Freaky Ali: Some Laughter Yes, But With A Fricking Big Dose Of Toxic Hegemony

Women are targets of sexist jokes even in sports-films like Freaky Ali. What's more baffling is that the audience seems to enjoy the sexism portrayed in these movies.

Women are targets of sexist jokes even in sports films like Freaky Ali. What’s more baffling is that the audience seems to enjoy this sexism portrayed in these movies.

There is something formulaic about the series of sports-films that we see. The underdog-turning-victor, the ill-timed injury, the sudden disappearance / death / strategic maneuver by the coach, the misplaced love interest (who hangs around cluelessly and might as well be a fly in the wall if it’s a woman – why thank you, Bollywood) and the whole slow-motion-practice schedule.

But here’s another ingredient in the formula that is often passed off as just another element – and emphasized upon as though it functions on par with oxygen: errant, blatant sexism. The latest in the lineup of films that professes these ideas as the norm happens to be Freaky Ali.

The opening scene of the film set the tone and had me cringe from the word go: in one scene, there was age-shaming, fat-shaming and disability shaming. A hen-pecked looking, aged man grumbles at the protagonist for selling him a pair of underwear that tore in under five days, while he was promised that it would last him a lifetime. The protagonist tells him that he didn’t think the man’s lifetime would last any more than five days.

Tongue-in-cheek, witty save, you think? Insensitive, hurtful and uncompassionate to people in their old age, perhaps grappling with the fear of death themselves.

The protagonist then finds himself confronted by a little boy – a little on the heavier side (this is mentioned purely for the sake of what’s to follow) – dressed in a Superman costume. The child is missing the conspicuous red underwear, and asks the man for it. Instead of selling him a pair, the man is busy laughing at the child’s lisp and fat-shaming the boy.

This goes on until the boy screams for his father. Enter the burly, hyper-masculine uber-male: and surprise, surprise! Our hero is frightened out of his wits. Normal scene, you think? No. Scratch deeper: the silent suggestion remains in the air, that hyper-masculinity alone is sanction-worthy. “You can mess with anything that’s not macho.”

Peppered with sexism

Moving on, the film is peppered with sexist jokes and potshots at women. I watched an audience full of people laughing some of these, and it baffled me. But my blood boiled when they laughed at a ‘joke’ around ‘Khatna’ (Circumcision). The protagonist sits dejected at the prospect of losing out, on participating in a tournament for want of money. He asks his coach how much, and the coach tells him they need Rs. 5 Lakhs.

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The protagonist does a double take, and suggests that if he had that much money, he would have gotten two to four women married off, and paid for the ‘khatna’ of still more, in his community. The howls of laughter that racked the row of men behind me shocked me into a freeze. Here’s a man talking so lightly of female genital mutilation, and these men are laughing about it?

The tournament suddenly becomes possible and the protagonist shows up to register. A young woman comes to lead them to their designated spot, but she is not spared any sexist trash talk. At the registration desk, a young woman asks the protagonist his age, and he smiles at her with zero abashment as he hits on her, suggesting that he’s only about a year older than she is.

She looks up and asks him if he is twenty-three, and he guffaws at her and tells her she doesn’t look twenty-two. She looks down, hurt, but the camera pans across at ‘the love interest’ (Amy Jackson, FYI. She has no role, no depth in the character she portrays, no value or anything more than what the protagonist perceives her as through his lens). The protagonist wears the most impressed look on his face, because, well, white. That undercurrent is not subtle even if you pay more attention to your popcorn than to the film.

And so, the formula twists itself into a hideous recipe for ‘laughter’ with a dose of toxic hegemony. The generous dose of sexism ranges from the objectification of the women and making jokes around them, to emasculating everyone else around the ‘hero’ literally and figuratively.

And audiences make light of these things, laugh at them, because, well, “it’s just a joke yaar…”

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