“The world is round, people,” screamed Cate Blanchett, as she waved about her Best Actress Oscar for her impeccable performance as a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown in Woody Allen’s ‘Blue Jasmine’.
And her words all the way from Hollywood plugging women-centric films will resonate in the land of Bollywood when not one but two such films hit the screens this week – ‘Queen’ and ‘Gulab Gang’.
Feminism has acquired a bad name due to the over-zealous acts of fire-brand sisters over the years but it is important we side-step all the clichés for Vikas Bahl’s ‘Queen’.
Bahl has not only decided to take it upon himself to prove that women at the heart of an Indian film can work but also that the kind of female characters we get to see in most Bollywood films are used largely as props, rather than actual characters crucial to the plot.
His protagonist Rani is so real that you are convinced you will bump into her somewhere on the streets of Delhi.
Kangana Ranaut embodies the naive introverted duckling who turns into a carefree wing-flapping swan with panache – a transformation that most Indians will identify with the phrase ‘behenji-turned-modern’.
We meet Rani as a young girl from the suburb of Rajori in Delhi as she is bubbling with joy on her mehndi ceremony, overly excited at the prospect of marrying the love of her life Vijay (Rajkummar Rao).
The spell is broken when London-returned Vijay drops a bombshell on her, dumping her at the altar for no longer being the right kind of wife material for him.
Devastated Rani finds an inner strength that refuses to let her give up on her dream of visiting her favourite city in the world, Paris. It may not be the European honeymoon she had been saving every penny for and would take a lot to convince her over-protective parents that she can make her first overseas journey alone, but she is determined.
This is where a truly modern-day Indian feminine tale takes off.
A girl whose sheltered existence had made her hold on tight to her “virzinity” and dream of freedom as someone’s wife suddenly comes in contact with a whole new world out there.
Her friendship with Vijaylakshmi (Lisa Haydon), a half-Indian Parisian single mother, helps her along this path of self discovery.
From dancing in European nightclubs to Bollywood music to initiating her first “lip-to-lip kiss” with a hunky Italian restaurateur in Amsterdam, Rani discovers how she can hold on to her quintessential Indianness and yet be free.
Her deeply conservative views are gradually re-shaped by her widening world view as she makes friends with men and women of different races and religion.
The film triumphs in its subtleties – the point about Indians being innately racist towards certain races is made perfectly but will probably shame only the most intelligent cinemagoers.
This is Kangana’s film through and through.
She seems to have finally lived up to the promise she showed in her debut ‘Gangster’ and proves that all she was waiting for was a brave writer to offer her a well-rounded script.
The result is that you are with Rani every step of the way – her first sip of alcohol, her first view of the Eiffel Tower, her first encounter with a vibrator, and her first moment of self-worth.
She makes us cry with her and laugh with her, until you are ready to leave the cinema feeling oddly empowered as she encounters her fiance who comes back begging for her hand once again.
In an ideal world, this is the kind of film that deserves all the hype and promotion possible but the sad reality is that it will struggle to rise above its niche distribution band.
However, in today’s world of social media, let’s hope word of mouth gives this brave film the kind of eyeballs it deserves.
Just in case the men out there are wondering if this one is masculine enough for them: the world is round, people!BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS