There are many opinions about English Vinglish, but everyone agrees that it’s a well-made film. The fact that it is directed by a woman only adds to its allure, in my opinion. However, does everyone also agree that Sridevi looks like a million dollars in the film. Of course, the publicity juggernaut that accompanies the comeback of such a major actress is working overtime to assure us that Sridevi looks as stunning, if not more, than she did twenty years ago. There is no problem with that. There are many women who age well.
But we aren’t talking about ageing here. The word ‘age’ is a big taboo. Nobody dare ask why a woman who must be at least in her mid-fifties, is made to play the role of a not so old housewife. Why must she look twenty years less than her age for us to accept her? Why must she undergo all those horrid cosmetic therapy treatments – and they are, sadly, much too obvious on her face – for us to welcome her back in our arms? Why couldn’t we let her return to the big screen looking just the way she would do normally, instead of turning her into some sort of robotic diva who can’t even smile properly?
Henry Higgins was right about one thing ‘Why can’t a woman be more like a man’? Except, of course, he didn’t mean it in quite the same sense. We can forgive Higgins for being a misogynistic old so-and-so at the turn of the last century. But in a sense, most of us have continued to harbor the same kind of parochialism towards women. In order to be even halfway acceptable to society, we women must never look old. Of course, our vanity is flattered when we are told that we don’t look our age, and a little harmless flattery can never go amiss. But when our whole self-image is dependent on our looks, life begins to smell just a little bit.
Women like Sridevi, women in the public sphere, women upon whom all of us depend a little bit for our own self-image, must shoulder the burden of being our conscience-keepers as well. They must be able to tell us that it’s all right to look old, that it’s all right to have sagging boobs and distended bellies, that thinning hair and thickening thighs are a part of nature, that the little wrinkles on the corner of our eyes give us the allure of experience and aren’t emblematic of creeping dementia, or worse, fading sexiness. Our sexiness is derived from our ability to think for ourselves, work for ourselves, most of the time carry the world and our man upon our shoulders, and live our lives as though it’s a constant challenge to our brain, not to our bosoms.
I admire Shashi for going out there and getting hers in the manner most appropriate to her situation. I just wish it could have been in a cover that was equally ambitious.
Pic of Frederick Karl Frieseke’s Woman With A Mirror (courtesy Cea)
Beyond Pink writes on women's stories in urban India. They could be real or
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