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Telugu movie Miss India promised the ‘feminist’ story of an ambitious business woman. Unfortunately what we get is a vapid and disappointing watch, that is a fail on feminism.
Ambition in women is looked down upon. No matter how intelligent, resourceful or talented, a woman, in our patriarchal society is expected to ‘settle down’, with a husband and kids. Even if she is a career woman, she is expected to put home before work.
So when a film comes along that focusses on a woman’s professional life and successes, it is reason to cheer.
From its trailer, Miss India certainly seemed to be that kind of movie. A little ‘filmy’ and ‘massy’, but hey, when we can have heroes striding in slow motion to enthusing BGM wearing their shades and fancy clothes – why not a heroine?
Miss India is the story of Manasa Samyuktha, a young girl who sets a goal for herself that she will become a businesswoman. Through family tragedy, pressure from loved ones, and lack of financial support, she stays steadfast and true to her goal of building a business that sells Indian chai, in the predominantly coffee drinking USA.
On the face of it, this seems like a good story. However, in the hands of director Narendra Nath, it becomes a bafflingly dull affair. Keerthy Suresh tries her best to infuse the one-note Manasa Samyuktha with some personality, but is let down by extremely weak writing.
The film is unique, in that its main lead is a woman who has rejected family and love to focus on her profession. Apart from that, however, the film fails to meet its ‘feminist’ goals consistently.
The lead character’s sister is shamed by her family members for ‘being selfish’ and marrying a man she loves. The lead character herself, dresses demurely in kurtas, until she is told by her boyfriend that she should dress differently as she is in the US, at which point, she completely changes her wardrobe – but hey she wears a dress in a colour her boyfriend forbids her to wear, so yaaay for feminism, right? She spouts Women’s Day WhatsApp messages as dialogues, and somehow that makes her a strong woman and a feminist. Cringe.
Even all of that could have been forgiven, if at least the story held water, but there are so many holes here, there is no hope. It has its own fantasy logic, completely at odds with itself.
This supposedly impoverished family waltzes into the US, and right into a fabulous house in San Francisco. Fox News is terribly interested in covering a business rivalry between two Indian entrepreneurs, instead of complaining about how Indians are taking away all the jobs. Americans, (mostly all white, for some reason), all speak like robots.
And yes, we do love our tea, but multiple monologues about it are a bit of an overkill.
Believe me, I tried to find something good in Miss India, and failed at it.
I’m sure there will be people out there who complain that this is what comes of trying to put message before entertainment, and how movies without the usual masala are no fun. However, to assume that being progressive is equal to being no fun would be wrong. The fact is that our film makers need to learn how to treat progressive topics. They are too stuck in the old ways, and seem to have no idea what to do with fresh perspectives.
Over the past few days, I have also been watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, that stars Anya Taylor-Joy, as Beth Harmon, a prodigious chess player, who aims to be the best there is at the game. Like Miss India, it is the story of an ambitious woman who shuns a ‘settled family life’ in favour of following her dream. Unlike Miss India though, it kept me glued to the screen.
There is no violence, no rape, no nudity. None of the usual ‘masala’ that people claim is necessary to make a series interesting. In a patriarchal world, Beth’s talent is so stunning, that even the men around her have no choice but to accept that she is better than them, and they not only make way for her, but also actively support her. And watching that is extremely satisfying!
But beyond just its feminist messaging, the series also actively manages our attention in such a way that it is impossible to look away. We cheer, cry and clap for Beth. We wait on the edge of the seat. I don’t even play chess, but watching the series certainly made me want to go buy a chess set immediately. That is how powerful the storytelling is.
If only Miss India could have been that, instead of being the weakest cup of tea ever made!
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