Lucknow Central? So here’s a line from the film: There’s no justice. It’s either good luck or bad luck. Good advice if you’re planning to go watch it. Because, there’s going to be no justice done to your time, money, or hopes. If you’re lucky, your cable operator wallah will call up during the show to discuss your latest plan and I suggest you do so in detail; if not, you’ll end up watching until the part where Farhan decides NOT to scale the walls of Lucknow Central Jail so that he can *** wait for it *** realize his dreams of playing in the jail’s band, of which HE is the only member who is even slightly tolerable, musically speaking. Besides, he’s a convict, jailed and all, and I’m sure by now the government has his #Aadhar number. It’s not like he has any real, valid, comfortable career choices, except that he knows that he’s Farhan Akhtar in real life playing Kishen here and therefore, need not take the burden of thinking ‘Log Kya Kahenge’. He need not reason that the cops and the system don’t give two flying fucks about his band and his dreams and be they realized or not, they’re going to try their utmost to see that he gets back into the jug. But, instead of thinking all of the above through, the makers invested all that time and energy into making sure that every single convict looks well-groomed, so well-groomed in fact, that I was expecting them to break out with a Sunny Leone-style ‘Layla’ item song any time now. Strangely it never came. It certainly wouldn’t have felt out of place. So, banished are the zebra stripe uniforms and so is all the fluff off ALL of the men’s bodies, really ALL, even those who are not Farhan Akhtar (Yeah I noticed it, and so what if I notice such things!!!, huh?) For a long time I wondered which salon & spa services should be considered a product placement here. I kept looking for a clue but later I figured there was no need to split hairs… they were all gone… already… anyway. This brings me to another funny thing about the movie: product placements. Come on, at least be subtle, man. You’re in a jail, not a mall. Different spelling, see? This Diana Penty is guzzling water from a pink coloured bottle of bottled water, very surreptitiously as if she’s expecting to find a clue in it. Good old H2O is the only thing that appears to be in colour in that scene. Then there’s a brand of condoms Kishen is carrying in a mug on what seems to be his orientation day at Lucknow Central jail. Enough said. And then, there’s an ecommerce website where they’re ordering stuff from, sitting in Lucknow Central Jail. Musical instruments C.O.D. Little Kishen and Gayatri opening those branded boxes as if kids opening their gifts from Santa on a Christmas morning. All this happening inside of Lucknow Central. The Lucknow Central jail. The flipping Lucknow Central Jail. Who cares about Log Kya Kahenge? You know but I’ll tell you what: there’s a certain charm about these movies set in places like Lucknow. A non-metro no-nonsense real flesh-and-blood non-Karan Johar kind of charm. You’ll find it in tiny details and the ambience – like the lota party in ‘Toilet’, the lovela sweets in ‘Bareilly ki Barfi’… and the accent, Oh, the accent. Like how Rajkumar Rao did it in Bareilly, or how Usha Buaji in Lipstick under my burkha. Alia Bhatt and Shahid Kapur in ‘Udta Punjab’. It shows a certain commitment to the role. You won’t see that here. Kishen doesn’t care. He’s here to realise his dreams. Not his job to convince you, me, that he’s from Uttar Pradesh. In Lucknow Central I found only about three things that had something to do with UP: Raja Bhaiya, Ravi Kishen, and a shot of my favourite dish Baati-Chokha. There was the jail signboard, not to forget. Now comes the best part: The HAM scenes. It’s my favourite part of any movie. This one had some but certain opportunities were missed, however. When Kishen is put in jail, his father is nowhere around to provide some worthy hamming and moral support. None of that jeep pulling away… tch! From undertrial to convict in a few seconds, facing capital punishment, Kishen keeps his smile on, even tells Gayatri to keep smiling. From being beaten within an inch of his life to being confined to a dark dungeon, Nothing. Kishen’s “rockstar” dreams crushed. Nothing. Being starved in jail. Nothing. Threatened. Nothing. Opportunities missed all through. Once in a while a real ham comes along: One of Kishen’s band mates gets out on parole, to meet with his ‘girlfriend’ with whom he had been chatting all along from inside the jail (Don’t ask how, since convicts are not supposed to have a cellphone. Corruption, that’s how). He finds out she’s “settled”, with a bun in the oven. The guy is mighty pissed. How dare this woman go ahead and get a life while he is here serving a life sentence, doing her a favour talking to her and thinking only of her!!! How dare she! Angered, he tells her to get out of his sight lest he should kill her. Score! The final one comes along when Kishen and his rock band is this close to making their plan a success. But if I tell you what happens next, this sequel to Rock On (jailhouse rock version) will lose all its magic. So I won’t. Enjoy the weekend. Remember: There’s no justice. Only good luck or bad luck.
I have to thank the current watchman of the Censor Board of Film Certification in India Pahlaj Nihalani for pointing me to the film ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ (Lipstick henceforth) because otherwise, I might have avoided it. Just like me, I am sure a lot many women (and men) were egged on to watch this movie after the fact that Mr. Nihalani had previously refused to certify it because he found it ‘lady-oriented’ and that it had dared to portray women’s ‘fantasy above life’. When this controversy erupted, many memes emerged on social media, challenging Mr. Nihalani for using ‘lady-oriented’ as an explanation. After watching Lipstick last week, I want to ask him what led him to think it REALLY was ‘lady-oriented’? Was it Plabita Borthakur playing Rihanna Abidi, a typical college-going girl-next-door desperately struggling to fit in with the well-heeled ‘hep’ crowd? If so, I can’t even start counting the number of movies that have such characters. Or maybe it was Aahana Kumra playing Leela, and her muddled love life – engaged to be married to one and in love (and to Mr. Nihalani’s chagrin, a sexual relationship) with another. Sure, we have truly come a long way in our portrayal of sex scenes, gone are the days when you saw flower bulbs slowly siding up to occupy the frame. Or, if it was a low-budget movie, then the camera panned up to reveal a ceiling fan. Nowadays, sex is portrayed somewhat like it really is, busy, noisy, shabby, and often not pretty. Was that the issue here? I think not. For then, so many recent movies, just to name a few, Delhi Belly, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Ram Leela, etc. wouldn’t have had it easy. But they did. So it has to be something else. Could it be that Leela actually desired another man, and had no qualms about it? But then, I have to ask, what separates this Leela of Lipstick and that Leela of Ram Leela? So no, it probably wasn’t that either. In any case, how is this lady-oriented? Both the Leelas were all about the men they loved. Extremely comfortable about stepping outside of their comfort zones and vocal about what they wanted. Now that could be a problem but the Sanskari Bollywood has moved on. Why not CBFC? Could it have been Konkona Sen Sharma’s Shireen Aslam – who has a secret life? Don’t get carried away. She is *just* a door-to-door saleswoman selling household novelties, nothing more nefarious than that. But, she must hide this from her Saudi-return husband who freely indulges his sexual peccadilloes – nice and plying with his girlfriend when outside and forcing himself upon his wife when at home. I wonder which part of Shireen’s story is ‘lady-oriented’ – A careerwoman in hiding? A woman trapped in a bad marriage? A victim of marital rape? Grimly enough, both have their precedents in Bollywood. Shireen’s lady-oriented life is all about fending off attacks from her husband – emotional, psychological, and sexual. Isn’t this the opposite of lady-oriented? Finally, could it be Ratna Pathak Shah’s Usha Parmar, a much older woman, a widow, known in the community simply as buaji? Buaji likes to be in charge of her business. She is a matriarch, and she has furtive desires. She usually explores these through her secret stash of books – a Hindi cousin of Mills & Boon, until she accidentally stumbles upon an object, a much younger man. She takes to projecting her desires on him. Know what? Maybe that’s the real problem. In our industry, only men are allowed to go after younger women. Like in Buddha hoga tera baap, shaukeen, Lage Raho Munnabhai, Cheeni Kum, right back to Baton Baton Mein, even Pati, Patni, aur Woh, we can talk about love but only when men need it from younger women. All the old women should just giddy up for a session of bhajan-kirtan. Except when they are in the Barjatya genre of family films – Maine Pyar Kiya, DDLJ… have had such aunty characters shredded to comic relief, ridiculously tip-toeing after old men who are themselves sidekicks to the hero’s sidekicks. Usha Parmar isn’t that aunty. She’s different. She’s above Shireen, Leela, and Rihanna, who ultimately toe the line even with their minor acts of subversion thrown in the face of authority. It was only Usha who had picked up the books with her ‘Lipstick wale sapne‘, and later on the phone, got her hair dyed, slipped into a sleeveless blouse. She was the only woman in a group of four who had her ‘Lipstickwale Sapne‘. Maybe that’s why her fall was also the greatest. So, how is this film lady-oriented, really? All four women end up stepping out of bounds of tradition and societal restriction, all four women get punished for their transgressions. Heck, this film is so lady-oriented, not one single frame could pass the Bechdel Test. It is all about the men, actually. And mostly, the kind you don’t want to see. It’s not lady-oriented, silly.
How would you perceive a bunch of drunk rowdy men entering a ladies’ toilet if they found theirs crowded, and shooing all the ladies out with complete arrogance (of course, they are inebriated)? Now, reverse the whole incident gender-wise and try to find it funny. It didn’t work with me, actually. It put me off. However, this is not so important or significant a part of India’s first all-female buddy movie but it certainly raises a question. Of course, the movie has a dramatic start – women mercilessly crunching balls of eve-teasers with throaty laughter and mocking eyes indicates good chick lit in these times of continuously reducing conviction rate in rape cases in the country – with cuts taking us into the lives of various characters in the movie (there are 6-7 of them, sometimes you lose count, sometimes you ask – ‘wait who is she? the bride or the domestic help?’) and how they have been at the raw end of the stick of sexism. Great, that. All of us have. In fact, sexual misconduct, assault, and stereotyping are the most significant thread that runs common in the lives of us women, Indian women, regardless of whether we are powerful or destitute, married or otherwise, aam aurat or GODDESSES. So there are these goddesses congregating in the scenic but rainy Goa to attend the wedding of one upon whose invitation they find themselves there. The mystery is that when they land up, they don’t know they have been invited to a wedding. And then, the bride takes her time telling them who she would be exchanging vows with. The movie, as has been the trend lately, focuses on upper middle class women. The contrast is offered by Lakshmi, the domestic help, who is leading a troubled existence. But, as the women discover, none of them are having it easy themselves. None. Not even the little girl. The movie shines a light on all the hallmarks of the ‘woman problem’ in a patriarchal world that is trying hard to pretend its way into making us believe of a genuine transformation being underway towards a more equal world. But, the fact is, it only takes one act of violence to make this a ’10 steps forward, 20 steps back’ game. Listing these issues here – see if you can identify with one, or at least a few, but I’m sure you’ll find many: Men staring at your assets while you go about doing perfectly mundane activities such as running on a treadmill BOLLYWOOD (and I needn’t say any more) Men catcalling as you pass by Men trying to grab at you Men looking and staring if you are ‘exhibiting’ your ‘wares’ by wearing something other than what their moms wear Men wanting you to cut to the quick to talk dirty People expecting you to take care of work and home Men second-guessing you just because you are well, not a man People judging you on the basis of your clothes, your look; even better – your profession People expecting you to own up to provoking men into teasing you, assaulting you either by calling their disdain for rules (traffic rules, any kinda rules really) or for their attempts at eve-teasing. People expecting you to behave in a way that justifies the saying ‘grace under fire’, in a situation that doesn’t remotely resemble flying fighter jets in enemy territory People emotionally blackmailing you to fall in line with traditions that work out perfectly for them but suck for you. People who think their needs (urges) are more important than yours (the urge to stay away, maybe). People who willfully abuse you just because you happen to live in their home with their family. NEED I say more? SO, anyway, the movie does a great job of describing these problems and the characterisation is quite beautiful. The arty community is over-represented in the mix, however. But Delhi-ite Pammi is a great counter to that and rooted in the real world. Finally, there’s about to be a wedding and it turns into something else. I can’t talk about it without spoiling it for the reader. What I will say, though, is that this movie is one where we could start – as women – having a dialogue with one another. BUT, it’s a pity that this dialogue of ours cannot pass the Bechdel test. It has to be about the men in our lives, but perhaps even more about the men around us, at any time, in any situation. Immense is the power they have to hurt us, ruin us, destroy us. This power is not theirs. This power belongs to the system that breeds such men. The film amply shows that. And that’s my takeaway. One of the dialogues that stayed with me – To be born a woman in India is to be a fighter!!! I love this view. Yes, fighters we all are. And we must keep fighting. We must help one another in our fights. Certainly worth a watch.