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Bollywood is finally waking up to the fact that a woman’s father should respect her independence and agency rather than treating her as an object of honour.
It’s been said over and over again that Kangana Ranaut’s ‘Rani’ in Queen was legendary, outstanding, ground-breaking as a character in Hindi cinema. It was probably the first time we, as an audience, actively rooted against the ‘hero’ and heroine getting together. Her broken engagement taught Rani to love herself, and in turn, made us connect with her as a person. Not as a heroine, not as a catalyst for the hero. She WAS the hero of the movie.
There was another very special character in the movie that went rather unnoticed: her father. As the patriarch and the person with most financial power, he was expected to behave in a manner that protected the ‘honour’ of his family. But instead of predictably getting his daughter married off to the next eligible bachelor, Rani’s father (Yogendra Tiku) lets her go on a solo trip to Europe. When I say ‘lets her go’ I acknowledge the financial power he has on her, which he chooses not to abuse. This is especially important since we learn later that Rani’s fiancé, Vijay, was against her working and having any source of income whatsoever. When she breaks up with Vijay, her father is willing to spend on her solo vacation because he sees the therapeutic value of her doing something entirely on her own. He could have been my father, my friend’s father, my neighbour’s father. This was the first time that I saw a reasonable, relatable dad on screen.
This is a stark difference from 90’s peak Bollywood dad, Amrish Puri as Kajol’s father in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. In spite of living in London, Simran, unlike Rani, had no freedom to choose her life mate. In fact, when Simran’s father overhears her telling her mother that she might be in love, his immediate reaction is to uproot her from the only life she’s ever known and get her married to a rural Punjabi boy. Be that as it may, ‘’Ja Simran Ja’’ is by far more progressive than the dads of yesteryear who had heart attacks on cue when their daughters announced they had chosen a mate. This trend split over in the 2000’s as well, when Paresh Rawal couldn’t even let go of Tabu, his 34 year old daughter who chose to marry an older man.
Of course, there have been some ‘cool dads’ before. In Aisha, Sonam Kapoor and her father have a pretty open and friendly relationship. In Dangal, we see Aamir Khan going against gender stereotypes in rural Haryana to make his daughters into sportswomen (albeit only to fulfill his own incomplete dream of winning a medal). But Queen put these qualities in an everyday situation, in a relatable family. It wasn’t in the context of a glossy, unrealistic, luxurious lifestyle. It wasn’t the struggle to create international sportswomen. It was ordinary real life.
In 2017, we got to see two more such relatable fathers. In Bareilly ki Barfi, Bitti’s father knows that she drinks and smokes. He does nothing to restrict her lifestyle, understanding fully well that she is a functional adult with a job and a personal life. Perhaps his most honest and endearing moment is when he has a conversation with Bitti about the judgement that a woman faces in society. He acknowledges that it is wrong, but resigns to the destiny of having to live in the same society, and thus having to deal with the consequences of any rebellious actions. His progressive opinions are all the more important as Bollywood moves away from the overdone Mumbai-Delhi narrative into smaller cities.
The other father who finds honourable mention is Sugandha’s father in Shubh Mangal Savdhan. In many ways, he’s an ordinary father, worrying about his daughter’s wedding. But during the second half, when every member of the family is discussing the groom’s erectile dysfunction, he urges his daughter to run away from her own wedding, because he knows she will end up being blamed for not being able to produce an heir. It does bother him that his daughter attempted to have pre-marital sex. But he doesn’t hold it against her, or use it as justification to disrespect and dismiss her. Even as the film descends into comical chaos, he is not the submissive father of the bride. He stands his ground in support of his daughter, and has little regard for the all-pervading ‘log kya kahenge’ (what will people say) phenomenon.
Seeing fathers who think of their daughters as human beings is a fresh new concept for Bollywood. Controlling dads who cannot handle their daughters’ agency are finally out of fashion, and we’re finally getting progressive ones who are respectful of their female offspring. They care more about their child than they care about societal norms. While the men still have fathers who want to hang the girl from the ceiling to teach her a lesson for dumping their son (Badrinath ki Dulhania), at least, the women are being rewarded with better paternal figures. And thanks to ridiculously low standards for fathers and men in general, that’s revolutionary.