Hello people of the blogging world. It's been a while. A long, long while. And obviously, my maybe comeback post (not making any promises) is about three films that the majority of you all haven't seen because they're Indian films. Oh well. Good job, Nik.
I have been meaning to write a post for ages now but nothing has really inspired me like the films at hand. These are all "feminist" movies primarily focusing on a group of women and reflect the state of womenhood in India. I'll talk about them one-by-one, in order of viewing and, as it turns out, quality.
The first film I saw is called Angry Indian Goddesses and it is directed by Pan Nalin. It came out sometime last year and I remember it being in the news because the Indian Censor Board had made many cuts and as far as I can recall, people had liked it. I was just really intrigued by its title and its premise which was sold as the first female buddy movie of India. And it kind of starts off that way after the introductory scenes of all the six main female characters in which they kick some male ass in their own styles (set to "In the Hall of the Mountain King" no less). They all come together at the Goan residence of one of the leads who is going to get married.
I was intrigued at the set-up first. Sure they seemed like slightly broadly-sketched representations of the "modern Indian woman" but I could live with that. I guessed the first "twist" almost immediately which I'm sure most people can given how progressive this film is supposed to be. Also, to be completely fair to the movie, there were moments in it that were well-shot and it didn't seem to be falling into the traps that are usually present in Hindi movies. However, it had many, many other failings.
Here's how I can best describe it: Nalin, Subhadra Mahajan, Arsala Qureishi, who are the writers of the film according to its Wikipedia page, probably made a list of all the issues plaguing Indians currently, mainly the women, and then decided to address all of them one-by-one. This movie is like a checklist of "Big Social Problems GAHHHHHH". Law against homosexuality- check. Isolated childhood because of working parents- check. Rape in India- check. Family pressures on women- check. And so it goes on. None of it is subtle, obviously. There are I think three separate occasions when the women sit in a circle talking aloud about the topic at hand. I mean talk about being spoon-fed. And finally, the writers decide to actually execute one of these issues which results in these women becoming the "angry Indian goddesses" they are, and it is one of the most awful, idiotic, exploitative climax and endings I have ever seen in a film. It properly pissed me off and made me feel sick in a way openly regressive Bollywood films (which is probably 80% of them) have never managed to do. It is such a tone-deaf film, it could be taught in film schools to show what not to do with your scripts and characters.
Before I make this whole post a rant about the dreadfulness of Angry Indian Goddesses (and that fucking last act!!!), it's better to move on to the next film in my list. Pink, directed by Aniruddha Roy, is a 2016 film which follows three young women who get involved in a court case after one of them broke a bottle on a powerful man's face when he had tried to molest her. Their lawyer is a retired and sick man who wants to defend the victims against the social and cultural stereotypes used to defame modern and outgoing women in India. He is played by famous Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan.
I was excited about the concept of Pink even though I had found its trailer to be quite confusing. Then the reviews started rolling in and it was getting a lot of love from everywhere. Believing the hype, I went with my two roommates (our living conditions are very similar to the women in the movie which is a bit creepy). My three word review for it would be that I was disappointed.
The thing about Pink is that it is a pretty silly movie about a very important topic. I cannot fully hate it because it does spread an incredibly crucial and much-needed message about consent and the possibility of that actually educating people is perhaps much bigger than what all it does wrong story-wise. Also, it is quite entertaining and well-acted. My main complaint comes from the disservice it does to the genre of legal dramas. Legal dramas are usually about morality but there is also intelligence in them. Pink foregoes any intellect in order to cultivate and present a moral message to its viewers. It's so stupidly sentimental in the central court case. I am no lawyer but I could point out ten different things that could've been done in that case. I feel frustrated just thinking about it because what were the writers even thinking? Also, once again, the way the women have been written was wildly inconsistent and even though they tried to make them like "real" women, there was something severely lacking in them. For a film about gender issues, the men and women were all very caricature-esque. Pink could've been really good, even great, if only the writing matched the the gravity of its message.
All of which brings us to Parched. I first heard about it from Mette when she praised it on our last podcast episode. It is directed by Leena Yadav who is the only female director among these three movies and it shows instantly. This film is also mainly about three women and unlike the other two cases, they are not urban but rather belong to a small rural community which does not even have a single television set. Also unlike the other two, these women feel like real, living, breathing ladies with flaws and desires and one gets completely roped into their world. This film shows many hardships that women face as well, that too in a way more patriarchal and oppressive environment than those shown in the first two films, but they are organic and don't feel like they've been stuffed down our throats.
I loved this film so much that I have already started praising it and not even discussed its plot. As I wrote above, it is about three women- one is a lonely widow who is looking for a bride for her son, one who has an abusive husband and incapable of getting pregnant and one who is a sort of stripper and prostitute. But they are all loyal, fierce friends and again, of all the three films, this friendship rang the truest and strongest for me. THIS is a female buddy film in which you get to see how nurturing and accepting female friendships can be, especially in a world where women aren't valued enough. There is also a fourth female character who, although not a part of this trio and without as much screentime, has her own journey. There are many trials and tribulations that the women face and we see many other "Big Social Problems GAHHHHHH" in their lives and world but it is full of subtlety and at the same time, the film is also wild and vibrant.
Leena Yadav had made two films before Parched. I faintly recall watching her debut film Shabd but I doubt it was anywhere as rich as her latest offering. Not just the acting but also the way it looked was gorgeous. Russel Carpenter, who shot Titanic, was the cinematographer. This film was also quite controversial because it has a nude sex scene which had leaked in porn sites here months ago and yet was censored upon its theatrical release. Such is India. I feel sad that it is not getting the love it deserves. People LOVE Pink but will probably ignore Parched because of the lack of big names in it. It is a truly wonderful little gem.
There has been a lot of focus on female directed films recently, what with Marya E. Gate's A Year With Women Project and the 52 Films By Women pledge and so on. I have also pledged to watch 52 films by women this year even though I am lagging behind a bit, and have generally tried to become more curious about women-directed films. Normally I can sub-consciously understand the difference between a women-directed and a male-directed film but never has the contrast been as great for me as it has with these three movies.
The first thing I did after watching Angry Indian Goddesses is to check if it was a man who wrote and directed it, and indeed it was. Of course I am not saying that men cannot write complex women. My favourite filmmakers include Woody Allen and Quentin Tarantino and my life begins and ends with The Hours. I cannot make a claim about Indian filmmakers because I am not as well-versed in Hindi films lately. Still, taking these three films into account, it does reveal something about the way men and women write female characters in a female-driven movie that is making some sort of a social commentary. The male writers and directors clearly seem focused on the "Big Social Problems GAHHHHHH" at hand, not really caring enough about if the female characters are realistic and human. They just draw an idea of what they think the modern, complex woman should look and act like as one can see from the Angry Indian Goddesses' poster's tagline- "angels, lovers, victims, killers, buddies... women" but just listing all these words doesn't necessarily change them into complicated, life-like beings. Again, not making a generalisation (but am, kinda) but since their characters are not well-written, the rest of their story also falters. Instead of tackling the obstacles through the characters and their setting and actions, they change the characterization and situations to best serve the matter that need to be shown (GAHHHHHH). The whole effect obviously is one that which feels very contrived and infuriating. I was angered by Pink because it made so many stupid story-telling choices. It even has the cringeworthiest of all cringeworthy moments where the North-Eastern girl actually announces in court that she gets harassed more because of her ethnicity. Let's not even get started on Angry Indian Goddesses because I'll never stop then.
Yadav on the other hand has devoted herself into realizing a film teeming with life and colour where the characters drive the plot. She wrote them with such care that I wanted to befriend them. I felt transported by this film. Sure, there are also some formulaic plot points in it but that almost doesn't matter in a film this vivid and lively with characters to match. These are flawed, sexy, funny women because they just are. It's not to serve a bigger goal the way it is in the cases of Angry Indian Goddesses and Pink. They don't make martyrs of themselves even though they too live under conditions that could be classified as "Big Social Problems GAHHHHHH" (I think I'm going to trademark this term).
Basically, it's just a better film and women rule and men suck! I'm kidding of course but I do have some pretty strong feelings about all these films, evidently. They brought me out of my cocoon of laziness. I would strongly recommend Parched to everyone and you can also try Pink and Angry Indian Goddesses, the latter just to see about how terrible that final act is. Worst. Ever.
Since I do not want this to end on such a negative note, I'd just like to say that it is always encouraging to see Indian filmmakers tell women's stories but the focus should always be on the women, on showing their varied and intricate lives because we cannot help but identify some part of ourselves with them and so it is always better to see them being more like us.
I hope that makes some sense.
PS. It's good to be back :)