The Men of Lipstick Under My Burkha

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After a painfully long journey to the movie screens, Lipstick Under My Burkha is creating a stir with its ‘woman-oriented’ portrayal of sexuality. An overwhelming opposition to CBFC’s Pahlaj Nihalani’s refusal to accept female sexuality helped bring the movie much more than its share of media attention. Some appreciate the well-rounded strong female leads, some say the film falls short of being feminist.

But this film has given us the ability to analyse the male characters completely from a female perspective. The men are one-dimensional, spineless, and only exist to further the plots and characters of the women. We analyse Woody Allen’s women, we criticise Karan Johar’s pseudo-progressive heroines. So why not take a look at Alankrita Shrivastava’s men?
Rahim Aslam, Shirin’s husband (Sushant Singh)
Rahim, Shirin’s abusive, cheating husband is himself a victim of patriarchy. He is supposed to be the bread-winner of the family. He is supposed to have a career. In spite of being a failure at that, he continues to take advantage of a social structure that lets him abuse his wife’s body and mind without even taking up the responsibility of contraception. He has children, but since it is his wife’s responsibility to carry them and look after them, the number of offsprings is a minor detail to him. He doesn’t see Shirin as a person. To him she is a slave, bound to him by holy matrimony. He is having an affair with another woman and treats her with a little more respect, only because she has no obligation to him and isn’t ‘his’ to bully and harass.
Dhruv, Rihanna’s boyfriend (Shashank Arora)
Dhruv’s musical talent and confident demeanour attract a lot of female attention, and he’s well aware of his sexuality. He impregnates a girl, swiftly moves on to another (Rihanna). He neither has to worry about pregnancy, nor about society denying him control of his sexuality. His self-assuredness at such a young age makes other youngsters believe he is ‘cool’, and many of his impressionable and vulnerable peers (much like Rihanna) will act according to what he thinks is agreeable behaviour. As long as women are attracted to him, he can go on without developing any other aspects of his personality.
Arshad, Leela’s boyfriend (Vikrant Massey)
Arshad has strong feelings for Leela. He also judges her for her sexual liberty. Arshad does feel possessive about Leela, but leaves all the hard work of gathering money and planning an escape to her. He dislikes her being close with the man she’s arranged to get married to, but will happily flirt with the foreigner woman walking into his photo studio. He is unsure whether he wants to fight for Leela, judge her, or run away with her. But he’s sure he will not take too much effort in whatever he chooses.
Manoj, Leela’s fiance (Vaibbhav Tatwawdi)
Manoj is the ‘good guy’: the polite, family-oriented and obedient man. He is getting married at the right age, to a woman chosen by his family. He feels lucky that he is with an attractive woman, though he knows nothing much about her personality. He believes whatever feistiness is left in her will soon get subdued after she ‘settles down’ with him. However, he is vastly less entitled than Shirin’s husband. Manoj would probably never take advantage of his wife’s body or yell at her.
He assumes she will not work after marriage, because he will be providing her all she needs. He doesn’t believe there are women who work, smoke or have sex before marriage. Even if they do exist, he’s been taught to judge them as being of questionable character.
Jaspal, Usha’s love interest (Jagat Singh Solanki)
 Jaspal works hard on his body, and loves himself. When he starts getting erotically charged phone calls, he assumes they’re coming from a nubile woman around his own age. He treats Usha, the old lady who comes to learn swimming, with respect. But he doesn’t imagine her as a sexual being. When he realises that he had been having phone sex with a woman way past her prime, it hurts his masculine ego. He is enraged that the ‘affair’ he willingly participated in did not adhere to his notion of beauty and sexuality. He thinks he deserves better quality female attention. So he does all he can with the power that society assigns him. He initiates the public shaming of Usha. He knows she would have no power or say in this; he has nothing to lose. He’s a ‘victim’.
Special mention: The mob that shames Usha
This mob, consisting of both men and women, is the self-assigned moral police, the saviour of ‘tradition and decency’. They turn against their Usha buaji, a woman they revered and worshipped until she was proven to have sexual urges. What enraged them further was that she read erotic books instead of spiritual ones. She broke away from their concept of what an old lady should be. It would be unfair to assign a gender to this mob. However, this mob is unfair, and a danger only to one gender.

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.

 

 

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.