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King of Queen

Paromita VohraI spent this Women’s Day along with four spectacular women at a college, where each of us gave a talk to mark the occasion.

We were exhortative, wanting to communicate to the young men and women present that unless we question our own cultural habits and prejudices and overcome our own hesitations at not being part of the ‘crowd’, nothing can really change — for us or society. We got our fair share of claps and seetis.

Illustration/Amit Bandre
Illustration/Amit Bandre

But some older people present, especially men, could not resist telling us, “Very nice, but you must remember, men and women are different.” You would have thought, that by this age, we would have figured it out, nahin? But as the saying goes, the show ain’t over till the dude tells the women what they should really think.

This Women’s Day, as a double gift, we got two films, both made by men — a thing to welcome. Sure, we need many more women making films in Bollywood. But it is also important that men and women write about and make films about each other. That would indicate that we have arrived at a narrative parity.

Having unwrapped both presents, let’s see what the dudes think. Gulaab Gang wrapped in pink saris, contained Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla being all Kill Bill-y instead of chulbuli. Not a bad thought.

Now, it’s certainly true that everyone has the right to make what they want — these filmmakers, too. But as a Women’s Day delivery, Gulaab Gang is kind of like buying someone a gift you really want for yourself. Matlab, aap hi rakhiye.

First of all, it’s not such hot stuff to base your film on the real-life women’s group from Bundelkhand, who call themselves the Gulabi Gang and then claim it is not based on them and as proof, drop the ‘I’ and call yourself Gulaab Gang (I-rahit).

I am not saying this is sexist because clearly everyone, not just women, is supposed to be stupid enough to believe this. Aisi equality ka kya karen? But it is denying due credit where inspiration came from — in fancy words, that’s called appropriation.

Gulaab Gang had its moments providing an occasional frisson of revenge fantasy but it was a good candidate for the women and men are different lecture. Simply making women do the same things men normally do in movies in this day and age is to be unbothered about all the thinking that has gone into what equality could mean.

And to finally pit two women against each other so that you repeat ye olde kahavat that ‘aurat hi aurat ki dushman hoti hai’ without adequately holding the very male world context accountable. Well, not that you aren’t entitled to your opinion, but Women’s Day pe toh baksh dete.

On the other hand, we had Queen. So much has been said about this movie, that I need hardly say much more. Queen is heartwarming and fun, well-cast and pretty well written. It has some flaws, but you can’t be bothered to dwell on them because the film is so big-hearted and moreover, stays true to its feminist spirit within the bounds of mainstream filmmaking, right to the rousing end.

For all kinds of women, it is a relief to see a film that is guided by its endearing and funny protagonist’s desires rather than a lecturesome morality or manipulative filmmaking. To the dude who made this film, I would like to give a bear hug and say, for men like him: you’ve come a long way baby and ain’t it nice.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com. The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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