Is Queen the feminist we have forgotten?


Losing hand
In a drunken reverie Rani(Ranaut) professes how her life mirrors Gupta uncle. That uncle who never let the stench of tobacco near nor laced his lips with alcohol yet somehow succumbed to the misery of cancer. This is her. She has obeyed every rule in the book; never defied her parents; was subservient to her fiance and played a pushover to the world yet life dealt her a losing hand; Love lynched her and destiny ditched her.  Why her? And more importantly what now?

Runaway but not revolting
Rani after being dumped at the altar decides to honeymoon alone. Why does she do it? Earlier on we see how she saves every penny towards her honeymoon fund (which is visiting her most favorite cities Paris and Amsterdam). So when she is robbed of the romance why give up this treasured dream? She quietly confides to her dad that she wants to go but will not if he chooses otherwise. She does not defy yet calmly expresses her decision. For a girl who has hardly stepped out of Rajori she decides to globe-trot, alone. Only she isn’t fully prepared.

Pushing boundaries
In Paris, she hardly leaves her room. Her grandmother chides her “if you just wanted to watch the Telly, why go all the way to a different country” – a nudge here. Her epic encounter with vijaya lakshmi(vijay) shoves her further in exploring the city. She is still terrified of the Eiffel which as lovers they had declared to visit together. But she decides to hang around. She gets drunk, dances in public and almost gets arrested, all of which her fiance and his mummy would have resented. But she is having a ball by flying solo.

In Amsterdam she has yet another territory to invade. Her roommates are all men and she cannot coexist with the (unrelated)opposite sex in the same room. It’s not whether she trusts them but it’s rather that she is not(yet) strong enough to take this step. Eventually she conquers this too. She learns to befriend them, converses freely about her life and yet sticks to her boundaries.

Finally when the fiance comes begging to take him back, she doesn’t give him a speech about how she has changed etc. She reminds him pleasantly that she has other plans and they should meet in Rajori. She is buying time but remembers to pay for herself. I can take care of myself and no I don’t need a knight in a shining armor to stand beside me.  Also she wears a new outfit that she brought for herself in Paris not to swoon him but to state that she knows she is beautiful inside out.

Feminist yet fragile
Rani is elegant, gullible and sheer poetry. Her search to find her strength within the confines of her identity is the cynosure of this well crafted film. We see Rani lip locking with a foreigner but it is brief and does not lead to this-will-never-work-out sob story. Rani is a feminist in the sense that she learns to stand out, speak her mind and yet learns to be respectful. (Even when she meets her ex fiancé’s mother she pays her respects.)

Queen reinforces my belief that feminism is not only about wardrobe choices, physical and sexual freedom but about more significant aspects like attitude and identity. In the end, Rani hugs Vijay and thanks him for giving her a chance to go on this journey but I thank Rani for coming back with her core spirit intact because that is something nobody can deny or steal from you.

Star Power

Tamil cinema fans are often seen as rowdy and raucous bursting crackers, pouring milk, erecting effigies and in general doing nothing worthwhile. But when a star uses his clout to direct this huge mob towards social service the results could be monumental.

Class Apart – Dhanush, Shruti Hassan & Priya Anand


If Dhanush can straddle a Raanjhanna and Maryaan squarely on his shoulders without having to choose between Bollywood and Kollywood what makes actresses like Asin and Sridevi stick to Bollywood despite pivotal roles being offered in regional movies? Or in this age of global everything does associating with just one language provide any gains? Should all stars look beyond their regional boundaries and look at Indian cinema as an all encompassing world? Would that end the privileged treatment that Bollywood movies and stars get at the world arena?

But does landing in Bollywood culminate an actress career? Despite the popular belief that Bollywood regards its heroines as mere eye candy that are subject to the whims and fancies of the stars and key players, there are women like Vidya Balan who have managed to break free of the mould and emerged as what I would call the Female Hero. She has defied every belief when Kahaani, a movie without a strong male lead, gyrating moves and titillating songs captivated audiences throughout the nation. If Vidya Balan can experiment and emerge triumphant what stops the southern stars from delving into power packed performances? Why are there very few takers to portray the southern siren in The Dirty Picture? Surely glamour is not the deal breaker since copious clothes are already being shed.

There are women who have broken free of the tentacles of region, language and complexion. Priya Anand who won accolades for her casual yet apt act in Ethi Neechal is probably one of the few who balances Bollywood, Tollywood and Kollywood expertly. She accompanied Sridevi in her return to filmdom in English Vinglish as the adorable niece Radha, breezed through her Telugu movie Ko Ante Koti, returned to her roots in Ethir Neechal and goes back to Bollywood with Fukrey. She has embraced all the languages and has slipped under the skin of all the characters without looking jarring in any of them. Is this the triumph of the 21st century artist?

Our very own Ulaga Nayagan’s daughter Shruthi Hassan is dipping her ink in Bollywood, Tollywood and Kollywood. With a pivotal role in 7am arivu, she did a commercial fest in the Dabangg remake Gabbar singh, went on to star in the romantic family entertainer Ramaiya Vastavaiya, raced back for Balupu and now awaits the release of D-Day. If there is a fitting prodigy for Kamal she has proved able by daring to smash boundaries.

If Dhanush, Shruthi Hassan and Priya Anand make crossing over the Vindhya’s seem effortless, others may just follow suit. With Deepika Padukone in Kochadaiyan and more directors releasing Bollywood blockbusters, the need to stifle movies within the confines of regional languages might just be over. Instead of aping one another and confining to stereotypes our movie makers may finally feel pride in showcasing their roots and get to cast from the national pool. That day Indian cinema would have embraced every region and language and soared on the strengths of its diversity.

Edited version was published here.

World Cinema – Bicycle theives

This is yet another attempt for the love of cinema.
Am heading a new column “Beyond Kollywood” in behindwoods and hope to feature path breaking movies from regional langauages and around the world.

The bike was his messiah, his ticket to a career and an escape from his impoverished lifestyle. If you thought I was talking about Pollathavan, the Dhanush starrer that catapulted Vetri Maaran to fame and fortune, you are wrong. This is the plot of Bicycle Thieves, an Italian blockbuster directed by Vittorio De Sica in 1948.

The story unfolds in the post world war II era when Rome is rife with unemployment and poverty. A father, brilliantly portrayed by Lamberto Maggiorani secures a job plastering posters of Rita Hayworth for which he has to have a bike. Unfortunately, he has just pawned it to get a few days worth of food. He returns home to his wife and children cursing his luck or the lack of it. The wife, as always, quickly decides to get rid of their linen in exchange for the bike. He reports to work bike in hand and is enrolled. On his first day, the cycle is stolen in broad daylight. He gives chase but the thieves are too quick for him. Dejected, he seeks help from a friend who reassures him and takes him to a black market. Unable to find his bike there, he manages to spot the thief on his own. Does he get his bike back from the thief or is it too late?

Even for a first time viewer it is easy to spot the parallels to our own Tamil cinema. There are battles waged in front of the water tap, couples arguing yet calmly pawning the sheets for money, child labor and people bickering to get on to a bus and black markets. Sica’s masterpiece captures the raw emotions of poverty and tragedy brilliantly that everything else plays second fiddle. Devoid of color, this black and white drama paints the isolation, frustration and the gray areas of life vividly. The movie does not bank on star power with the lead played by a factory worker and most of the cast being untrained actors. But what it relied on was a solid plot, seamless storytelling and brilliant screenplay.

Cinema is primarily a visual medium. This is asserted in the movie where dialogues flow only when required. People crowding in front of the employment exchange, the pawned sheets added to a mountain of other items, a husband’s love for his wife as he cycles with her on the handlebars, people queuing to see a seer and a young boy’s love for his bicycle are all conveyed without a word spoken.
The entire movie covers a couple of days in the life of the protagonist yet we manage to invest in his life effectively. The story flows organically right from the first shot to end credits. No scene is wasted and the screenplay is taut. We feel his joy when he gloats about extra pay, the frustration on losing his cycle and the shame when chased by a mob. It is a coming of age movie that weaves real life drama without exaggeration or item numbers.

The background score adds momentum to the visuals and manages to convey the mood effectively. The despair and anxiety the father faces as he struggles to quiet his conscience yet cannot break free of the temptation to steal is amplified by the music. Will he cross over from good to bad? Will he give in to his poverty or hold on to his principles? A million questions crowds his mind and the wretched day of his life ends with people telling him it is his lucky day.

The movie was a pioneering effort in Italian neorealism depicting the psyche and conditions of Italian people. The irony of life is captured poignantly. Bicycle thieves is an inspiring film and noted film makers quote it as a landmark in movie making. Satyajith Ray having watched this in London returned home with a determination to direct. Anurag Kashyap manned the lens after viewing this classic. Like music, movies also transcend barriers and break free from the clutches of language. All we need is an open mind and an eye for good cinema. Bicycle thieves is a lesson for every film maker to watch and learn.

Edited version can be found here.