Bollywood Screenwriter Jyoti Kapoor: Feminism Is Not A Rigid Being; It’s Always Evolving

"Feminism means having the freedom, choice and opportunity that the other gender has," says Bollywood screenwriter Jyoti Kapoor. "It's okay to question things."

“Feminism means having the freedom, choice and opportunity that the other gender has,” says Bollywood screenwriter Jyoti Kapoor. “It’s okay to question things.”

I don’t even remember when was the first time I heard/ uttered the ‘F’ word. But I do remember that some things around me had begun to bother me at a very young age. And I would feel that I am way too sensitive. Why aren’t the other girls reacting to it? Why aren’t they angry? May be it’s me who’s not normal, I would tell myself.

Today, when I look back, I want to tell the disillusioned me that it’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay to revolt.

Growing up in a patriarchal Haryana

I come from a family of zamindars in Haryana, the hotbed of Patriarchy, where if you don’t have a son, people will kill you with taunts, your relatives will swoop down like vultures to grab your land.

Back when I was growing up, there was a lot of pressure on my parents to have a male heir so the land remains in the family. And therefore, they ended up having three daughters, me being the eldest. If you ask them today, they are glad it didn’t happen. The same relatives, who would taunt us, were sadly and ironically not lucky to have the dutiful, ideal sons they were hoping for.

My parents and grandparents who totally doted on us, evolved with us as time went by. And so has my understanding of feminism. I believe it’s a very personal journey and a different one for each one of us. We react to things we see around us, question the status quo and evolve as people, as feminists.

Wanting to be the ‘boy’ expected by society

There was a brief phase when I so badly wanted to be the son my parents didn’t have that I cut my hair short (I did it again many years later but because I thought pixie was sexy!), started dressing up like boys, trying to emulate them. I would sometimes try and lift my bicycle instead of just wheeling it out of the school cycle stand, because, well, if the boy standing next to me could, I could too.

I wanted to enroll in the army because there was a lot of anger inside me. I wanted to prove myself so badly. And be strong, physically strong. Two NCC camps later, I realized it was not my cup of tea. I was trying so hard to convince everyone and myself that I was an equal in all respects, that I had started losing my identity. I need not have lifted bicycles to make my point when I could do that with penning down a poem of protest, doing things that came naturally to me as a person.

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Men were the enemy?

Another vivid childhood memory I have, is of an idiotic, self proclaimed well wisher trying to explain it to three little girls that it’s important to have a brother because girls get married and go to their husband’s home leaving their parents behind.

The three of us were so disturbed that we entered into a kiddie pact that we will never get married so our parents are taken care of in old age. That was so twisted, now that I think of it. It was obviously driven by how the society around us had defined the roles that men and women were to play.

I remember my sister and I giving a piece of our mind to a creep, who tried to touch us inappropriately in a busy market place in broad daylight. There was no twitter or Facebook back then and little girls didn’t go home and tell their stories to their parents. There were cops lazing around close-by, but no one bothered to intervene.

I remember hating men so much back then. Because men were the perpetrators, men were the reason why we were not allowed to step out alone after dark, the reason we would always carry a stone in our hands every-time we would step out of our house, just in case some creep tried to brush against us. Men were the enemy.

Later, when I grew up and moved out of my hometown for my higher education, got a chance to meet more sorted, more like-minded men, some of whom went on to become my best friends, I realized that the fight was not against men, but against the patriarchal value system that creates these gaps, that teaches men to look down upon women. I also realized that I did not need to change or sacrifice myself in order to feel like an equal. I just needed to be myself.

Pushing for equality

That led to another phase in my life; of taking equality too seriously.

I remember always splitting the bill with any boys I went out with. Sometimes I would even pay for them like an idiot. I would never take up the ladies’ seat in the bus or expect men to open doors for me. All I wanted was for them to treat me like them, nothing less, nothing more.

Not very long ago, I refused to let the men in the group I was traveling in, help me with one of my heavy-duty suitcases. The next day I had a muscle pull.

I think I have always tried too hard to be an equal and as I am growing old I am trying to tell myself to take it easy sometimes. Feminism is not so rigid. It’s flexible, perpetually evolving and much more layered.

How do I be a feminist?

You need not be a superwoman in order to be a feminist. You need not be a perfectionist. You need not be a career woman for that matter. It’s okay to put up your feet sometimes.

Feminism is allowing oneself to breathe.

Feminism is not judging other women for the choices they make or had to make, whether it is wearing a hijab or fasting on karwachauth.

Feminism is just being there for each other.

Feminism is not making a virtue out of smoking or drinking, but to have the choice to smoke and drink; and to know the difference between the two.

Feminism is having the choice to not change your surname, if you don’t want to.

Feminism is having the right to make the most important decisions about your own body, whether that’s motherhood or abortion.

Feminism is the choice to go grey if you want to or shave your head for that matter.

Feminism means having the freedom, choice and opportunity that the other gender has. Feminism is equality. Feminism is not a derogatory word.

Feminism over the last few years

The last few years have been particularly significant for the feminist movement the world over. The #MeToo movement that found its origin in the US, finally found its way to India and has totally shaken up the power structures, especially in the world of media and entertainment. Now it’s time for it to percolate down to the middle classes.

The biggest achievement of the movement is the collective voice that is emerging, where women are rooting for each other, women are becoming role models for little girls, women are extending support and creating a safety network for each other. I have interacted with so many amazing women in the last couple of years – women who finally came out with their stories, women whom I respect, look up to, women who have stood their ground, women who have each other’s back. I have struck beautiful friendships, which I cherish.

Here’s to the sisterhood! Here’s to Feminism. Here’s to equal rights for all sexes.

Editor’s note: Feminism has exploded over Indian screens and minds in the last few years, bringing what was considered an ‘uncomfortable’ topic into everyday speech, with all its hues and forms, warts and all. Wonder of wonders, it is even becoming an accepted way of life!

In this series, we invite women of note who’ve made a mark in their respective fields to share their Feminism – how they have experienced it, and how their view of it has evolved over the years.

Jyoti Kapoor is a Mumbai based screenwriter and former journalist. She worked as a correspondent with publications like ‘The Indian Express’ and ‘Mid-Day’ before she crossed over to fiction. She also taught screenwriting at Whistling Woods International, a film school based in Mumbai, before starting out as a full time writer. An alumnus of Film and Television Institute of India, Jyoti has co-written scripts for films like ‘Badhai Ho’, ‘Dawat-e-Ishq’ & ‘Kaccha Limboo’ and is the writer of upcoming film ‘Good News’. Jyoti has been actively involved in writers’ rights initiatives and is the Vice President of the Screenwriters’ Association (SWA). 

This is the fifth article in the series #WomenWhoMatter. 

Want to know what our other feminists say? Read the thoughts of Dr Sabyn Javeri here.

Image source: Jyoti Kapoor

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