From Neerja’s bravery to Kia’s role reversal, Bollywood finally embraced feminism in 2016
Another year is about to end, and it’s time to analyse the best and worst performances, applauding the ones deserving and honour the ones that overwhelmed us. Bollywood is bidding 2016 a goodbye, and what a diverse year it has been in terms of cinema. Agreed, we were subjected to remakes that need not be made and recreated versions of classics that had us cringing, but this year, Bollywood finally came around and attempted at showcasing feminism in actual light. It was an unsteady step, but a step nevertheless, and a positive one.
If you were wondering that ‘Piku’ and ‘NH10’ in the year 2015 took all the cake for featuring female protagonists that are fierce and gutsy, here was 2016, to offer that, and much more.
The first breath of fresh air came in the form of ‘Neerja’, a biopic on the brave purser Neerja Bhanot, who died a martyr’s death while saving passengers from a hijacked flight. The movie gave us an insight into the character like never before; we laughed, we cried, and we mourned for the loss of a strong 23-year-old, who fought an abusive relationship, made a name for herself, and showed bravery of an iron woman at an age when no one could have imagined so, and an era when women were not thought so capable. Sonam Kapoor, despite being criticised, carried the movie on her shoulders and made us salute the brave heart with her heart rendering portrayal.
Moving on, we were introduced to IPS Abha Mathur, aka Priyanka Chopra in ‘Jai GangaaJal’, who fights corruption in the lesser-known district, despite facing jibes for her gender. But, the biggest game changer came in the form of R. Balki’s ‘Ki & Ka’, which was one movie which took a big risk by showing a house husband (Arjun Kapoor), and an ambitious corporate woman wife (Kareena Kapoor). Though the movie was well intentioned, a not so well execution led to its failure. But one certainly cannot negate the fact that this was a very bold step in Indian cinema, reversing the roles. Small things like Kabir (Arjun Kapoor) telling Kia’s (Kareena Kapoor) mother that she would not have asked a girl the question of whether she would eat out of her son’s earnings had her daughter been a guy, made this movie special in its own way.
In the middle of the year, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan won praises for portraying the sensitive character of Dalbir Kaur, sister of Late Sarbjit Singh. The fight of a woman, a sister, who was a mere village belle, the plight, the emotions, was all beautifully conveyed by Aishwarya.
Then came Anushka Sharma as Aarfa Hussain in ‘Sultan’, the blockbuster sports drama movie. The change was visible as for the first time the lady took the cake away with her phenomenal performance, in a Salman Khan movie. Aarfa’s character faced flak for choosing pregnancy over her flourishing sports career, but one reply from Anushka shut all. Freedom of choice, with imposition from none, is what Aarfa’s character stood for. Only a woman has the right to decide what she wants to choose, and should not be judged for the same.
‘PINK’ taught us how slut shaming confines and terrorises even the most confident urban women, but they have to stay strong, and emerge victorious. ‘Parched’ told us that no shackles of age-old traditions and superstitious beliefs should come at the cost of a woman’s freedom and life, and that patriarchy’s ugly head is still thriving in rural areas. Both the movies portrayed the lives of woman, in two completely different scenarios, and made a strong mark. Bollywood’s idea of female hero was coming around.
The year ended on another thumping note with Aamir Khan’s ‘Dangal’, which is the real life story of Geeta Phogat and Babita Kumari, who were trained against all odds by their father Mahavir Singh Phogat, to excel in the man’s sport, wrestling. Zaira Wasim, Suhani Bhatnagar, Fatima Sana Shaikh, and Sanya Malhotra breathed their life and soul in the characters. The movie broke and shattered norms of patriarchy in every aspect, with a father fighting the world for his daughters, in an area where girls are a liability, only to be passed on as soon as possible, by means of marriage.
These movies are not perfect. But they are an attempt. There are many intellectuals who have criticised different aspects, but, it’s the thought process that matters. This is a first step, with many more to come. Bollywood has finally grown up and embraced the fact that it does not always need a ‘hero’ to save a damsel in distress, and that the concept of feminism is real.
Kapoor & Sons: Caught the plight of homosexuals tenderly and yet made 'coming out' look doable
Kapoor & Sons – Since 1921. The house proudly flaunted that to the world, nestled in the greens of Coonoor. No one knew the darkness that was inside, the demons that were individually dealt with. But then, isn’t every family like that?
Two years have passed by since this Shakun Batra-directorial, story of a dysfunctional family had come to our lives. However, amongst the various themes that tore apart the family and eventually brought it together, one that truly had the power to transform, was that of homosexuality.
Not many know, that the role played by Fawad Khan, that of family’s elder son, a successful author, was actually offered to many A-listers, who turned it down, eventually leading him to step into the shoes of Rahul. And it was, indeed, a very big step on his part. He was venturing out of his territory, a man who has such a huge female-fan following, and comes from a country with religion as its main running philosophy. He did the role and brought such conviction to it that we were forced to stand up and applaud, his courage, and the beauty with which his character was carved.
Since times immemorial, all our memories of gay characters on screen have been that of carelessly effeminate and unimportant roles, which are just there to add a comic element. The stereotype has been high to an extent that often the champions of the same channelise it and promote it, for it is wrapped in the shiny paper of presentation. The biggest example of this was ‘Dostana’, which was an amazing story of friendship, still used homosexuality as humour, as its backdrop. Ironically, it came from the same production house, though nearly eight years before that.
But ‘Kapoor & Sons’ begged to differ here. The character here was real, someone who was hiding himself, for the society, his family. There was surreality to the theme of homosexuality here, which had the power to jar us inside out; and that, it did.
Two scenes from the movie specifically hit me. First one is when Sunita (Ratna Patak Shah) finds out that her ideal elder son, whom she adores and is proud of, is not straight. The aftereffects of the same jolt you, because the reaction is just what an Indian mother gives, in any situation that is beyond her control; uncontrollable anger at the offspring, and then uncontrollable guilt, of blaming herself and her upbringing. The scene is filmed so beautifully, that your eyes sting. The way Fawad’s facade falls and his fear is marked across his face, which is then replaced by the anger of hiding himself for all those years, and mother’s dilemma and hurt, it all comes out in a naked and real manner.
Another sequence is when Rahul (Fawad Khan) comes back home after the showdown with his mother and the death of his father totally uproots whatever sanity his family possessed. He sits with his mother, with whom his last encounter was one of his coming out, and she asks, hesitatingly, about his partner. A subtle way of expressing acceptance, the way they hold hands, without saying anything, it stays with you.
It may not be one masterpiece, but ‘Kapoor & Sons’ will forever remain a favourite for finally breaking the mainstream stereotype of a gay man, in Bollywood. And for that, no matter how many bans, I will forever be waiting for Fawad Khan to come back, and give us more performances; with dare and conviction.
An ode to Sridevi, the queen who inspired the queers long before it became mainstream
“I am a kid from the 90s but still can’t forget those days when, me-myself was not out and proud about my preferences. And inside my own sweet world would dance in front of the mirror on many songs, but majorly on ‘Hawa Hawai’ and ‘Main Teri Dushman, Dushman Tu Mera’. These songs were just not tunes for me, it made me feel exactly what I was; a QUEERby birth”.
The news of the legendary diva Sridevi being no more with us is still hard to believe, as she was part of my and every queer’s childhood memories. While in the late 90s my bunch of friends would idolise a star from the West as their gay icon, me being a full-fledged Bollywood fanatic was in love with Sridevi and she was a diva I used to worship (and will forever). Her golden costume and perfectly done makeup in ‘Hawa Hawai’ made me feel, “Yes! There is someone like me out there who loves bling and all things loud.” Her feather headgear in one of the songs from ‘Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja’, touched my drag Queen‘s soul. One of the lines from her song ‘Hawa Hawai’ which is ‘Soorat Hi Maine Aisi Paayi’ transported me into a world where I thought that there is someone narcissist just like me. Sridevi’s charm was on my mind and the feminine side in me just wanted to be a replica of her.
The gone actress has not only given a lot to the Indian cinema, but her sass and talent of naturally moulding herself into any character gave her an upper hand in whatever she used to do. When many gay men were struggling and were confused about their sexual orientation they found a connection to their on-going pain in Sridevi’s roles. Whether it was Sridevi as a meek Anju and ferocious Manju fighting for everything wrong in ‘ChaalBaaz’ (1989), Pooja’s mutiny against the everlasting societal conditions in ‘Lamhe’ (1991), Seema’s confidence-filled and fearless dance in the ‘Mr. India’ (1987) song ‘Hawa Hawaai’ or her role of a naagin (snake) coming out to the world about her dual identity in ‘Nagina’ (1986), Sri’s roles had a deep connection and were etched in every GAY man’s mind.
And how can one miss ‘Kate Nahin Kat Te’ song of Sridevi from ‘Mr. India’, where she owned the song and made every gay guy’s dream to dance on it once with his man. This particular song was wild, seductive and equal parts bold. Sridevi draped in a sky-blue coloured saree with a matching bindi and of course adding fuel to the fire was her dancing moves. Even at the end of the song, a fully wet in rainwater, Sridevi stretching herself on a pile of hay – ‘Tumne jo li angdayi hai’ – where the diva nibbles on straws with a drenched fire in her eyes, leaving Mr. Kapoor to chivalrously lie on a distant haystack.
While mostly when the film fraternity was in a zone where feminine men were used as a tool to add fun elements on the silver screen, Sridevi was a ray of hope for the LGBTQ community. She was like a powerful symbol for the QUEERS. Her role resonated each and every gays struggle, and also echoed their dysphoria into her characters. And with her, all the queer children surpassed the narrow-minded stereotypes which they were labelled with. Lastly, she might be gone, but the colourful rainbow universe she opened for all the fellow LGBTQ people remains there intact..
Hail the QUEEN! RIP Sridevi.