KJo, You Almost Got It Right With Rocky Aur Rani, But You’ve A Long Way To Go Yet!

It misses the mark on its path to bravery. Because it tries but fails to save itself from the biggest, all-pervasive yet most subtle cliches of all when it comes to gender equality.

Well, Rocky, you almost convinced us about your love for Rani. Almost. Because the movie is actually too good to be true.

I had zero interest in watching Rocky aur Rani ki Prem Kahani despite being a diehard romantic and a forty-year-old sucker for Yash Chopra/Karan Johar style mega sagas in which Shahrukh spreads his arms, high schools look like Barbie sets and even tragedy looks gorgeous. Most of the time with such a release, aaj bhi kuch kuch hota hain.

Possibly the overload of chiffon-clad romances, or just the overload of romance and marriage dramas portraying the plight of working young professionals in recent years is to be blamed for this.

But then, I was told this is a romance between a Punjabi boy and a Bengali girl leading to marriage and a cliched yet not-so-cliched portrayal of cultural differences producing comedy gold brilliantly put together (with just the right amount of spice and flare) to be a social change mouthpiece against soft patriarchy. Who can resist that?!

Being a Bengali who fell in love and married a Punjabi (or rather, more appropriately, into a Punjabi family), just the first part was enough enticement. Throw in the rest, I found myself watching Ranveer Singh flaunt the most audacious of a wardrobe (possibly to be matched in Bollywood only by the 2007 multi starrer Jhoom Barabar Jhoom in which the costume designer should have been crowned the real hero). I also found myself thinking about writing about it the whole next day. Because the movie came so close, so close, to convincing us of a manifestation of truly enlightened family-approved love between an Indian son and a woman that is chiseled to fight patriarchy.

*Many spoilers alert, so go watch the movie first – I promise you it’s worth a watch!*

Let me first speak of what I think is good

The movie is overloaded with charm

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From Ranveer’s effortless portrayal of Rocky and Alia’s giving him a run for his money Rani to a supporting cast who mostly endear with their eccentricities. Although, Alia’s accent-loaded utterance of the most simple of a Bengali sentence within the first ten minutes of a movie in which she is playing a Bengali did cause me to flinch a bit.

Veteran actors deliver powerful performances and everything combined, it’s easy to fall in love with Rani, Rocky, and with their Prem Kahaani.

Visuals are expectedly over the top, especially when it comes to the portrayal of Randhawa lifestyle, and the deliberate exaggeration of everything – from the costumes to dialogues – adds to the humour.

The screenplay is quite tight

As a mainstream mega-entertainer having to juggle quite a few balls (be content rich yet not overly preachy, match the style of recent Southern blockbusters but ensure it stays Bollywood-ish…), it does a terrific job of soft landing soft patriarchy on enraptured masses who want messaging but not melodrama.

The bra shopping expedition putting a spotlight on double standards

A bra shopping induced discussion on selective treatment of women as untouchable objects of honor and women’s physiology as taboo subjects leading to objectification, and the dichotomy that India had normalized around the same is brilliant and long overdue.

My marital family is no different when it comes to women’s underwear (and honour in general). Normalization of drying bras and panties underneath towels. Attaching shame and sexuality to women’s underwear and utility to men’s. Wrapping pads in newspaper while buying from shops and feeling compelled to hide period stains as if a matter of life or death. These are some of the thousand cuts we have been dying by for generations. Most young men are taught to ‘respect’ and feel awkward about these topics.

Questioning double standards

Similarly, the matter-of-fact rapid dialogue exchange around a woman leaving her home post-marriage vs. the possibility of a man doing so is subtle and effective. The concept of breaking up the family in one case vs. the other, innocently blurted out by a genuinely clueless Rocky – we have all been there, and we have all, men or women, been Rocky ourselves.

It also does well on calling out double standards – Rocky being made fun of is no different from Chandon being made fun of, and explains well the problem with one-stroke cancellation.

But – yes, there’s a BUT – there are things the movie shies away from addressing

However, the movie misses the mark on its path to bravery. Because it tries but fails to save itself from the biggest, all-pervasive yet most subtle cliches of all when it comes to gender equality.

Keeping intact the ‘virtue’ of our married women, never mind how they feel

When a hurt yet poised Shabana discloses that she has no regrets from cheating on her spouse because, as we come to know, the later used to hit her (and her son) – I sigh. Even twenty-three years after Astitva – to make sure we don’t mar the ‘virtue’ of our married women – for a woman to have been engaged in an extramarital relationship, the spouse needs to have been a physical abuser or a serial cheater.

The Great Indian Family MUST be kept intact, no matter what!

For men, being in a loveless marriage with no chemistry is good enough a reason to be enticed elsewhere by true love. Kanwal Lund is a romantic soul straying in a loveless marriage, dying with a message of “not breaking up families no matter what”.

Jamini is in a loveless marriage too, but thankfully with a shield to justify her ‘cheating’ – her husband used to beat her. Karan, you were braver than this in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. Maybe you traded carefully this time for all the flak received for KANK.

An older patriarch is ALWAYS right, but a matriarch is always problematic!

Likewise, Rani, who is being publicly berated, whose entire family is being spat at, loses her patience at last and ‘crosses the unthinkable line’.

Rocky, who had us almost convinced of slowly unlearning his problematic ways and beliefs, shouts at her publicly, and shames her for something she didn’t do (Rani pushes away that hand that was in her face – she didn’t raise a hand – a valid and critical point she fails to convince anyone of) and is insulted with ‘itna to tumhare yahan bhi shikhate honge’ – ‘this much even your people should have taught’.

The word “even” here is not to be taken lightly, for it’s not a mere taunt .– it’s the snake of patriarchy that raises its ugly head for it never truly had died. He boasts later to his father of “how much he loves Rani and yet, the line of respect had been crossed and therefore, he left her”.

Of course, the woman has to bend at the end, whether the fault is hers or not

Rani is shown to be the one bending again. Pining. Convinced by everyone that indeed, no matter what is done to you, you as a woman “shouldn’t cross a line of respect” when it comes to the patriarch. That line can only be crossed by his own son – a male who can grab his hand.

The unthinkable action of a would-be bahu toward an abusive Sasur (father in law) causes the inevitable even for the ‘progressives’ and ‘converts’. Profuse apology by Rani to Rocky, and the gratification of the latter from forgiving her.

Alas! The “respect your elders, especially MEN” clause when it comes to patriarchy. Bol to diya isbar Jaya Bhaduri, but ucha bolne ka hak abhi bhi mardo ko hi hain. (You did say it in this film Jaya Bhaduri, but to speak loudly and fearlessly is still the right of men). So she is shunned at the end, or stays away from festivities.

You ALMOST had us convinced, KJo, but you have a lot more to learn

Someday, maybe, I will ask again why we teach ourselves and our children that relatives and older age deserve respect despite their actions. Justifying everything from dowry to abuse.

But for today, I would like to end with some humour, asking another question in my effort to reward the ‘most’ and let go of the ‘almost’.

What would Rocky, the unqualified heir who didn’t know how to make a cup of coffee, do for a living if he would have had to follow through on his threat of “disowning his father and his rights to the empire”? If not for Kunwal’s timely death, he would have had to leave home with his mother (a dependent) and his sister (thankfully now earning), and had broken ties with his girlfriend already.

Maine Pyar Kiya style moving bricks and hard labour construction jobs for earning some thousand rupees aren’t available anymore. How would he sustain even a fraction of his lifestyle? India wants to know.

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About the Author

Tanushree Ghosh

Tanushree Ghosh (Ph. D., Chemistry, Cornell, NY), is Director at Intel Corp., a social activist, and an author. She is a contributor (past and present) to several popular e-zines incl. The Huffington Post US ( read more...

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