Warning: Mild spoilers ahead
I’ve been sceptical about Bollywood’s new found interest in woman-centric films. Some of the movies come across as knock-offs. Like a good copies of a designer bag, they look right but don’t feel genuine.
Similarly, Mardaani’s message of women’s empowerment feels flawed. Shivani Shivaji Roy (Rani Mukherjee) is a cop who vows to bring unravel a child trafficking ring that abducts young girls and sells them into prostitution.
The film gives the right messages (don’t be afraid of getting muscular, don’t be afraid of karate, self-defence skills can be handy), but these lessons are applied in a way that is far-fetched, unbelievable and a bit too Bollywood, a bit too Yash Raj.
There are some interesting portrayals of gender reversal. As it goes with these stories, the villain tries to threaten Shivani into giving up the case. When Shivani refuses to back down, he arranges for her husband to be publicly humiliated. This plot point is used so often in Bollywood. Usually it is the women and children who are the Achilles Heel of the ‘hero’. It was refreshing to see the reverse. I also liked that they showed the typical thing that females get told in the workplace (‘Don’t get emotional’). I enjoyed Shivani’s response, that we should be using our emotions to help us achieve an end goal.
Eventually, the movie reduces itself to a female-version of Dabangg, where you have one ‘man-like’ cop fighting all the evil in this world. ‘But oh, look! She is a woman and has woman-like feelings, so women’s empowerment!’
Case in point, the film’s final scene where Shivani Roy ‘empowers’ the victims to bring the perpetrator to justice. Yes, it would be jhakaas if such things happened in real life but its over-simplifying the issue in a way that only Bollywood can. It implies that women should be responsible for protecting themselves against rape and exploitation, while ignoring the real pickle that women should not be exploited in the first place. It’s like saying: let’s buy guns so we can protect ourselves from people who have guns. It reminded me of this short film by Anurag Kashyap which faced a lot of flak from ‘the Indian feminists’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CvBBhI9f1k).
Hence, my scepticism. Mardaani is Yash Raj trying to make a quick buck from the trend of women’s empowerment.
However, I’ve realised that this is no bad thing. At last, producers are responding to the demands of the audience, who are bored of dishoom-dishoom clones and teenage-boy comedy films. We may have to endure films like Mardaani and Revolver Rani but we can take comfort from the fact that the tide is changing.
The only real way to make female representation count is by voting by your feet. Buy cinema tickets for women-centric films and avoid anything with an item song. Attempts at corporate social responsibility aside, filmmakers such as Yash Raj will not invest in films if they don’t expect to turn a profit.
Likewise, we should be encouraging films like Bobby Jasoos which bring women’s voices to the table. Being part-produced by Dia Mirza and written by Sanyukta Shaikh Chawla, it was a female-heavy team and it showed.
A woman-centric film doing good business should not be making the news. Exceptional biopics like Black or Mary Kom aside, let’s be in a position where women’s stories are being told regularly.
My dad tells me Bollywood has always had loads of women-centric films, Mother India being one of the popular ones. It is a common argument that people make and he is not wrong.
But I think we’re still a long way. Think of all the successful Ranbir Kapoor films (Rocket Singh, Wake up Sid, Yeh Jawaani Hain Diwani), but with women playing the central characters. We need more run-of-the-mill films showing ordinary women going about their ordinary business.
More please of English Vinglish, Queen, Bobby Jasoos, and Band Baaja Baarat.