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After the kiss, it remains upto Ratna to keep her feet on the ground, while Ashwin goes into easy rants about not caring for the world, because the world does not impact him as it does her…
I finally got on Netflix and watched Sir, Is Love Enough?
And my first thought was, what is with the male mind and it’s fixation with the brilliant female with less power? The younger woman, the poorer woman, the less privileged and marginalized woman? Do even the most decent male minds never get over this subtle power dynamic?
Because Ashwin, the male lead in the movie, is no regular patriarchal jerk. He genuinely respects Ratna, the central character and his stay-in house help (played brilliantly by Tilottama Shome). He supports her and her aspirations in ways most employers do not support their househelp. He sees her for who she is, he sees her strength and her determination to make something of her life, and is mindful of her contribution to his life.
And yet throughout the movie the huge chasm of power difference between the two is blindingly obvious. Not to Ashwin however.
Ashwin ‘gives’ Ratna space, but she is not free to claim it. Her space in the household, and even in her own life, rests on his allowance. She can take a tailoring course because he ‘allows’ her to take time off her duties. If he refused she couldn’t. Even for the trivial liberty of using his full length mirror for a few minutes to try out a dress she has stitched, Ratna feels compelled to apologize profusely because despite his reassurances she does not feel safe.
Throughout the movie there is this sense of Ratna’s space in the dynamic hanging by a thread — one little wrong step, one hint of displeasure for her employer and it could be gone in a flash. She is forever watchful, never at ease.
And then that twist of romance.
Even before they actually kiss and the connection is out in the open, Ratna’s powerlessness is evident. It plays out in Ashwin bringing a casual date home for the night at a time when their connection is already becoming palpable. And being his employee, she cannot question him, she cannot voice her heartbreak. It comes out indirectly in her concern for her sister.
And after the kiss does happen, it is upto Ratna to keep her feet on the ground while Ashwin goes into easy rants about not caring for the world, because the world does not impact him as it does her.
It is upto her to remind him that his seeing her as equal does not MAKE them equal. That their relationship IS not equal.
It is upto her to not fall prey to the tempting fairytale narrative, of the prince on the white steed lifting the poor maid out of her predicament, which has led many young underprivileged women to their doom.
It is upto her to stay firm on the path of self actualization on her own steam.
Because no matter how decent a guy he is, being both male and privileged, Ashwin remains blissfully oblivious of the power dynamics involved, including his own unconscious machinations.
I say unconscious, because for all his admiration of Ratna’s feistiness, Ashwin has only seen it enacted outside of his world — in her struggles with her family, in her struggle to create a career for herself. But in his life, as his house help she is always subservient, always soft-spoken, always conveniently unquestioning and pliant.
It was my daughter who pointed out this nuance, and asked, would he find her as attractive as he finds her in the movie when, as his girlfriend she starts bringing her strengths into the relationship and taking up space she has never taken before? And we both sighed deeply.
What if the privileged male could be an ally to the vulnerable but brilliant woman? Instead of wanting to use her brilliance and empathy to fill his own emptiness? What if instead of wanting to grab Ratna for himself, Ashwin could stand on the sidelights of her life and cheer her on? Be happy for her success and give her a tiny bit of a leg up when she needs it?
Even his last gesture of finding a job with a designer could have been a happier thing if romance had not made things muddy. Because now there will always be the question if he would have extended this support without the romance. And where she would be without that tiny scrap of support? What if Ashwin could have offered this help as a well-wisher instead of as a failed lover?
That would be a different movie altogether. In this one there is just a tiny hint at the end that they might meet on equal ground over a long distance phone call. But as this movie is, exploring that possibility in any extended way did not look possible.
But within the structure of this movie as is, if there is one thing I would have liked it would be this. I would have liked Ratna to spell out how precarious her position would be if, as his salaried employee, she were to also be his girlfriend. As is, she only points out what she may have to face in his family and her community.
But she does not touch upon the inherent lack of safety or agency for her in the relationship that Ashwin proposes — that as both employer and lover, and living under his roof as well, Ashwin will command virtually all power over her life, and she would have no ground left of her own. If she had done that then the violence and blindness to power dynamics at the core of the privileged male’s desire to pair with a woman with less power than him could have been exposed. It could have been a wake up moment for Ashwin.
But that is where the movie hamstrings its central character. That is where a superbly built up story finally fails to call the shit out at its core. The power dynamic and its violence is outsourced as usual to the ‘zaalim duniya’ while the male is protected from the really tough self-questioning.
And finally, the answer to the question posed in the title of the movie is, no, love is not enough. A truly equal space between two people is also needed. The willingness to look deeply into the power dynamic and each partner’s space in it is also needed. Introspection and self-questioning is also needed. I am happy the film makes this point upto an extent. I would have been happier if it had used the potential it had to make it fully.
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Aparna Pallavi's current callings are as a therapist, contemplative writer and researcher of indigenous
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