Shaadi and azaadi

Published: 09 December, 2018 05:58 IST | Paromita Vohra | Mumbai

The excess was definitely off-putting, revealing that while elites may somewhat challenge norms of gender, they resist challenging those of caste and class, which maintain their social privilege

Illustration/Ravi Jadhav
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

Two big movie stars, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra got married within a week and the events are being mined for meaning, which, such spectacles are never short of. For some, it is too sanskari. Isn't marriage itself based in sanskar, even if it is hipster sanskar? Then, what is too much and too little, except optics? The excess was definitely off-putting, revealing that while elites may somewhat challenge norms of gender, they resist challenging those of caste and class, which maintain their social privilege.

But, the overall feeling the weddings generated was ennui and a slight boredom. They seemed so over-produced, like Bollywood films and their brand placement-wale marketing campaigns, born in the sanitary conditions of the Excel sheet, rather than the thrilling risks of creative desire. This talking-mandap-looking-Instagram, zardozi pragmatism stripped the weddings of the sentiment and sanctity, which usually disguise what weddings basically are: practical arrangements to perpetuate feudal or, at least, patriarchal social equations and consolidate resources. The wedding became something you do, rather than something you feel. That's the best way to rob something of its sacrosanct aura, isn't it? This, as much as the LOL brides, of whom one was richer and the other older than her groom, queered the wedding pitch.

But pragmatism, like undisguised ambition, especially in women, continues to unsettle folks. It unsettled New York magazine's The Cut, which called PC "a global scam artist", who had trapped innocent Nick Jonas into marriage. The article was stunningly racist, but (therefore?) oddly desi. Isn't that how our people talk about all 'outsider' women? Even in an affair, it's 'she phasaoed him' because bechare gents suddenly have no agency only. Ambitious outsider women, from Mallika Sherawat to Rakhi Sawant to Kangana Ranaut, have been casually mocked in that snobby Bollywood salon, Koffee With Karan. Let us simply note that no Bollywood folks were invited to PC's big, fat wedding. In a less crafted moment, PC might tell us that The Cut was not the unkindest cut of all.

To some, PC in sindoor and chooda, promoting Bumble as a dating app that upholds women's choice (only women can make the first move in it) was a perversion of choice. (Though the messaging is intriguing — is it that dating ends in shaadi, or that shaadi doesn't end dating? Hmm.) The progressive cornerstone of choice is a similar riddle. If we simply choose within socially approved choices, how free is that choice and why present it as such? If women knowingly make retrograde choices, does it pervert the meaning of choice? As Urvashi Butalia says in an interview in my film Unlimited Girls — "What would we rather have? That these women didn't have these choices? Or, that they used the idea of choice to choose things that we don't approve of?" A conundrum of principle. If we can only accord choice to someone whose choices we can celebrate, does that make us conservative?

Global capital crafts an imagination of individual choice that is really meant to produce homogeneity — conformity — of behavior. Desire must serve the market. So do many other belief systems and the structures of approval they create. To function messily inside-outside those systems is queerer and less doctrinaire than most people can manage: personally, professionally, and also, politically.

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

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