridiculous that producers, actors, directors and production company of “Stree” somehow didn’t think, “Oh! Perhaps an item song will be slightly, ever so slightly hypocritical considering our film is about empowerment!”
Watching shots of her fair and lovely polished, hourglass kamar (hips in Hindi), seductively moving with the music reinstates the fact that Bollywood doesn’t understand how dangerous item songs are. The item song substantiates the feeling that women are only here to please men. That women who dress provocatively and move sensually are sluts and whores. That they deserve to listen to unwarranted catcalling and harassment. That they deserve to be sexually abused because “they asked for it.” That a man deserves the body of women, whenever and wherever.
The item song is not sexually empowering.
The item song does not have any purpose except for strengthening the pillars of patriarchy.
The item song is not okay.
It is important for actors and actresses, who are so-called feminists, to stipulate in their contract that item songs are not okay.
Today, India is the most unsafe place for women. This is not okay.
Unfortunately or fortunately, Bollywood impacts a lot of Indian culture today. If it wants to positively impact Indian culture, items songs are not the best way to do so.
“Thank You For Coming” is a one-of-a-kind Bollywood film that is not only a through-and-through entertainer but also an inspiring story about a young woman, Kanika Kapoor (played by ace actress Bhumi Pednekar), who sets out to seek pleasure in bed; and, she’s not settling for anything less!
The film premiered at the 48th annual Toronto International Film Festival to an audience that was impressed with so many facets of the film — the comic timing of the impeccable cast, the subject matter of female pleasure, and the fantastic direction by debutant Karan Boolani — just to name a few!
It’s always a flamboyant affair of colour, emotions and grandeur when Karan Johar directs a film, and his latest blockbuster “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” is as K Jo as it gets. After recently being recognised at the British House of Parliament for 25 years as a filmmaker, Johar is back to doing what he does best — bringing together families and star-crossed lovers, but this time with a modern touch. He makes a decent attempt at showcasing progressive ideals and feminist issues while taking us on this family-friendly ride.
“Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani” is a larger-than-life film revolving around the love story of a boisterous Rocky (Ranveer Singh) from a wealthy Delhi family, and Rani (Alia Bhatt), a sharp journalist from a progressive Bengali household. And of course, despite belonging to completely different backgrounds and lives, our protagonists, in true Bollywood fashion, fall hopelessly in love through a string of slow-motion gazes, warm embraces and some truly breath-taking song sequences in Kashmir’s snowy mountains. They are then forced to face their opposing families which brings along the family drama in the second half of the film.
The plot is not the film’s strongest point — there’s no real surprise about what’s going to happen next, and yet the film doesn’t fail to keep audiences engaged and pack an emotional punch. This is down to its strong acting, witty dialogues and K Jo’s classic, beautiful cinematography.
Ranveer Singh sinks into the skin of his character with ease – not only does he make the hall burst into laughter with the help of perfectly-timed gags but he pulls off those dreamy gazes ,expected in K Jo’s heroes, to evoke that typical, fuzzy-feeling kind of Bollywood romance. Alia Bhatt’s intelligent and undefeated character is no less a pleasure to watch on screen — not only does she look breath-taking in every shot but her feminist dialogues earn claps and cheers from the audience as she brings a progressive touch to this family drama.
Albeit, while Bhatt’s dialogues do their best to steer this film to the reformist drama it hopes to be, some of Singh’s gags and monologues on cancel culture bring out bumps in the road. The film could have done better to reinforce its points on feminism and racism without using the groups it tries to support as the butt of jokes.
There is also a case to be made about how long these Punjabi and Bengali stereotypes can go on with often gawkish displays of Ranveer’s ‘dilwala-from-Delhi’ character among the overly-polished English from Rani’s Bengali family. But it is with the expertise of the supporting cast, that the film is able to get away with it. Jaya Bachchan in particular is as classy as ever on screen; the stern Dadi Ji holds her ground between the two lovers, while Dada Ji Dharmendra, and Thakuma Shabana Azmi, tug at our heartstrings showing that love truly is for all ages.
Saving the best to last, it is the film’s cinematography that makes the strongest case for audiences to flock to the cinema. The soul-stirring songs steal the show with their extravagant sets and powerful dance performances that treat the audiences to the much-awaited cinematic experience of a K Jo film. While audiences may already be familiar with the viral songs, “What Jhumka?” and “Tum Kya Mile“, it was the family-defying fight for love in “Dhindhora Baje Re” that really gave me goosebumps.
Overall, the film does exactly what it says on the tin and is a family entertainer with something for everyone. It will make you laugh, cry, and cringe at times, but nothing leaves you feeling as romantic as some old school Bollywood with a mix of new school humour, in true K Jo form.
“Ghoomer,” R. Balki’s latest directorial venture, had its world premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2023 (IFFM), earlier this month, and the moment was nothing short of memorable. Lead actors Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi, were present to unveil their labor of love to the world, and all three were left speechless at the reaction of the global audience; the film received a standing ovation on opening night, leaving the team extremely emotional — a feeling that Bachchan tells Brown Girl is one he cannot put into words.
“Ghoomer,” tells the story of Anina (played by Kher), an exceptional cricket player who loses her right hand in an accident. Downtrodden and with no will to live, Anina finds a mentor and coach in Padam Singh Sodhi (played by Bachchan), an insensitive and brash failed cricketer who helps her turn her life and career around; Anina also has the unwavering support of her husband, Jeet (played by Bedi). Sodhi teaches Anina unorthodox techniques to make her mark on the cricket ground once again. Enter, ghoomer, a new style of bowling.
Balki checks all the boxes with this feature — his protagonist is a female athlete, the film is his way of giving back to cricket (a new form of delivery), and he highlights the idea that nothing is impossible for paraplegic athletes. The heart of Balki’s film is in the right place — Kher mentions that the film is meant to be more of an inspirational movie and less of a sports-based movie. One can only imagine the impact that a film like this would have on an audience that’s hungry for meaningful cinema.
And, to chat more about “Ghoomer,” Brown Girl Magazine sat down with the stars of the show. Bachchan, Bedi, and Kher came together to talk about their inspiring characters, the filming journey, and how their film aspires to change the landscape of cricket and paraplegic athletes in the country. It was all that, with a side of samosas.
Take a look!
The featured image is courtesy of Sterling Global.