A week ago, my mother asked me whether I’d like to go and watch an Indian version of the Lord of the Rings. Obviously, my heart was stirred and my mind was lit up- albeit with a sturdy combination of intrigue, as well as scepticism. Little did my innocent brain understand that this was only an abominable play of words on my very Tamil family’s very Tamil mother’s part to get me to go and watch this colossal (non)epic named Bahubali, because even being in Delhi must not stop us from appreciating our roots, am I right?
By the time I read up about the movie, it was too late to pull back from the deal. So we all got dressed and into the car, while my parents questioned me for 20 minutes as to why I couldn’t appreciate Indian fiction as much as I am obsessed with fiction like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Not to say that my parents are ignorant, but they’ve just been brought up in an environment that was ridden with post-colonial fervour. So I’ve become used to dealing with such incongruous comparisons. And so, we got out of the car and rolled into the theatre like the driven South Indians in Delhi that we are, to watch the movie with the apparently the biggest budget ever made in India. (To be frank, I think we were just glad it wasn’t a movie with Sallu Bhai or Akki in it. )
When the movie started with Ramya Krishnan, portrayed moreover in a very Mother India fashion- valiant and battling the people she was being hunted by, even if reiterating the image of a woman’s worldly duty to be all about self-sacrifice and preservation of her family, I started to become slightly less sceptical. Then about half an hour into the movie, I see Tamannah (yes, she’s this mouse-faced “actor” from down South), and she was absolutely fierce for the first 5 minutes on screen, wearing clothes in an entirely un-sexualised fashion, and kicking some patriarchal arse. But then about 10 minutes later, the same badass is love-struck by this man that turns up out of nowhere, claims propriety over her and refuses to leave until she accepts his love. And as if this wasn’t enough, her very cool outfit is stripped off piece by piece to reveal that toned, white, hairless woman’s body we all so love to admire, and apparently so does she. Upon this figurative and literal stripping of her seemingly powerful visage, she is rendered nothing more than a “flower” to be picked and appreciated by this man. (There was literally a de-flowering that was depicted, thanks cheesy metaphors.)
Now, when I walked in to watch this movie, I didn’t intend for myself to go on a feminist tirade, but this highly entitled depiction of women, even in this day and age, was something that really put me off. As much as this movie has been heralded as a revolution in Indian VFX standards, (although that CGI is fairly amateur for the amount of money that was put in), it still continues to be one of the many movies that continue to perpetuate an enervating image of the role of women: the continual subjection and confinement to subservient roles, where any seeming power some of them may possess is also only attributed to the men they may have their lives; the all-pervasive male aggression that must always reign supreme over the meek and vulnerable “feminine” persona. And this doesn’t even begin to take into account the dozens of other gendered identities that may not be represented at all.
Without commenting on the story at all, because that would deserve a whole different column of its own, I felt that this movie could be added to our little Pandora’s Box of conventional cinema, which hopefully will be opened by mainstream cinema one day to deal with. That day might not be today, or tomorrow, but hoping has gotten us pretty far ahead. Independent cinema in India is making huge strides, with wonderfully sensitive movies encouraging debate around issues like gendered injustice, rape, constructed nature of identities and alternate sexualities, and all the conflicts that these entail.
Leaving the movie theatre, satiated with all the nachos and coke, and certainly not with the movie, I rode back home with my parents, all the while discussing and debating the flaws in the spectacle of the past 3 hours. That constant pursuit to reconcile the old and the new, I suppose.