Feminism is the in-thing in Bollywood. Everybody wants to cash in on it.
In film after film, women are leading the plot, as opposed to being mere decorative pieces. From being the hero's shy love interest who needs saving from the villain or the ailing mother who is always making gajar ka halwa or the dependent sister who needs to be married off, the Bollywood lady has evolved into a real person with her own story.
It is not like there were no women-oriented films earlier. Who can forget Mother India (1957), Khoon Bhari Maang (1988), Zakhmi Aurat (1988) et al. But do you see how serious those films were? Terribly serious and sad. And some of them quite tacky too.
The wonderful thing about the last couple of years of releases is that women-oriented films have become full of entertainment and are breaking the box office too. Interesting stories about women that actually make money, without item numbers -- it can't get any better.
There was little doubt, therefore, that Aishwarya Rai Bachchan's comeback film would be a woman-oriented film. But you know what happens when you don't understand gender yet try to wash your hands in the flowing Ganga? You end up making a feminism faux pas. That's what I saw in the just released much-awaited trailer of Jazbaa.
The two-minute trailer gives you a fair idea of the plot of the film. Aishwarya is playing a top-notch lawyer who fights to win. Her daughter is kidnapped and she is being blackmailed to successfully defend a criminal. Couple of jump cuts through the preternaturally green (greener than the Hulk) city we see Irrfan Khan as a typically filmy cop, helping the troubled lady. She confides that she is being blackmailed, "he (presumably villain) knows everything, whatever I do, whomever I meet, everything." Basically she tells him she is in trouble and needs help. Fear not men, you are not yet redundant, the damsel is in distress after all.
Jump cut again and now Irrfan Khan is seen taking matters into his own hands, breaking a few things, kicking and punching some, delivering some high-octane lines -- basically doing everything that an 80s action hero would do.
"For the rest of the trailer we see the leading lady yelling and crying a lot. Not doing anything worthy of admiration, just being a good damsel in distress."
For the rest of the trailer we see the leading lady yelling and crying a lot. Not doing anything worthy of admiration, just being a good damsel in distress. In one penultimate scene she is seen keeping her head on Irrfan's shoulder and, wait for it, crying. Irrfan stands tall in a wonderful protective posture with his arms wrapped around her holding her tight. Oh what would we do without those strong male shoulders. Gives me a shiver really.
As if this was not in your face enough, there is a slap and a punch line, "Tujhe andazaa nahi ek maa par kya guzarti hai, tera case bhi ek maa lad rahi hai, wakil nahi (Do you know what a mother has to go through? Your case is being fought by not just a lawyer but a mother)." Oh my.
Seriously people, just get it once and for all that women are not always defined by motherhood. This obsession with "maa pe kya guzarti hai" is just boring, cliched and extremely oppressive because all it does is reinforce the gender role of the mother, nurturer, and caregiver. The more we emphasise women's role as mother over everything else, the more we are asking them to see motherhood as their priority. The more we glorify the pain and miseries endured and the sacrifices made by mothers, the more we are raising the bar of gender performance, building more expectations for women to keep up with. Most women spend their entire lives living up to these unrealistic expectations.
Can we please stop reinforcing the stereotypes at least in films where we are showing a strong career woman?
I talk to my friends who are working mothers and they tell me all the time that one of the greatest lies we keep telling each other is that women can balance it all -- work, home, career, kids. No they bloody cannot. Some women have to choose between being primarily a professional or a mother and we should accept her choice without judging her. A woman doesn't have to shed her professional identity and be consumed by motherhood to prove how worthy she is.
Having thus judged the film from its trailer, I am now going to wait for its release so that I can write my detailed feminist review.