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Imtiaz Ali explores relationships in his films, but his women characters are a total mess, IMO. Can we hope for a better arc for the woman in the upcoming Love Aaj Kal 2?
Love Aaj Kal 2 is soon to release. And the trailer and songs seem to promise another Imtiaz Ali experience, if nothing else.
Right since the time he burst onto the popular scene in 2003, Imtiaz Ali has created a devoted and besotted cult of fans that are in awe of the whimsical romance stories he pens and/or directs.
The stories are almost always from the man’s viewpoint, ‘starting’ with him, with his journey. And what fascinating characters these men are, with the exception of an occasional Saif Ali Khan in Cocktail. They are confused, vulnerable, they break down, they cry, they go crazy. In a movie culture where men are synonymous with machoism and powerful masculinity, these men come across as a welcome change.
And so it is fitting to expect that the women in the lives of these men too will bring fresh perspectives and do their damned best to break the mould. Only, that may not quite be the case.
If I had to come up with a Wiki definition for an Imtiaz Ali’s heroine, I would go with something like, “An attractive, outspoken woman from a well-to-do but conservative background, who lives in a traditional mould but also wants to break out of it in subtle ways. Her primary aim is to lead the man she encounters into self discovery, and in the process discover maybe a little of her own self.”
Let’s start with Ayesha Takia’s character from Socha Na Tha. She is petite, soft spoken, almost resigned to her fate of getting into an arranged marriage and also mentally prepared to face a rejection from a prospective groom. A trip to Goa with the hero and his friends, to her, is only a chance to let loose and ‘claim’ her life, even if she is invited by the hero with a likely agenda to find out if his girl friend really loves him or not.
Of course, the couple ends up falling in love somewhere in between, but the viewpoint is always (and frustratingly) controlled by the man.
Alia Bhatt’s character from Highway fares a lot better – the story even starts with her – and sees the best character arc of all Ali’s heroines. But even here, the Stockholm Syndrome that moves the story forward is very casually explored.
Would a young woman with so many secrets of her past really warm up to her kidnapper, especially the way the scenes after the kidnap unfold? The gagging, the hitting, the groping…. Her uninhibited dance to Patakha Guddi might be one of the best shot scenes in the movie, but in the screenplay it is odd and far fetched. It feels like the Ali verse shirking off the thorns trying to build a more romanticized version of the story. I clearly remember that the Rishtey episode that Ali himself directed and which was the predecessor for this story, felt much more organic even with its limited length. Was it then just the charm of Bollywood and A R Rahman’s gorgeous music…?
Probably the movie that really put him out there was Jab We Met. And I have to take a pause before I start about Geet played by Kareena Kapoor. Just what Geet is about.
When we first meet her she goes on yapping and yapping as everyone around her watches her with their mouths hanging loose. She jokes with people she barely met, changes into pajamas in the train’s washroom and in a rather silly sequence misses the train, not once but twice! When stranded on the train station and faced with a bunch of potentially dangerous hoodlums, Ali in his classic style, quickly has her bump into Shahid Kapoor’s character popping out of nowhere to ‘save’ the heroine. And in what is probably the most cringeworthy scene, Geet gets herself mistaken for a prostitute. Not that there is anything wrong with being one. But the way this scene is shot, clearly for the laughs and sneers, made me very uncomfortable.
Geet is shown to not possess any sense of calculation. She has no aim in her life other than getting married to Anshuman. And with whatever little is shown of Anshuman, clearly she does not even have a good judgement about the man she is willing to choose over a loving family. To quote the millennial lingo, total smh.
But I think it is the three Deepika Padukone characters that really prompted this piece for me.
Let’s start with Meera from Love Aaj Kal, clearly the best one of the lot. For at last we see an Imtiaz Ali heroine with an actual vocation. This is also a heroine who is not tied to anything or anyone, at least in the beginning. Even when she feels a smidgen of insecurity or that good old sadness, she does not dwell on it. She claims her appearance back, like a self-aware woman would do.
But once the hero comes back into her life physically, her indecision becomes increasingly jarring. The story, as expected, hinges on a marriage when we, the audience, can see more clearly Meera should just leave the poor guy alone. Yet again, a character’s consistency getting sacrificed at the altar of Ali-verse.
Tamasha’s Tara is just plain bad. There is absolutely no personality to her, other than how she feels around Dev.
With so much time spent on exploring Dev’s angst, could Ali have not added some background to why he made so much difference to Tara’s life? Clearly, there was a story there, waiting to be told. But alas, it is a man’s world.
But what makes me want to pull my hair apart is Veronica from Cocktail, an absolute mess of writing that is already lazy and uninspired.
Veronica is shown to be the coolest woman around, and hottest, and someone unafraid to wear the pants in the house, or have casual sex and lots of it. But there is also a softer side to her, and her gentle bonding with Meera (Ali loves that name), the other lead in the movie. Meera’s character is cliched as the naive, small town girl. And the man these two women fall for (for no good reason) just seems like an ultimate male fantasy.
But love triangles are often illogical, as matters of heart are. So that isn’t the issue. The issue is how Veronica is suddenly in the span of a single 3-4 minute song broken down from a confident, assured, and kind person to a weepy, abandoned, lovelorn woman suddenly longing to have a saas and pati and all that jazz. This is a terrible disservice to all women like Veronica, who are in complete power and capacity to steer their own lives the way they want to. Ali started out interestingly, but then brought it down crashing.
I am longing for the day when Ali will write about a middle class woman with actual aspirations discovering love and loss and whatever else that it is that he writes so well about. I am also waiting for the day when Ali actually explores a Veronica’s life in London without the disgraceful breakdowns that come out of nowhere. Or a Geet who is not so artificially bubbly. Or a Tara who has her own secrets, for wanting a Don and not a Dev in her life. Till then, I will feel happy about Laila and Heer, at least their stories are perfectly suited to the tone of the sufi realism they dwell in.
And who knows the spunky Sara Ali Khan may have inspired something ‘different’, we will wait and see.
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Writer and technologist currently based out of Bangalore
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