Sometimes, I feel like we watch Bollywood films with bated breath, and fervently wait for them to put a foot wrong. There are movies that I’ve really wanted to enjoy but have almost always left me disappointed (Sanjay Leela Bhansali, I am looking at you).
I was in a similar situation with Queen. The film is written and directed by Vikas Bahl, and produced by Phantom Films, which he jointly owns with progressive directors Anurag Kashyap (of Dev D and Gangs of Wasseypur), Vikramaditya Motwane (of Lootera and Udaan) and Madhu Mantera.
The film is entirely based on the trials and tribulations of “homely” Rani (Kangana Ranaut) after she gets dumped at the mandap by smarmy asshole Vijay (Rajkummar Rao). Rani, who by this point has plenty sunao-ed her honeymoon plans to everyone from best friend to bank cashier, is reluctant to let go of her holiday. And so, we are taken on a hilarious coming-of-age journey across Paris and Amsterdam.
Once the film unconventionally leaves behind Rani’s one true love, it feels a bit like being thrown in the deep-end. It is not long before Rani finds an unlikely friend in Vijaylakshmi (shortened to Vijay – So much for getting away from it all) played by Lisa Haydon.
What follows is an unusual depiction of female friendship. The only other one that comes to mind (but there must be others) is Preity Zinta and Rani Mukherjee in Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega in 2000- And they ended up fighting over a guy. Vijaylakshmi takes Rani out drinking, dancing and sight-seeing. It is fantastic how they show a traumatised Rani running away from the Eiffel Tower, only to end up visiting it with another (but so much better) Vijay.
I also enjoyed the scene where Rani and Vijaylakshmi discuss how women who burp are looked upon unfavourably. I did not enjoy the sounds of grossssssss in the cinema.
The other special thing about this film is that the female characters (apart from Mummy and Daadiji) come with backstories. Vijaylakshmi is a single mother and Rukhsaar is a stripper, supporting a family of five.
For these reasons, the film passes the Bechdel test with flying colours.
The Bechdel test was introduced by Allison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. The Bechdel test considers whether a movie satisfies the following requirements: 1) The movie has at least two women in it; 2) who talk to each other; and 3) about something besides a man.
Let’s take half a second to count the number of Bollywood films in 2013 that are female-centric.
I admit that this is a simple test, which doesn’t really measure sexism or absence of strong female characters. Nevertheless, it is a stark reminder of just how many Bollywood movies depict a male point of view, despite comprising no more than 50% of the population.
Things are changing. Highway and Shaadi Ke Side Effects are two other recent movies which scrape a pass on the Bechdel test.
Well done to Vikas Bahl for for portraying the patriarchal nature of the Indian middle class society in a subtle and succinct way. Rani’s much younger brother, Chintu (Chinmaya Agarwal/Ayaan Malik) chaperones her to dates, pre-wedding meetings with her fiancé, the bank…and even her honeymoon if Mummy had it her way!
How many of us tie raakhis to younger brothers? In my mind, I have taken it to signify the brother-sister bond in general, but Raksha Bandhan is certainly anti-feminist.
Queen feels a tad longer for a coming-of-age film but minutes have not been wasted on unnecessary song and dance. Rather, the time is spent explaining the various internal hurdles that she overcomes on her honeymoon: At one point, Rani asks Vijay for permission to work, who simply asks, “Have you asked Daddyji?”
I know this is how many middle-class Indian households operate, and people do realise that it is wrong and sexist. But this is not something to take lying down.
To truly feel its force, there are some questions we must ask ourselves: “Are the men doing it? Are the men worrying about this as well?” (This is Caitlin Moran’s Litmus test, described in her book How to be Woman). Imagine Vijay (or even Chintu for that matter) asking anyone for permission to work, and embrace your outrage.
I absolutely loved that Vikas Bahl didn’t feel the need to have a traditional happy ending for Rani. Anything apart from the way it ended would have betrayed the viewers (or maybe just me).
Queen is a must-watch for feminists, non-feminists and especially people like Vijay. We must vote with our feet so that many more Bollywood movies get made in this way.
As of 11 March, Queen had higher box office takings than the two other movies that released last week, Gulaab Gang and Total Siyapaa (Source).