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Bollywood’s Queen And Other Coming-of-Age Stories About Women

Posted: March 27, 2014

While Queen has been much praised for portraying a woman finding herself, did Rani really have to wait for the breaking point before feeling the need to do so?

Bollywood portrays, consciously or unconsciously what is evident in the society. And in turn, continues the trend, with society being formed by what is shown in cinema.

The best thing about the latest releases? None of the female protagonists are shy, coy and helpless. Queen, Gulaab Gang, Hasee Toh Phasee, Dedh Ishqiya all have strong female characters.

Imtiaz Ali called Queen a coming-of-age movie (note, this post includes some spoilers). Another such bollywood flick is Highway with a girl figuring herself out as she travels with her kidnapper right before her marriage. Indian cinema hardly gave its audience any other bildungsroman with girl protagonists. From Dil Chahta Hai, Three Idiots, Udaan and Life of Pie to even British and American movies like Slumdog Millionaire, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Forest Gump, do you notice a disturbing, recurring difference in the stories between those of a male protagonist and those of a female?

The male coming-of-age movies begin when the boy is a child, teen, or in college and still has life to explore. For the movies like Queen, and English Vinglish, it is evident that had it not been for the utmost breaking-point moment, these protagonists would NEVER have grown up and ‘come of age’. Rani was ready and happy to get married to a boy who would try all his might to let her remain passive in her emotional, psychological and intellectual growth, and for sure—she would have settled into the role quite comfortably.

Rani was ready and happy to get married to a boy who would try all his might to let her remain passive in her emotional, psychological and intellectual growth, and for sure—she would have settled into the role quite comfortably.

A Bollywood movie with a strong empowered character would be Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, with Naina having the choice of travelling the world, or staying in India. That is what actual empowerment is. It is not the situation a person is in, but the option given of choosing one’s situation is.

The good thing about Gulaab Gang, the 2014 movie is that the concept is not purely a work of fiction. And though a gang of ‘only girls’, they fight not only for women, but for the whole village, and even against issues like corruption and politics, which might be headed by another woman itself. Now that’s true liberation, where the concept of a woman fighting the battles of even a man does not come off as a surprise, and shows that the society is mature enough to accept the change.

Have a look at foreign coming-of-age movies with girl protagonists, like Big Girl, Juno, The sisterhood of Travelling Pants, Bend It Like Bekham – even they have natural occurrences and opportunities that make the protagonists grow morally and psychologically while they are in their tweens, or teens; much before they are already typically ‘grown up’ and ready to marry.

In Queen, Rani ‘thanks’ the boy who left her a day before her marriage, for letting her realise her potential and giving her a chance to explore herself as she travels alone

In Queen, Rani ‘thanks’ the boy who left her a day before her marriage, for letting her realise her potential and giving her a chance to explore herself as she travels alone (which she would have never done had she been ‘happily’ married). At that moment, when the boy is thanked-for for being an a&^%hole, the movie loses its feminist approach and becomes a movie that painfully shows the societal reality. Why should the boy be thanked? Why should he, in an ironic way, hold the reigns of empowering her, by ditching her?

What could have been more empowering and liberating was if she herself had realised the shallowness of Vijay’s love when he refused her to let take up a job, or got mad at her while she tried to learn how to drive a car. Why do Indian/Bollywood women characters need the ‘last straw on the horse’s back’ situation to realise what’s as plain as the nose on the face? And why does it always have to be a boy who pins that last nail on the coffin?

Nevertheless, it’s a step ahead than movies like Raanjhanaa which seem like they are portraying the society of the 60s!

A student of English Literature, Shaifali loves to write, likes to read and enjoys sketching.

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  1. Fabulous take on it and I couldn’t agree more !! Very well written Shaifali !

  2. A nice article written with a lot of heart and angst (can actually feel it in the words – hope am not reading into it too much). Couldn’t help noticing, Life of Pi [guess it was pun intended there :-)]. This is some coincidence, I just saw the movie last evening and am glad I did not miss it before it vanished from the theatres, will go to see it again. Am not sure why we compare Indian movies to foreign films, they are very different and relate to issues or lifestyles to each one’s country. Queen is Indian in every manner, one sees it for what it is, I don’t see it in Mumbai however my friend from Delhi begged to differ. For me women empowerment comes in different forms and situations and for me the day a woman realises her worth and value, is the day she is truly empowered, it may come early in the tweens or teens or before marriage or after – it shouldn’t matter. Coming to the part of thanking the boy….I disagree with you….he did not hold the power to empowering her, nobody can empower you but yourself, people around play only 1% of the part towards empowerment, crossing over the threshold and making that journey is 99% yours and only yours – that is what has been potrayed in Queen – it’s a nice way of forgiving someone and closing the loop towards starting a brand new life called “You” don’t you think? Sorry for sounding so long winded, reckon your article empowered me to respond to you (something I have never attempted before). God bless and keep writing. Warm regards – Margaret

  3. I would have to disagree. i loved the thank you bit. it shows her happy state of mind and how much she has moved on such that the boy’s previous actions leave her happy rather than angry or sad. If she had been angry, to me her entire experience then would have been pointless.

  4. While I see you have a point that women need a breaking point but I don’t agree to the your question why? I think she thanked the boy out of geniuneness like she thanked VijayLakshmi or Roxette coz they helped her. Her boyfriend did help her realise her importance not by leaving her but by making an effort to get her back and that is when she realised she is a person of her own not somebody’s expectation! That is empowerment. Her environment is different than Naina’s so her reaction and action are bound to be different.

  5. I haven’t seen the movie. But as the promos and reviews show, the character comes from a small town. Naina on the other hand is a completely different case. I have known women who were complete wallflowers as teenagers and found their liberation after they moved out for a job, or even post-marriage. I am an 80s kid, and a majority of the parents of our time were still very conservative. I was completely dependent on my parents until the age of 20. That is just how it was then and still is to a certain extent. My cousins who are in their 20s are still very dependent on their parents for a lot of major decisions. We are creatures of comfort. Unless jolted out of our personal bubble we don’t really face the challenges of the real world. When we do that and face up to it, is when we learn what we truly want.
    You really can’t compare the Bollywood to the Hollywood here. We are still coming of age in the movie department as compared to them.
    I remember there was a movie based on teenage love a few years ago. The audience just did not accept it. We need to grow up as an audience too.
    I would totally thank the boy who dumped her too. For courtesy and mainly for closure.

  6. I think you’ve analysed it. It’s reality. Look at this girls upbringing. She didn’t even go for a dinner without her younger brother. And when push came to shove she chose herself. She went for the trip.
    I don’t think it was meant to be overtly feminist at all. Not everything has to be feminist just because it has a female protagonist.
    And ofcourse she had to thank the guy. Because he was a jerk he set her free and she realised what life was about. Many times this is how it works in real life. One incident is all it takes to wake up and smell
    The coffee. The movie was realistic in that sense. Not meant to be some major feminist plot meant to empower women.

    • @Aloka
      I agree it is realistic in a sense..and that is the sad part. I am not criticising the movie, but rather the society (that is why the first paragraph) which makes this acceptable..
      Nd just because it was not written from a feminist poiny of view, does not mean we can’t have a feminist analysis of it. Infact, those are the best readings of society when the natural or inherent views creep into a script-writer/director’s work, without his knowledge.

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