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Friday, March 14, 2014

Why I'm Tired of Kangana Ranaut's Character in Queen

'Sheltered Indian virgin goes to a foreign land and is unable to cross roads, order food or generally act like a sane adult'

This is a scenario I've seen played out in a few movies now (Kangana Ranaut in Queen and Sridevi in English Vinglish off the top of my head). The image of the ditsy damsel bouncing helplessly off oncoming commuters on a busy Parisian pavement is getting a bit old now. I know many, many Indians abroad and I really couldn't relate to her character. Maybe I'm in the minority but there are a bunch of us who are reasonably good global citizens who don't get scared by 'kiss on the lips' and 'sax'.

[Disclaimer: I don't watch many Hindi movies. Please please feel free to correct me and tell me why I'm a grumpy hater.]

I liked both movies because they show the Heroine's Journey and end with the protagonist being liberated from the shackles she starts off bound by. I believe more of these are needed - I'm far, far more tired of seeing the male leads walking shirtless around Spanish beaches. Indeed, on the other end of the spectrum to the 'OMG I have to share a hostel room with MEN!' movies, are films like Dostana and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara where implausibly rich, good looking Indians saunter around multi-million dollar apartments living scarcely believable lives. I know it's the movies - I know it's Bollywood - but I'd love to see a film showing normal Indians who live interesting, note-worthy lives abroad.

I thought that Loins of Punjab poked fun at the Indian community in America fantastically well. There's no reason why this can't be done dramatically as opposed to comically. Maybe I should shut up and try to write a script myself. I will. It's just that I know so many well traveled, global Indians who are living wonderful, scintillating lives outside India. Their struggles, their loves, their successes exhilarate me.

I find it amazing, for example, how bright, talented female graduates from the LSE's and Columbia's of this world will, after being forbidden from living on their own in India, are forced to start looking for husbands on their return. I find their challenges fascinating. I know 3 such women in this situation right now and their plight is deeply moving. Here are global Indians (they've lived, studied and worked with the world's smarter in the world's most international cities) and yet here they are, being 'flown to Calcutta to look at boys'. These are women with MBAs, coveted by the world's sexiest companies, essentially being pawned off to the highest bidder by families living in the past.

There are so many threads like this. We can do better than showing first time fliers from Gurgaon, falling over their luggage as they exist Amsterdam Schipol. Or can we? Is it just that my own insecurities are manifesting themselves? As someone who's lived abroad, I felt mostly contempt and embarrassment for Kangana's character. I didn't really laugh at her Delhi humour. I was also mildly horrified by Vijaylakshmi, the Indo-French whore she befriends. Europe is not a brothel!

I went to this with my girlfriend and neither of us laughed at the same jokes. (Can you believe I have a girlfriend now? She's great and I can't believe she likes me.) I think this experience showed how different we are. I think it showed how conscious I am about presenting a well polished, global face of my country to the world. I should just lighten up and enjoy the movie like the guy whistling and clapping wildly in the seat next to me.

Should you watch Queen? Absolutely. It got me thinking. It got me to write something, which is more than 99% of films I see. Go with your girlfriend, buy popcorn, whistle, enjoy it and don't be a buzz-kill like me.


Revacious said...

Haha. Funny how something as populist as Hindi movies can evoke such different reactions in people. But then, maybe, this one wasn't setting out to be populist..

Indra said...

I think you missed the point that Rani is not a global citizen. She's the kind of girl who wants to watch TV when she's in Paris, speaks in broken English, and has basically been dependent on others her whole life. Her 12 year old brother is sent to accompany her everywhere (for her safety, supposedly.) So you can understand that she is basically a girl who has never even left her city alone, and now she's in a whole new country. I went to Germany and Paris alone when I was 20 and I had a blast. But that's probably because I had been already living in a hostel and I was used to doing things myself.

The movie wants to highlight the situation of thousands of women in India- middle class, educated, but expected to become a house-wife and seek permission if they want to go to work. Unlike the Indians you cite, she does not have a stellar education, she's not particularly good at anything and she had no ambitions.

For Rani to go from that to becoming reasonably confident was quite an achievement.

On that note, I liked English Vinglish because I could totally imagine my mom being very flustered in a situation like that. My mom is a professor at a college, but she's very set in her ways and limited to her circles. She's never traveled alone (abroad) either. Even though she would eventually manage to get by, she would be very tense about the whole traveling-alone situation.

I think you're not being able to get over the fact that these people are Indians. Just look at them as normal people (more underdogs, actually), and you might enjoy it more. On the other hand, you might have totally forgotten what a regressive society India still is with starkly different rules for men and women. (That's the reason your LSE-educated friends are coming down to Calcutta to look at boys).

faraaz said...

Please please feel free to correct me and tell me why I'm a grumpy hater - ok!

Hi Shravan,
I generally like your writing and nuanced observations so was surprised to see this carelessly judgemental piece. I liked the movie and was particularly impressed by how accurate the depiction of the ‘Delhi – Rajouri Garden’ culture was. It was spot on. But just like I though the Sicilian parts in Godfather part 2 sounded too artificially musical/ theatrical till I actually met some Sicilians in real life (!), I can see how this portrayal can seem ‘strange’ to someone who is not familiar with people from that area. Also, a few more points:

'I know many, many Indians abroad and I really couldn't relate to her character' – she is a conservative Indian girl visiting a foreign country for the first time. She is not an Indian living abroad.

'but I'd love to see a film showing normal Indians who live interesting, note-worthy lives abroad.' – Cool, point taken. Again, she is just visiting. Also, she is a normal Indian ( norm for the place she comes from), her story is interesting and I think her personal achievements are noteworthy in the context of her life.

'As someone who's lived abroad, I felt mostly contempt and embarrassment for Kangana's character.' – Why? Because she is not as ‘polished’ as other privileged babalogs? Is this supposed to be a movie depicting a dramatic situation or an advertisement for how well behaved and efficient Indians abroad are?

'I didn't really laugh at her Delhi humour.' - I’ve heard that one many times - esp. during the 2 years I lived in Mumbai!

'I was also mildly horrified by Vijaylakshmi, the Indo-French whore she befriends.' – What makes her a ‘whore’? The fact that she has casual sex, kisses a boy in public, drinks alcohol or goes clubbing? In addition to being a helpful friend, a caring single mother and a carefree spirit? Who is being regressive now?

Queen depicts challenges that a huge number of girls face in India. And it delivers a message in an entertaining and accessible way. It’s ok to not like it but what bothered me is the condescending tone of the criticism. I am making the effort to write this as I like your writing in general and want to see more good stuff in the future. XO