…Not the octogenarian in England.
I’m referring to the Hindi film that has been receiving rave reviews since it released about two weeks ago.
Over the years most of my movie viewing experience has involved waiting for reviews (mostly from multiple ‘professional’ critics) before standing in line for a ticket. There was the sole instance of running across a deserted parking lot to catch a 10am first-day-first-show of ‘The Last Samurai’. But that was more about a Tom Cruise phase and mostly about the boy I was running with.
As it stands, I end up watching very few Hindi films in theatres. The industry produces an obscene number of very trashy material every year that I have no tolerance for. And when there is something interesting to watch there’s the challenge of finding a willing partner. One CAN watch a film alone, (It was just me at ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ for instance), but something about Hindi films makes them more family outing (adults only) friendly. As it turned out, all through dating years the boyfriend never wanted to step anywhere Hindi films. But now that he is the husband he has no choice.
So after the girls at work (and random people on twitter) were gushing over ‘Queen’ (“Every woman should watch this film”) I decided to force my man along and make a Sunday of it. Keeping clear of spoilers, I had been given to understand that this was going to be about a woman finding herself, in some form or another.
Having seen it and under no obligation to keep quiet, an elevator synopsis would explain it thus (SPOILER ALERT): Simple, sober, homely Delhi Girl gets stood up at the altar – decides to go on her honeymoon alone – Gets to Paris where she faces troubles at first but triumphs, meets French-Indian free-spirited woman who helps her loosen up (with ample alcohol) and widens her horizon (not ‘Mulholland Drive’ wide. That’s illegal here) – our Delhi girl then travels to Amsterdam where she continues her vacation at a hostel, sharing her room with three appropriately-ethnically-diverse men (French, Japanese, Russian) and finally finds herself.
I will give the film brownie points for not labouring on any matter endlessly and instead maintaining the feel of a holiday everyone is taking alongside the girl while she ‘discovers’ herself. But I will not call it a “path-breaking” film and am surprised so many people are labelling it that. It is peppered with several formulaic features like typical Delhi humour that has become quite common in recent films (Punjabi music, jokes, supporting actors and their quirks), cardboard characters she meets during her trip with their little background stories (Parisian girl with child out of wedlock because “that’s what people do here”, Muslim girl working at a strip club in Amsterdam to support her family, Japanese roommate who lost his parents in the Tsunami etc.). The only real departure it makes from the norm (of Hindi films) is side-lining the need for a male partner in the scheme of things.
It seems to me that the main reason everyone is applauding this film is the centrality of the female gaze and perspective and the fact that the film ends with a rejection of the reconciliatory advances of the fiancé who had left her at the altar. Perhaps the culmination with her walking out of his house after an honest hug is to complete the circle the film had begun with their cancelled wedding at the outset.
So riddle me this: Why is it that in coming-of-age films with central male characters, women are incidental to the story (usually only as sexual partners) and not linked to the man’s journey to self-discovery? And here everyone is rushing to applaud a film where a female character’s self-worth emanates most significantly from her rejection of a subscribed relationship?
Perhaps a truly “path-breaking” Hindi film that sets out to celebrate freedom would be one that does not need to establish a male character who must be rejected/accepted by the woman in order for her to discover herself.
And it should be family outing and popcorn-cola worthy. For all else there’s After Hours with Simone de Beauvoir.