Praf, short for Praful Patel, is a 30 year old divorcee, living in Atlanta, US, only child of Gujarati parents who have owned a general store all their lives. She’s holding down a job as a housekeeping staff in a hotel. She not only has a past but a post-past as well – her ex-boyfriend happens to be her boss at the hotel. Praf wants to make money, create financial security for herself, a craft almost perfected by Gujjus in general, but Praf is different – her aims are the same but her means are not. Self-control is not her thing. This Gujju gal has the balls – or shall we say vagina – to take risks. Okay, playing Baccarat (without knowing anything about the game) just to pursue a guy you’ve spotted inside a Las Vegas casino cannot be called guts. But then, the Gujju gal doesn’t even have the $25 she needs to enter the game at the table. Our lady does a James Bond, like it or not. She also gets the guy. That’s where all the trouble begins. The addiction to gambling, losing money, trouble. Wanting to win it all back but no money to stake. Trouble. Using up all her savings just to play a few more hands, no luck. Trouble. Losing all money, landing in the hands of a loan shark, Trouble. That’s what Praf is. She doesn’t hedge her bets, doesn’t listen to her parents, doesn’t settle down with a boy to make sev-tameta nu shaak for the rest of her life, no wisdom coming with age. Instead, she goes on to single-handedly rob a few banks to earn the nickname Lipstick Bandit. The character of Praful Patel is inspired by the story of the ‘Bombshell bandit’, Sandeep Kaur, who went on a 5-week long bank robbing spree because she was pushed to the brink to pay off loan sharks she had used to fuel her gambling addiction. One has to say, the story is interesting. Has it been executed well? Yes, mostly. Kangana is the queen of nuance. She’s as usual, great. The performances are good. The story has its dense details – a close-knit but unhappy family. A difficult, tension-filled father-daughter relationship. Sweet moments with the boy Praf’s parents are trying to set her up. All good. But the film lacks the aha moment – when you experience the character so strongly you identify with her emotions. ‘English Vinglish‘ was full of such moments, so was ‘Queen’, to name a few. They had a very strong screenplay. Also, Simran felt a tad bit longer than it absolutely needed to be. Now for the ham scenes: Luckily in the case of Simran, all the ham scenes happened outside of and after the movie. I say luckily because otherwise, the film would have been that much longer and would have had to somehow feature Barkha Dutt and Rajat Sharma. That was me popping the lighter vein. One thing though: In terms of matter and gravity, I daresay the ham scenes overshadowed the movie itself. Kangana is an unbelievably strong contender for the solid ‘hero’ crown and she doesn’t even need to earn it. She has proved she has a vagina, and her films are the least of it. And as far as item numbers go, why can’t they be more like the AIB video/song? In that sense, I’m rooting for every Praf, Tanu, Datto, and Rani that Kangana plays. Now for a miss: There was much talk of Kangana adding this ‘sexual’ ‘edge’ to her character. That Praf actually likes sex. I would have thought that puts her in the ‘human’ category but in the Indian film industry and the larger Indian society, this is what makes news. You can probably hear a dilliwali aunty (no offence meant to Dilli, Dilliwalas, and aunties – it’s the combination here) scoffing a “Haw!! This girl likes sex!” If you’re going to the hall thinking you’ll see some exciting moment there, say hello to disappointment. It’s a bit scene where Praf likes a guy, pursues him quite decently, I’d say ladylike manner but that would run afoul of the definition of ladylike. Ladylike and sex don’t mix. To be a lady, step 1: you shun your human nature for the divine. Anyway, Praf takes the guy to bed. No great shakes there, as you will find out. But, this ‘controversy’ is also why Simran is larger than life as a movie. It has set a lot of people talking. And some people squirming after being kneed in the nuts. That this sort of thing is one of the firsts in the industry is probably why I’d give kudos to Simran. Thank you Praf, for being there. And thank you Simran, for being there.
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.
I love Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. You know how some mundane happenings turn into significant memories despite being totally mundane and insignificant at the time they take place. For me that’s how Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s name became a significant imprint in my mind some 20 years ago – I still remember reading for the first time, his contribution under ‘The Speaking Tree’ column in The Times of India. Then, Sadhguru wasn’t as big a name as he is now. He was known as a maverick of a spiritual guru. Nor was The Speaking Tree the book-worthy column it is now. I guess I can say that we go a long way back… of course, he doesn’t know it. 🙂 I feel that connection with him. Or is it with what he says? I don’t know. Sadhguru says an awesome amount of awesome things – I have watched and re-watched all of his videos available in the public domain. Except sometimes, when I end up questioning certain things. I notice that the last time I did this it was on the same subject. About him saying how certain occult energies around certain temples are not conducive to the presence of women – things nobody can prove; I’d just have to assume that if Sadhguru says it, it must be right. That’s when I see a milestone flashing neon: Next stop, Belief. I don’t have a problem with journeying this land. It’s just that when I’m in this territory, I bring an extra towel of kindness for comfort, a rappelling rope for a swift exit, a pocket knife of critical thinking, extra food for thought and survival as also a gift of appreciation and acceptance if my stay here is successful and I find my idol. So now, it’s about this latest blog post, ‘Mother-in-Law Demystified’, the blurb saying that ‘Sadhguru demystifies the mother-in-law, enumerating various biological and psychological factors at play’. And trust me. That’s what a lot of young women in our society want perhaps – for the mother-in-law psyche to be demystified, decoded, deconstructed… de-EVERYTHING-ed. As I read these from Sadhguru’s words… ‘Unfortunately, the same stupid problems have been going on for centuries, endlessly’ I perhaps sense the gracious and charismatic mystic’s rare but genuine flicker of frustration; I would be surprised if it weren’t coming from experience, one way or another. It begins thus: “About satisfying the mother – when you say a mother, essentially she is a woman. Then she became a mother. When you say a wife, essentially she is a woman, then she became a wife. It is a secondary role. Her basic identity is that of being a woman. The next identity is maybe a wife and the next is a mother. It comes in that order.” Yes. Woman. Biologically, that’s a concrete fact. Wife, mother, are roles, yes. Then follows an anecdote about how a man who wanted to marry a girl from work, sets a challenge for his mother by inviting three of his women colleagues home, along with ‘his girl’, and not telling her mother who that would be. When he asked his mom whether she had made her out from among their guests, she got it right because, she said, “The moment she walked in, I didn’t like her. So it must be her.” According to Sadhguru, our MILs are biologically inclined to reject any other female coming into what she sees as “her space” as that would mean she is required to “share someone who belonged to you in an unequal proportion”, and the situation is compounded by the realisation that this sharing would also be of “unequal proportions”. He elucidates, “A mother wants her son to get married and be happy. But on another level, a mother is still a woman. You have to seek permission to share something that belonged to you. That makes things a little difficult.” (I would think having a big fat Indian wedding would serve as a granting of this permission of sorts or maybe we should add this one rite too. Unlike what happens in the West, where the man seeks permission from the bride’s father. Eitherway, to require your adult child to ask your permission to live with his chosen partner beats me.) Moving on, the entire focus seems to be on biology. Everything they do in the relationship sphere boils down to that hormonal hi-and-lo of either getting pregnant or getting your period. I wonder if his explanations for what every man does as a part of being a husband, father, etc, would similarly and equally boil down to that “little man” and his wonders. If they would, I haven’t yet come across something like it. Sadhguru further explains his stress on biology in order to explain the typical MIL psyche: “It is somewhat biological because it is all a process of procreation and protection. If a woman is not possessive about what belongs to her, she would not have taken care of her children. She would have just delivered them and walked away. It is biological, and that extends itself throughout life in some way or the other. However, if one is mature and aware, one can grow out of it. Now, I understand procreation and protection. I understand that possessiveness a mother feels for her child. If she didn’t have these feelings, thanks to the overwhelming chemical soup that our bodies are, she probably wouldn’t nurture her children so well. So yes, this ‘nurturing’ or maternal instinct is purely the result of this chemical soup of our biological reality. However, nowhere does this soup indicate a bias for the male child. Why, when we speak of Mothers-In-Law, is it that it only describes those mothers who have had a male child and have trouble “sharing” him with another female? Sadhguru, are you trying to say that this is also biology? Is this a Freudian slip? Mothers are more than ready in our culture to “share” (the word may as well euphemistically include for foeticide, infanticide, dowry deaths, unhappy marriages bordering on slavery and abuse… et al) their female children. Why? Because in the end, she is a woman? Are you also saying that women have no recourse left in life but to toil their labours under the diktat of their ‘biology’?; that they remain these infantile beasts madly in love with their male children one way or another and have nothing better to do in terms of relationships other than mark their territory around their sons’ lives? Are you saying that you don’t see how our societies are centred around patriarchy, which is essentially about how our fathers, brothers, and husbands are just men? That men have always had an upper hand in this whole “business” of our society and how which gender is valued for what purpose. For now, though, I’d just be happy if you explained to me why do mothers-in-law claim their exclusive rights only to their children of a certain gender. Why don’t they have as big a problem “sharing” their daughters? I want to know if you’ll repeat one more time: Because she is a woman. This sentence throughout history has justified many a witch-hunt and inquisitions as it keeps justifying denials of democracy, right to drive, right to dress the way women want, right to education, vote, to become a political leader, CEO, and so on. I can’t un-know what you have said about women and how much they are ruled by their biology: that it is difficult for a woman to be a spiritual leader; that it is difficult for a woman to keep in step with the rhythm of the modern workplace, hinting at their monthly menstrual cycles. My two-bit: people who go out of their way to try to manipulate and control other people’s lives are sociopaths and those who employ abuse and violence to do this are psychopaths. This is neither about biology nor about gender. As for these traits in Indian parenting, a lot of this behaviour simply stems from the child’s inability to identify this abuse, due in part to being co-opted into this kind of upbringing, and their helplessness to doing something about it. Emotional blackmail is like the baby formula our kids grow up on, to face a complete diet of psychological intimidation and isolation, indoctrination, stretching to corporal punishment and serious psychological and verbal abuse in life. Truth is, yes, the same stupid problems have been going on for centuries, endlessly, but the reason for this is not ‘Because she is a woman’. For, nurturance means you contribute to the growth of physical, emotional, and social well-being of a child.Every animal lets their offspring become independent irrespective of gender; humans are no exception in this regard. And every mother tries to do this for her child in the way she knows. But, there is this thing about humans – our social concepts are centred on misogyny. Therefore, she knows very little about feeling secure, about educating herself and about self-development. Our misogyny makes us point at women even though it’s the men who are at fault. Your ‘because she is a woman’ just reminds me of how indelible this bias is.
Couldn’t help but share this lovely message that says all I need to on this day, which has sparked protests and tokenism and genuine appreciation alike… It is a bit long, however, If we must celebrate a day for women, let us celebrate freedom from stereotypes, from expectations, from idolisation, from sacrifice… STOP congratulating women for being the secret behind a successful man… START saluting them for being successful. STOP saying the mother is sacred for all the sacrifices she makes… TRY to reduce those sacrifices! STOP telling women they are beautiful! TRY telling them it’s not important to be beautiful! STOP praising her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister… CELEBRATE her as an individual, a person, independent of relationships. STOP justifying her necessity to multitask… GIVE her a chance not to! STOP these constructs which are aimed at making her strive for an impossible balance… LET her be inadequate… and HAPPY! STOP making her look at herself through a conveniently male viewpoint. LET her be imperfect, whimsical, irresponsible, boorish, lazy, fierce, opinionated, loud, flabby, ungroomed, adventurous, unpredictable, unprepared, impractical… Happy International Women’s Day y’all! Not. Finally, thank you, M! thanks for sharing this. Your friendship is etched into my heart.