Dostana, karela and social change

Paromita VohraWhen everywhere people are talking about feminism and women’s issues, can there be anything to worry about?

Yes. It is cause to be glad. Change is a complicated word, though.

Speaking of words, you know, how when you learn a new word suddenly you hear it everywhere? Turns out it was there all along but since you did not know what it meant, you never tuned it out. My word this week was blandishments.

Emma Watson
Emma Watson recently delivered a speech on feminism at the UN General Assemly

Blandishments means: a flattering or pleasing statement or action used as a means of gently persuading someone to do something.

Perhaps a similar word for many people, some of them male, was feminism. For, blandishments had to be used by a cool, young movie star, Emma Watson, who stood up for feminism albeit via the bland establishment of the UN to ask men to be partners in creating a gender equal world. Well, if they hadn’t heard the word before, then maybe now they’ll see it everywhere. Aur kya maangein?

The reason they were asked to do this was because it’s good for them too. Last weekend, a writer told men to treat the women in their lives as individuals, just as he had earlier suggested that middle-class violets that shrink in the shadow of a little same sex love, should shrink a little less. Reason? It’s good for the economy.

This is a little bit like the Dostana Factor. When that film came out, on the heels of Kantabai humour a la Kal Ho Na Ho, I was a bit disgruntled. Was this the only way we could talk about gay-ness? Through pretence and innuendo and bad jokes and hetero-normative love outcomes? But weirdly, at least talking about something stops making it so taboo. And along with a lot of legal and social activism, different kinds of art, the support of others who speak and come out in favour of LGBTQI positions, this grotesquerie of a faux gay film also contributes to some shift. Now that we’ve said ‘gay’ out loud well, people see it everywhere, and soon they’ll get used to it.

Yaniki, every drop counts in drought bhai.

But then I wonder, if we always present an idea as good for some other reason than itself, do we weaken the idea? Yaniki, if it stops being good for the economy, should we go right back to ye olde gender and sexual choice discrimination?

Yaniki, it’s like, the karela Factor. People are always told to eat karela, because it’s good for them. Some might even do so. But that hasn’t made them love karela no? My grandmother used to make karelas stuffed with keema but this only meant people were loving the mutton-mince and karela continued to be vegetable non grata.

So perhaps it’s worth re-examining the thakela ek ke badle ek approach to social change and coming up with a new funda?
Maybe the question is not only how do we intervene in change, but can we simply intervene in change? Because this idea sometimes comes from an imagination in which we are outside the world, looking on it from above, in a position to change it. The inescapable truth though, is that we are part of this world, living and creating energies, words and thoughts that generate change.

It is only the daily articulation of ideas, the living by a set of principles and apprehending the world through the prism of these principles that might cause, rather than make change. Ideas tether change, giving it direction, as string suggests a path to a creeper, while accepting the beauty of its unruly growth.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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