Stop enforcing feminism on Bollywood

It’s disappointing when Shah Rukh Khan shirks away from topic of a slightly better shelf-life, or even equal pay for Bollywood actresses. Not because of his many roles as a stalker, emotional blackmailer, misogynist have paved the way for his enlightened view on ageism. But because he is considered one of the more intelligent actors around. According to him, women work ‘5 times harder and gets paid ten times less,’ and the market forces determine the value of an actor.

And he’s not wrong.

This is the reason why Dangal wouldn’t have done well if Aamir Khan hadn’t played the tough patriarch. It’s the reason why Mary Kom, which is also about a successful female boxer didn’t do well. It’s also the reason why Sultan did do well. Then again, bhai ka picture always does well.

We do have the occasional Mardani, Queen, or Jai Gangajal. But they will never come close to the sycophantic 100-crore club, which remains dominated by the likes of Khan. Of the top 10 most commercially successful Hindi films, only one is without a Khan (Bajirao Mastani). And of the highest grossing 15 Indian films, only Bahubali and Rajnikant’s Kabali are Khan-less.

In a sense, SRK is right. Commercial cinema is entrenched in financial super-success. Seemingly, the people in the best position to change that are the Khans.

Aamir, with Dangal being his last release, is the one creating the most positive change. A film about two young girls who are sportwomen, and not romantic accessories, is something none of the Khans have done before. He may have played an authoritarian with little regard for his daughters’ wishes, but any father-daughter story from Haryana that doesn’t involve infanticide, forced marriage or honour killing is commendable.

SRK may publicly accept the sexism and ageism, but that’s all he’s willing to do. He may even go the extra mile to patronise feminists by saying women are better than men. But his films rarely demonstrate a basic respect for women. He might have done a Chak De! India, but that does not dissolve him of his criminal offences like Chennai Express and Happy New Year.

Speaking of criminals, Salman may have films with fiesty-looking women, until they fall in love with him and forget all previous personality traits. They dissolve into the quintessential Bollywood wife: attractive impregnable slaves. Salman, on the other hand, has risen even more ever since he stopped trying to put an effort into his roles.

As the actresses cast against them get younger and younger, they are in such a cemented position that they will never get rejected by the heroine. That responsibility falls solely upon Ranbir Kapoor. Age is not the only deterrant to women starring against the Khan. They will have no qualms starring against ‘pure’ newcomers. On the other hand, the industry will subtly (and overtly) slut-shame Sunny Leone. She can be an item number, but never the love interest of any of Bollywood’s most expensive men.

Bollywood’s leading women have predominantly shied away, or gone back and forth on being feminists. And it’s completely fair that they don’t call themselves the f-word. It’s because they aren’t feminists.

The only women who have openly addressed the wage-gap are Kareena Kapoor Khan and Kangna Ranaut. Yet, one is known for her whimsical behaviour, or her apparently horrifying choice of name for her own son. The other one is known for her terrible taste in men.

There have been moments of some female empowerment. Cleavage gapers have been shamed, a cricketer boyfriend of an actress spoke up against calling her a ‘distraction’, and there are some women without the ideal Bollywood-heroine body type defending their right to exist whilst not looking like a Barbie doll.

However, none of the actresses are ready to be openly feminist. They dance in heels while men wear flats. They wear skimpy clothes and dance in freezing temperatures with a fully clothed man. They are constantly nitpicked on for their natural facial features and bodies. And if they dare change something, they will be shamed for that. They work as much as the men do. Their financial success is short-lived: many of them will be out of work by the time they’ve reached their industry shelf-life – for everyone loves a movie about a man and a youngthinbeautifulperfect woman. In spite of this, if they still don’t firmly believe that they deserve equal pay, then they’re really not feminists.

So we should really stop asking every famous vagina-owner about feminism. Especially when they come from an industry created to satisfy the patriarchy through elaborate song-and-dance rituals. If we want an unbridled feminist moment from Bollywood, all we can do is wait for the occasional Queen. Or even a Sunny Leone interview.

Everything you’ve heard about Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is wrong

Movie critics are infuriating, and, for the most part, pointless. Sometimes they coddle the Bollywood industry that produces mediocre recycled films. And sometimes they criticize the same industry for not having enough variety, in spite of knowing that this system has a 95% reservation for privileged Punjabi school dropouts with famous parents.

But recently the most infuriating critiques have been of Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.  For Karan Johar to make a film where the hero and heroine do not end up together is great personal growth, even though he decided to make the woman terminally ill for refusing to sleep with Ranbir Kapoor.

A common complain that critics had with this film was that the major characters do not, in the course of the film have any jobs or any sort of commitment. But surely you cannot expect a horny toddler such as Ranbir to work for a living? And his nanny, Anushka had to quit her job after she married Fawad Khan. Aishwarya Rai Bacchan had to nanny Ranbir after she left, which didn’t work out. You know how children are when you suddenly change their favourite nanny. Just because people don’t have clearly stated professions such as DJ, poet and artist, doesn’t mean they don’t work for a living.

Another very severe criticism of this film was how Ranbir constantly keeps getting rejected by Anushka, and somehow understands at the end that she only wants to be friends, even though she had been saying so the whole time. It’s funny, I don’t remember anyone having a problem with the same end in alternate realities while watching Inception.  (Yes, this is the Indian remake of Inception). At least Ranbir and Anushka don’t die at the end of every reality (well, almost).

It enraged some that Fawad Khan was part of this film. This protest, disguised as a nationalist agenda, was actually a secret attempt by Fawad Khan to unentangle himself from the giant Johar-hug that he had gotten into.

Not enough credit is being given to Ranbir Kapoor, the new SRK. He cried, behaved like a child, was the ideal spoilt hormonal MBA student. He went one step ahead and applied mehendi. He judged his girlfriend for cheating on him in the exact way he had tried to cheat on her a few nights ago and victimised himself. He even attempted to be sexist to his lover by commodifying her in front of her ex-husband. Albeit he was overshadowed by Mr. Khan himself, who did a much better job of glorifying perversion by speaking about obsessive behaviour in Urdu and making it sound like unrequited love. Ranbir even got physically abusive and wrecked the kitchen of a cancer patient in the end. Yet, he doesn’t have the command of Shah Rukh Khan. Star kids really are held up to an unrealistic standard.

This film is a milestone in Hindi cinema, which never got the respect it deserves. But if you haven’t watched Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, don’t worry; you have. Imagine you have made a variety of over-spiced but tasty dishes for dinner. Then imagine waking up the next morning, putting all those foods in a mixer.

‘The vomit that you produce after drinking that swill,

Is Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’

Game of Thrones celebrates the dumbing down of fantasy fiction

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When I began watching the Game of Thrones series, I found it mildly interesting, with great potential. I watched the first three seasons, and while the world waited for the fourth season, I began reading A Song of Ice and Fire.

 

Since I knew all the major plot twists and events, there was no initial shock quotient for me. I knew Ned Stark’s head will be chopped off. I knew Danaerys is going to choke Khal Drogo to his merciful death. And of course, I knew about the Red Wedding.

 

When Robb and Catelyn Stark died in Game of Thrones, it was sad, sure. But when Catelyn Stark, just before being killed at the Red Wedding in A Storm of Swords, thinks “not my hair, Ned loved my hair” to herself, it was purely agonizing. Mr. Martin truly shines through Cat’s last thoughts. The books were a complex web of relationships and power struggles with deep histories. And Game of Thrones was a mere entry into the story of Westeros. 

 

That’s another thing that bothers me. Calling the entire book series “Game of Thrones”. I can’t believe the readers let this happen. A Song of Ice and Fire, for all its cruelty and gruesome murders, seems to have the most demure readership. I cannot imagine Harry Potter fans letting the world call the book series ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’. Or Lord of the Rings readers allowing the unabashed use of ‘The Fellowship of the Rings’ as a blanket term for all the books.

 

But I digress.

 

Another grave injustice by the show was the dismissal of Sansa Stark as a whiny, pansy little girl. She’s a pretty 11-year-old girl who has been the perfect lady all her life. Arya Stark is a brilliant character, but her non-feminine looks grant her the freedom to pretend to be a boy and at times, be invisible. Someone who’s strikingly pretty as Sansa cannot rough it with men in the jungle; and if you had read the book (or observed how the world treats pretty girls), you would have understood that.

 

For reasons that evade me, the showmakers thought it would be a good idea to not give enough footage to Ser Davos, the Onion Knight, much importance. They thought that Jorah Mormont should be a distinguished-looking man, rather than the ageing paedophile that he was.

 

George R. R. Martin is not a writer who is known for subtlety, metaphors or beautiful words. He’s a writer who creates intense, layered characters, all of whom change according to their life experiences but never quite lose their essence. He never for a moment forgets one to play up another.

 

But now, Game of Thrones prefers to play up the characters that people already know, and make them meet in ridiculous scenarios. Such as Sansa and Ramsay Bolton. Or introduce completely pointless characters such as the child who apparently kills Jon Snow.

 

What’s even more discouraging is that Martin has crossed over from the side of letting words titillate your mind to the evil side of sitting and watching. He refuses to sit his massive butt down and finish The Winds of Winter. Instead, he insists on providing garbage alternative plots to the show.

 

As if all the mystery of asoiaf hadn’t been destroyed by these oversimplified episodes, the media now celebrates the fact that readers can’t give spoilers to the TV watchers. The fact that I enjoy giving spoilers has nothing to do with my aversion to this monstrous pomposity. It is this gradual descent into catering to the masses, popular choices and the unbearable dumbing down of pop culture into the purely visual, mainly sexual and violent content that seems to please us these days.

 

Don’t get me wrong: I fully support visual graphic medieval torture and love-making. All I ask for is Mr. Martin to be a little more considerate towards the thing that started it all, his epic masterpiece book series. I suppose he’s just not a Northman. Or he would have remembered.