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The 3 movies I watched that day depicted different versions of womanhood, but there was one thing common to them – the way patriarchy looked at all three with the same lens of objectification.
It was Sunday. Usually, Sundays are lazy afternoons and lively evenings spent with husband and son. However, this Sunday husband had to leave for a tour, and I was left with a weekend full of time at hand, with my munchkin. And other than this, one more thing was that the whole television was at my disposal.
When I checked into the Tata Sky channel list, it was kind of a movie marathon for me. The three movies listed, which I had missed watching at the theatre were at different time slots. I hurriedly finished my chores, supplied my boy with toys, books, dough clay, and racing cars after satisfying his appetite with a sumptuous lunch, and plopped myself before the screen.
The afternoon I spent watching the royal magnum opus by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Padmavat. In the evening it was time for a regional Marathi movie Gulabjam, and at night after dinner and with my son’s head on my lap till he fell asleep, I was glued to the TV watching Karan Johar’s Dhadak.
Warning: some spoilers ahead.
This movie needs no introduction. The story of Rani Padmavati of Chittorgarh and her Jauhar, and the ‘valour and gallantry’ of Rajput women of the medieval era. Film Padmavat is based on the epic Padmavat, composed by the medieval age Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi from the days of the Bhakti Movement, which produced Tulsidas, Surdas and Kabir among hundreds of others.
The movie revolves around the dream of Allaudin Khilji to capture Padmavati. The romance between Rana Ratan Sen and queen Padmavati is overshadowed by the obsession of Khilji to own Padmavati. The story is set in the period of the 13th – 14th century. Women as privileged as the queen herself couldn’t be spared from objectification.
The emperor of Delhi wanted to ‘see’ the magnificent beauty of the queen. The queen acts against Rajput tradition and agrees to show her face to a stranger so that lives of citizens could be saved from the warlike situation. The brave queen rescues her husband from the captivity of the whimsical emperor and brings him back to Chittorgarh. However, as the emperor retaliates by attacking Chittorgarh, she was practical enough to accept that the result of war can adverse. To protect her ‘honour’ and save women from humiliation at the hands of enemies, the Rajputanis performed Jauhar by jumping into the huge fire pyre.
It was the medieval era and death was the only way out for these women. The strong, intelligent and beautiful queen chose to embrace death rather than live as an object of sexual desire and lust in the hands of the emperor.
Aditya works as a banker in London, but he dreams of recreating the food of his childhood. When he tracks down Radha, who is famed for her culinary touch, he encounters a living example of the notorious Puneri brand of hospitality. Radha (Sonali Kulkarni) is standoffish to the point of being rude and deeply disinterested in mentoring Aditya. She makes him do menial tasks, dismisses his early efforts at the stove, and warms to him only after he accepts the rules of engagement: whenever there is an argument, she will always be right.
As Aditya gradually peels back the layers that surround Radha, he discovers a woman who is as stuck in time as the analog gadgets scattered across her Shaniwar Peth home. The other main characters of the movies are food, nostalgia, and past.
The woman protagonist Radha, brilliantly portrayed by the talented Sonali Kulkarni, is trying to hold the strings of her life after spending eleven years in a coma. She has forgotten many of the memories of her previous years and also how to count numbers. Her fear of daylight and facing crowds makes you feel the helplessness of the single, lost and lonely woman. She earns by providing tiffins to various people, but never connects with anybody. Gradually Aditya wins her confidence and makes way for her to reach out to people through her food. The bond and dependability she develops for Aditya make it difficult for him to leave to complete his dream of opening an authentic Maharashtrian restaurant in the west. But again here Radha overcomes her weakness for him, and teaches him how to let go and accept change. The beauty of a unique relationship of trust, respect, and sensitivity touches the core of your heart and leaves you with a sense of positivity. The difficult conditions that Radha faces due to her memory loss, and emerging out as a strong and balanced person make you feel the strength of femininity.
The glamorous remake by Karan Johar of the original Marathi movie Sairat is a tragic romance, the caste and class differences set up in the city of Udaipur, where the love blossoms between Madhu (Ishan Khattar)and Parthavi (Jahnavi Kapoor). However, the remake drastically trips up on keeping the essence and message of the original Sairat. The stark rawness and reality of caste differences are missing in Dhadak.
The couple who elopes to Kolkata to save their lives, once the affair is discovered by Parthavi’s erstwhile politically strong family, face the challenges of the life of poverty and struggle. However, they rise through it and a stability is achieved in their relationship and life. In the climax of the movie, the honour killing by the brother of the girl is replaced by the murder of Madhukar and their only son. Parthavi has depicted shell-shocked and utterly helpless while her whole world is ruthlessly shattered before her own eyes.
Parthavi, the female protagonist, appears to be very strong headed, intelligent and brave. She makes way for the safe exit of Madhu and faces every adversity with firmness. The despair, pain, and struggle faced by the couple bring out the maturity of Parthavi. It again makes you realize how a woman with her firmness and strength can weave her own world.
At the end of the day, I felt as if I watched three different versions of womenkind, but subjected to the same kind of social outlook, even if the settings, era and time period of all three movies were different. Rani Padmavati, Radha of Gulabjam and Parthavi of Dhadak, all three of them were very intelligent, capable and mentally strong. However, the perception of society towards them remained the same in all the three different settings.
Patriarchy, objectifying and dominance towards their womanhood are common in all three movies. The day society starts accepting women as persons with equal capabilities, rising above all class, caste and economic difference, maybe then stories around women will be weaved with different plots. The plots of their success, their ability to take their own decisions and be proud of them, making their own choices and living life on their own terms. I hope someday these become realistic stories of cinemas and motivate women to carve their niche without fear and oppression.
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