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Tanu Weds Manu Returns may not be perfect, but it wins many brownie points for its flawed, yet real characters, say this feminist film review.
There is a scene in the film Tanu Weds Manu Returns (TWMR) where Manu and his friend Pappi start following Kusum, a Delhi University student, a tomboyish Haryanvi athlete, and get into the same DTC bus she boards. Pappi, though tagging along with Manu in this risky pursuit, is very scared of the consequences. He cautions Manu, “If the men in the bus find out that we are following this girl, they would beat us black and blue.”
At this point, the camera focuses on Kusum standing slightly ahead talking to the bus conductor who had asked her for tickets. Kusum tells the conductor, “Staff hai” (A usual excuse by college students in Delhi, particularly the male trouble maker types, for not buying tickets in the erstwhile blue line buses). The conductor raises his voice and says, “This is a DTC bus no ‘Staff’ is allowed.” Kusum’s response to him is best enjoyed at the theatre rather than in this review, but what follows is worth celebrating. As soon as Kusum is done talking to the conductor, the camera moves back to Manu, and Pappi who seem doubly petrified now, says, “Forget the men, if this girl finds out we are following her we are gone.”
The theatre thundered with the audience clapping at this dialogue. Bollywood audiences can now clap, cheer, and whistle at a dhaasu scene portraying not the machismo of an alpha male but the power of a female lead.
Bollywood audiences can now clap, cheer, and whistle at a dhaasu scene portraying not the machismo of an alpha male but the power of a female lead.
That said, TWMR is not cut out to be a film about women empowerment. It is a romantic comedy about a couple whose marriage gets into trouble in merely four years and how they find love again. The script is not author backed and is not as strong as one would expect. There are many plots which are loosely touched upon but left unresolved from the feminist point of view. A woman’s choice to go in for artificial insemination to have a child and her husband’s inability to accept that; a Jat family’s violence against women, and an attempt to commit honour killing; a man being over persistent with his marriage proposal to a woman who has clearly rejected his advances several times; these serious issues were not handled with enough sensitivity or in depth understanding.
But, none of the above mean that we shouldn’t celebrate this film from a feminist point of view or even as cinematic experience. We certainly should for a number of reasons.
First, it is a superb fast paced entertainer, a complete paisa vasool film, a star driven box office success. And the good news is that the star is a female. This is new for Bollywood. Female centric films need no longer be only about all enduring sacrificing mothers (Mother India) or avenging widows (Kahaani) or strong lady fighting bad boys (Mardaani, Tejaswini, Zakhmi Aurat). Today, a female centric film is capable of being an entertainer even for the lowest common denominator and making good money.
Second, the film gives a lot of space to the two leading female characters Tanu and Kusum, both played stunningly by Kangana Ranaut and allows the audience to know them in depth even though we don’t understand them. The complex details in their characters blur the line between masculine-feminine, good girl-bad girl.
At times, Tanu is the epitome of feminine beauty; seductive, flirtatious and jaw-droppingly sensual, with her low back blouses and transparent sarees. At the same time she shows masculine traits by being brash, reckless and violent. She drinks like a man and breaks alcohol bottles in rage. Similarly, Kusum is sometimes a bal kati (Hindi slang for a non-conforming woman with short hair) tomboyish athlete ready to pick up a street fight and break hockey sticks on the backs of men stalking her. But she’s also a love struck girl excited about her marriage, putting on weird makeup and gold jewellery, making a strange looking bride of the kind Bollywood has not seen before.
They are both also flawed characters, yet you cannot label them as good or bad, you just love them for whoever they are.
They are both also flawed characters, yet you cannot label them as good or bad, you just love them for whoever they are. Tanu has tantrums, she has never done the right thing all her life, is always complaining and has unrealistic expectations from her husband. She unfairly uses Chintu for her exploits without caring about his emotions. But she is also miserably in love with her boring husband and can’t stand to lose him. Kusum is immature and hasty; she agrees to marry a man who is yet to get a formal divorce, with no concern for his ex-wife’s feelings. Unlike yesterday’s heroines Kusum is not waiting for an opportunity to do the sacrifice. But deep inside, you know she has a heart of gold.
The film is special because it brings a great change in the image of a heroine in Hindi films; the women are the doers here, and they drive the story to its climax. The film also had some interesting feminist motifs like a lone woman claiming the night and public space whether in London or Kanpur.
Bechdel Testing TWMR: The film passes the test with at least two relevant scenes. 1. Tanu tells her sister that she needs excitement in life rather than getting married to some random man 2. Tanu’s friend Payal tells her about artificial insemination and the frivolity of marital symbols like mangalsutra and karvachauth.
Image from movie promo posters
Writer, photographer and a story teller. Women and Gender Studies is my theme and media
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