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Why Does Imtiaz Ali Always Write The Same (Flawed) Female Characters?

30/11/2015 4:33 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Why is it that the female character in every Imtiaz Ali film is seemingly conceptualised as meaningful and ends up being a piece of garnishing with great flavour?

I watched Tamasha yesterday, and before I start dissecting my thoughts about what the title of this piece implies, I want to admit that Imtiaz's debut film, Socha Na Tha (2005), was wonderful. It was balanced, innocent and left my heart in a tingling good space. What worries me more are the female protagonist characters of Jab We Met (2007), Rockstar (2011), Highway (2014) and Tamasha.

In some way or another, most of these characters, have been penned to find liberation from their current worlds through love. In fact I feel that Imtiaz Ali is one director and writer whose understanding of love is a tad closer to reality than the bandwagon of films with songs set in dream sequences.

And yet, his portrayal of what women do to achieve a sort of 'freedom' vexes me.

Also Read: 'Tamasha' Review: Tale Of Tales

Geet (Kareena Kapoor), in Jab We Met for instance, is a wild seeker of 'adventure' in the first half. She considers the idea of lodging in Hotel Decent with 200% enthusiasm, showing no trace of fear or worry or apprehension which one would usually be fraught with were you to lose your baggage, miss your train, and be stranded with a stranger (however handsome!). One may argue that she is fierce, independent, her own favorite person, but where does all of this strength and courage disappear when her old love 'Anshuman' leaves her? I'd imagine a strong person like Geet to stand firm by the cards that got dealt to her and move on. Instead she goes into a gloomy hole, far from her family, sans make-up.

"What's surprising is that Imtiaz, directorially, is silent on the subject of these women exploring their sexuality. Sure, they carry little bottles of desi tharra to drink publicly in Delhi, but they don't sleep with other men."

Heer (Nargis Fakhri), in Rockstar, considers her impending arranged marriage to be the end of her relatively 'freer' days, and expresses to Janardan (whom she calls Jordan) a wish for 'gandh machaana' [slang that roughly translates to 'run riot']. Yes, I like to machao gandh as well and may even go see a B-grade movie like Junglee Jawani, but my 'gandh' rarely manifests itself as an urge to seeing a row of men pee, or roaming around a red light area, pretending to be a prostitute for my love interest.

What's surprising is that Imtiaz, directorially, is silent on the subject of these women exploring their sexuality. Sure, they carry little bottles of desi tharra to drink publicly in Delhi, but they don't sleep with other men. In fact, they express great reluctance to

even make out with the thus 'friendzoned' hero until three-fourths of the film is over.

I understand acts of rebellion, especially when women grow up in a regressive family and environment or have troubled childhoods. Highway was a complex story that left me stirred as well, especially with Alia's exceptional and effortless performance. Veera (Alia Bhatt) finds a sense of peace and freedom in being abducted from her scarred past. I am even ready to believe that Mahabir (Randeep Hooda) and Veera truly found love and solace in each other despite class differences, but why would it be altogether necessary for a kidnapped girl to be dancing in front of a group of bandits? Befriending them with a sense of ease, taking confidence in the fact, they they must be 'better people' because they aren't from my rich, uptight and hypocritical family? It almost feels like a layer of impracticality instantly helps you find freedom when your problem is actually horrifyingly and painstakingly real.

"The names of these characters translate to song (Geet), diamond (Heer), victory (Veera) and star (Tara) -- all things beautiful, aspirational and a bit dreamy. But I wish he'd also make a film which can comprehend that love is actually a lot of hard work from all parties involved"

In Tamasha, Ali outdoes himself in defining love by expressing the fact that a person who truly loves you, always pushes you to be the best ever version of yourself. This partner (Deepika) is not patronising, and she somehow realises what Ranbir's truest potential is (within a week). But she (this catalyst) almost comes around to making a 'sacrifice' after she sees how terribly heartbroken and disturbed her rejection has left him. At one point I thought, Tara would aid Ved, work with him, together, in helping him find his higher purpose in life. But she is made to suddenly disappear in the second half, as Ved, the hero, the 'Rockstar', marches alone on his path to self-discovery, almost not 'allowing' anyone to help him. And in the background, Tara has not 'found' another person or a sense of fulfillment in something else. It is implied that she will wait while Ved gloriously returns as the Don to complete his story. Because, apparently, the narrative of love pervades all.

The names of these characters translate to song (Geet), diamond (Heer), victory (Veera) and star (Tara) -- all things beautiful, aspirational and a bit dreamy. But I wish he'd also make a film which can comprehend that love is actually a lot of hard work from all parties involved. It isn't about one person realising their full potential through their partner's 'magic'. That freedom can be sought independently as well, without the cushion or crutch of what is disguised as love.

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