Way back in March, in honor of International Women’s Day, I decided to get the girls together on several nights in the same week to see what the Indian cinema market had to offer on this theme, as it seemed they were making a particular effort. It was a rather intrepid undertaking, going to see three films with women in the drivers seats, at three different venues within three days, and I thought I was up to it…but it may have been too much.
The first film we went to see was Queen at the Loehmann’s Cinema in Falls Church. Pat and I went out in the cold snap and joined a faithful group of midweek theater-goers (it was a Tuesday) eager to find out what all the fuss was about. I had never seen so many glowing reviews for a film, or more specifically, a performer as I had for Kangna Ranaut that week on Rediff.com, here’s an example. I was really looking forward to watching it, and it didn’t disappoint.
To give a short synopsis, Kangna plays Rani, a lovely, yet very girl-next-door Delhi girl, quiet, modest, soft spoken, who we meet in the first days of her wedding celebrations. Along with Rani we meet her parents and her funny younger brother, Chintu and the rest of her family, and are ready to jump right in and join the party. But, unfortunately it doesn’t last long, as her fiancée, Vijay (Rajkummar Rao), gets her to meet with him at a café, two days before the final ceremony…and calls it off! Rani doesn’t rant, doesn’t rail at him, as one would expect, but she pleads with him, and when he still holds firm, sleepwalks through the next few days of the dismantling of her shaadi dreams.
The one thing she can’t let go of is her honeymoon to Paris and Amsterdam. Lovingly planned to two of her favorite cities, taking that trip, even alone, is the only thing that might, she thinks, assuage the pain in her heart. Her parents, helpless to do anything else for her, let her go. The rest of the story is the adventures Rani has on this ten day voyage that has her discover a part of herself, find a strength that she never knew existed…a life without a man defining her. This new freedom, while daunting at first, with practice, becomes a life-sustaining force for Rani. She meets many new friends, sees new places and has volumes of new experiences along the way.
Pat and I both really enjoyed going along with her. The performances were uniformly good, with Rajkummar being effectively swinish as the jilting boyfriend who comes to his senses, too late. I’d seen him in sweet earnest performances in Talaash and Kai Po Che! and had no idea that he could play scum so well… And the eye-opener of the evening for me was Lisa Haydon, who I hadn’t seen before, and she just captured focus in any scene she was in, blowing through Rani’s life in Paris like one of that city’s fabled April breezes. She’s going to go places, I’m sure, and the resemblance to Angelina Jolie, doesn’t hurt. But Kangna Ranaut captures our heart in every scene, whether crying after her first release of emotion with her first taste of alcohol, or dancing like a maniac on the club bar, or simply standing up to her louse of a fiancée. She holds onto that girl at the center of the story and makes us feel it with her and root her on. Two major thumbs up from us. Sorry the trailer doesn’t have subtitles. Couldn’t find one with them.
Continuing with India’s ongoing female empowerment theme, Kathy’s all jazzed up to see Juhi Chawlha opposite Madhuri in Gulaab Gang, about a woman (Mads) who fights for womens’ rights, literally and verbally! So, off we went to Gaithersburg to catch this one.
Directed by Soumik Sen and pairing two of our favorite actresses, you’d think we would have loved this one. I should have researched it more, though it’s been so long since we’ve had a good Juhi film, that we’d probably have gone to give her support, in any case.
The research would have shown me that what purported to be a based-on-real-life story had been drumming up lots of negative publicity and protesting by the purported heroine of the piece Sampat Pal Devi that didn’t bode well for the film.
A brief synopsis would tell you that Madhuri Dixit is playing Rajjo, a woman who is moved to establish an ashram in Uttar Pradesh to teach young local women how to read, support themselves and even defend themselves. They live and work together in unity and peace (unless you count the fits of physical justice they deal out that have all the men in the area wary of the sight of pink saris coming at them), and Rajjo is encouraged by their future when an ambitious local woman politician Sumitra Devi (Juhi Chawla) comes to their ashram looking for the Gulaab Gang’s support in the upcoming election. But Sumitra should have known that her less than noble goals would come out and you just don’t cross Rajjo’s gals, as any of the locals could have told her. Juhi is fabulous, by the way…I’ll never take her at face value again…pretty can play devious and crafty, as well! Brava!
Madhuri is lithe and agile and suitably tough in her role, but I didn’t know how to take the film, as a protest or a comedy? In the midst of a fight, here comes a musical number stopping all the drama. And those sticks they are wielding are not dandia sticks, either. They pack quite a punch, complete with martial arts style slo-mo. I’m afraid the music didn’t make their message any more palatable to me. I’d agree that women shouldn’t sit still and take all the abuse given them, but should they take action that make them just as brutal as the guys? What with this and the equally iffy Dedh Ishqiya from January (Sorry, Nasseerji, you know I wanted to love it!) Left us with a sour taste in our mouths. Thank goodness we’ve still got Irrfan to look forward to.
That would be Irrfan Khan, in The Lunchbox (Dabba – 2013). The “little crossover film that could” has Irrfan trading notes for food with an under-appreciated wife, not his, played by Nimrat Kaur. But this slow-burning foodie favorite has been worth the wait for audiences and investors alike as it’s slowly earned it’s money back and is still playing at four theaters here in the US 29 weeks after it’s opening! It’s an art house darling to die for.
The short story: Nimrat’s character, Ila, is an unhappy housewife, trying to recapture her husband’s attention by her cooking, to not much avail. She gets advice on how to spice up her life as well as her food from the unseen “Auntie” upstairs (voiced by Bharati Achrekar). When Ila sends the newly flavorful dishes off to her hubby via the tiffin-wallah delivery boys, she waits hopefully for a change in his demeanor, but doesn’t get one. However, the next time she tries, she gets a thank you note, of sorts, from the man who actually received the food, Saajan Fernandes, widower and impending retiree (Irrfan, yummy, as usual, even when trying to hide his light behind the “moustache of middle age”). The continuing errors of the tiffin guys give her the outlet they need for their unexciting lives. The will she/won’t she tension of his appreciation and her need of it, keeps you nicely on the edge of your seat until the end. Here’s a trailer.
Now, the SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen it, and intend to, don’t read the paragraph below.
As much as I liked the performances (Nawazuddin Siddiqui was adorable in this! So many faces this man has!), this film doesn’t merit the high degree of adoration the public seems to be giving it. The biggest problem I have with it would perhaps be solved by putting back in some of the length it feels like was there at one time. I’m all for women’s empowerment, but I don’t think that her character would have left her marriage with so little cause, in such a short span of time. She convinces herself that her marriage is over because her husband doesn’t like her lunches, and perhaps is having an affair? And she doesn’t even confront him about it, not once? Seems horribly abrupt, or perhaps we’ve missed a scene or two of spousal abuse. Never thought I’d be asking for that, but a cause like that would make more sense of her drastic solution, especially taking her child with her. I certainly wasn’t expecting a “make yourself happy, no matter who it hurts” ending worthy of Hollywood at its shallowest.