Katrina, Ranbir, and the omnipresent phenomenon of mansplaining

This first appeared on: https://feminisminindia.com/2017/06/27/katrina-ranbir-mansplaining/


Actors Katrina Kaif and Ranbir Kapoor gave an interview to VJ Xerxes Wadia of MTV Insider as part of their promotional tour for their upcoming film Jagga Jasoos. And as Buzzfeed points out correctly, the interview is quite evident of Ranbir ‘mansplaining’ Katrina’s role and contribution to her.

Mansplaining is a modern term for when a man tries to explain something condescendingly or patronisingly, especially to a woman.

Their romantic history, individual acting skills and personalities aside, Ranbir Kapoor clearly shows that he thinks of himself as a superior to Katrina. He also denies her the space to let her speak about her own character even though she has spent far more years in the film industry than he has. In the video, when Kaif is trying to explain the relation and personalities of the two lead characters played by her and Kapoor, he unabashedly interrupts her. When she calls him out on his behaviour, he claims she’s not doing a good enough job of explaining it. He dismisses her by saying that he’s the producer, therefore he knows better.

Towards the end, Kapoor also somehow assumes higher moral ground by saying that he wants to “better” Katrina as an actress, a star and a human being by giving what he has to offer. He says that she did the same for him during one of their earlier films, Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahani, thereby implying that he has progressed far more than she has since the 2009 filmVisibly annoyed but keeping her demeanour calm and professional, Katrina Kaif represents what many women undergo on a daily basis.

Women from many professional fields have, in recent times, spoken out about the mansplaining that they encounter. Veronika Hubeny, a theoretical physicist recently had her own theories mansplained to her during a panel discussion at the World Science Festival. American actress, writer, producer and director Lena Dunham had a man comment on one of her Instagram images that she wasn’t cupping her breasts the right way in order to enhance her cleavage.  Such experiences are not exclusive to celebrities, although such episodes concerning famous women are easier to observe due to photographic and video evidence. Buzzfeed had compiled a list of mansplaining experiences by ordinary women, which they called ‘Mansplaining Horror Stories’ in their signature hyperbolic editorial style.

‘Horror’ may not be the right term for such experiences, but instances where the professional woman’s credibility and value for her opinion are undermined could be perceived as something which affects the woman’s confidence and efficiency.  Speaking up about this has also backfired on women in some recent cases. Australian senator Katy Gallagher was targeted by US alt-right personality Milo Yiannopoulos and internet trolls for speaking against mansplaining.

Sweden, which is considered a fairly progressive nation in terms of women’s rights, set up a helpline where women could report mansplaining. As it happened, more men ended up calling than women: some to learn more about the phenomenon of mansplaining, and some to mansplain why this was a bad idea.

Dr Elizabeth Aura McClintock, in an article on Psychology Today, explains that while the term ‘mansplaining’ may be new, it has been occurring for centuries. She links this to power play, where the more dominant person is the one who interrupts more often. She says that having a label for such a common phenomenon of gender inequality is a good idea, since it helps to identify this behaviour and make it more visible.

Media and gender equality may not be the most compatible, but the observance and analysis of every little behaviour of celebrities and politicians has brought behaviours like mansplaining into public dialogue. Even though women may not be able to counter mansplaining every time it happens to them, recognising it is a first step in arresting it. Until that happens, we can only keep an eye out for it, and refute any Ranbir Kapoors that try to take over your personal narrative.




New Marathi Cinema Can Afford Modern Heroines, But Not Feminist Ones

This article first appeared on https://feminisminindia.com/2017/06/28/marathi-cinema-heroines-feminist-analysis/


Women’s empowerment seems to fashionable not just in Bollywood cinema. Marathi cinema is also picking up on this trend of the urban empowered, career-minded woman. The career-minded city girl who dresses as she pleases, eats and drinks what she wants, and makes her own romantic decisions has now replaced the pious and coy female love interests in mainstream as well as regional cinema. But can these films give these women equal treatment?

Let us take a look at the treatment of the heroines of two recent romantic comedies, Chi Va Chi Sau Ka and Muramba.

Savitri (Mrinmayee Godbole), the female lead in Chi Va Chi Sau Ka is introduced with one of her strongest personality traits: her love for animals. She picks up a worm from the road and escorts it to safety on a leaf. Whenever she needs to use a rickshaw, she asks the drivers whether they are vegetarian or non-vegetarian, and will only ride with the ‘shakahari’ ones. Her puritanical casteist behaviour, which she feels entitled to enforce on every person she comes in contact with is the character’s biggest failure. Her potential suitor Satya (Lalit Prabhakar) is equally eccentric about protecting the environment. Savitri declares she wants to live with Satya before getting married, to see if they are compatible. In spite of opposition from both the sets of parents, Savitri refuses to budge. Throughout the film, she refuses to change her personality or habits in spite of growing a fondess for Satya, and actively voices her concerns and problems. This is a welcome change from the stereotypical heroines who become a mellowed down version of themselves and start dressing more traditionally once they fall in love. Even though Savitri has a seemingly strong bond of friendship with her female friends, this film sadly does not pass the Bechdel test. In spite of having very different and strong personalities, Savitri and Satya predictably decide to get married in the end. What causes a tiff between the two is the presence of non-vegetarian food that Satya throws for Savitri. Even though Satya gives up meat for her, she remains miffed that he hasn’t enforced her principles on others who may not have the inclination or privilege to be purely vegetarian. She agrees to be more eco-friendly, thus showing some willingness to compromise and accept others’ beliefs.
One of its most interesting characters is Satya’s grandmother, played by Jyoti Subhash. The widow finds love in her neighbour (played by Satish Alekar), and sneaks away on dates with him, since her son refuses to let her do as she pleases. As the head of a patriarchal family, he even feels the need to control and morally police his aged mother. The fact that even a much older woman’s sexuality and wishes are controlled by her son is a sad reflection of the lack of power women have over their own lives, irrespective of their ages. Satya’s support for her romantic endeavours is endearing to watch, as is her support for the live-in relationship of Satya and Savitri. Her character also stands out against the ageism of the film industry, and the notion that romance is reserved only for the young.
In Muramba, we also see a career-oriented Indu (Mithila Palkar) and her romantic turmoil with her long-term boyfriend Alok (Amey Wagh). The couple decide to break up, as we find out in the course of the movie, because of Alok’s lack of focus and fear of professional failure. Since the film is for most part, a conversation between Alok and his parents, Indu’s perspective is unclear. In Alok’s flashbacks, we see him being silently resentful towards her professional success. He becomes passive aggressive when she speaks to him of an opportunity to work in Kerala for a year, and acts defensive and passive aggressive whenever Indu tries to speak to him of his career. In the end, Alok apologises for his behaviour and asks her to get back together with him. Even though he does not address what he plans to do about his career, Indu readily agrees to get back with him without solving the problem that got them to break up in the first place. She however does voice her concerns about being able to manage her career and home after marriage, and not being able to enjoy the freedom she does as an unmarried girl. These, of course, are gender specific issues that a man in Alok’s position and privilege may never have to face. Indu tells him that sometimes he needs to be strong for her, and sometimes she will be strong, which seems like a healthy basis for a relationship.
Alok is unable to feel happiness for his partner’s success. After telling his parents about his break up and failing to receive the sympathy and comfort he seeks, he needlessly tells his parents about an incident where Indu had too much to drink and vomited by the road. His scheme in ‘shaming’ Indu only partially succeeds. He is able to see the world only through his own perspective. So when his father asks him about one of Indu’s good qualities, he says, ” She’s better than me at everything.” He is unable to view her as a separate individual and admire her qualities in isolation, and judges her competency compared to his incompetency. Towards the end, Alok’s father explains to him how Indu is the girl who truly understands him, and he needs her as a life partner. But Alok’s infantile behaviour and emotional manipulation unequivocally demonstrate why he’s the wrong life partner for Indu. Nevertheless, this film does not afford Indu some space, emotional growth and the ability to detect an abusive relationship.
A social trend that both these films have picked up on is parental approval and acceptance of youngsters’ romantic and life choices. In spite of Savitri and Satya’s parents being scandalised by the trial live-in situation, they never actively forbid or stand in the way of their strong-minded children. Savitri’s father nags her about keeping the relationship strictly non-physical, and Satya’s mother keeps an eye on them constantly, to which the pair literally and metaphorically shut the door on. In Muramba as well, Alok and Indu’s relationship is openly accepted by both their parents. Their refusal to accept the break up and give the couple some space is annoying, but progress in the older generations’ attitudes is clearly visible.
As women become more confident, outgoing and ambitious, it is refreshing to see relatable characters in these romances. Films from the woman’s perspective without familial or patriarchal pressures weighing her character down would be most welcome. However both the films lack the space for self-reflection and growth for the woman. In Chi Va Chi Sau Ka, Savitri is shown as a fiercely principled woman, who lacks the courage or willingness to accept different beliefs. By giving in to her unreasonable demand to be only surrounded by herbivores, she is treated as greater than equal by her partner. In Muramba, Indu, in spite of being a hard-working and career-minded woman, has to give in to an emotionally abusive relationship where her partner neither values her success nor her efforts to encourage him into facing his own professional fears. She has to settle for a relationship where she gives a lot and gets very little out of it. If such films are able to rid their women of a certain superiority complex (Chi Va Chi Sau Ka) or the romantic obligation to end up with the hero (Muramba), maybe the female leads will some day actually be feminists.