One thing I learned from the A to Z challenge is that I need to publish more regularly. Publishing once a month is not enough. That doesn’t mean my posts need to be longer, just more frequent. In the coming weeks, you’ll see a few new themes emerge.
The first new theme is Film Fridays. Every week, I’ll give you my take on an Indian film. Because so many readers (including myself) do not speak Hindi and live outside India, I’ve decided to feature movies that are available on DVD only. US residents can also check Netflix for these films, as some films may be available there.
Queen is the story of Rani (Queen in Hindi). We first meet Rani at her sangeet. Caught up in the excitement of the marriage rituals, Rani is a a beautiful Indian bride. But, the day before the marriage ceremony, her fiancé, Vijay, breaks off the engagement. Rani is devastated. Vijay promised her Paris for a honeymoon, and Rani decides to go without him. Sheltered all her life, Rani embarks on a journey of self-discovery that takes her not only beyond India’s borders, but beyond those boundaries imposed on her by herself, her family, her fiancé, and her culture. In Paris and Amsterdam, Rani finds freedom: personal freedom to determine her own path, and an implied sexual freedom to choose her own lover. There’s even a pole dance scene! Seriously. In a movie where the protagonist is terrified of a “lip-to-lip” kiss, the shocking reality of pole dancing is ironic.
This film is not a typical “boy meets girl” story. Quite the opposite. By Bollywood standards, the ending is unconventional in its denouement. The boy does not get the girl in the end. The girl stands on her own with her future in front of her. A future we assume she will make on her own terms.
Many in India have hailed this film as a bold departure from traditional depictions of women in Bollywood movies. For the most part, I agree with these assessments. The film is a brilliant, subtle feminist treatise about sexual liberation. However, it’s telling that when Rani finds success in Amsterdam, it’s for her cooking. And, you can’t get more traditional than a woman measuring her success through measuring cups. Yet, this success gives Rani the confidence to take her dreams beyond the kitchen and into the corporate world. Something that India desperately needs. RIL, India’s largest employer, recently announced its intentions to employ women in 30% of its senior leadership positions. It’s a sad statement about the position of women in the workforce that such an initiative is needed.
Some have also argued that the film speaks to India’s deep need to integrate Western ideas into Indian culture. Indians have a long history of moving beyond India’s borders. The Indian diaspora is estimated at around 20 million, with NRIs (non-resident Indians) comprising approximately half that number. Typically, these NRIs pursue education abroad and return to India to live and work, much in the same way Gandhiji did. Others start their educations here, and then pursue higher degrees and careers abroad, just as Satya Nadella and Raghuram Rajan have. Nevertheless, India remains a culture isolated from Western influences in many ways. Its people hold tight to their traditional values, especially about the position of women.
Yet, I question the need for Rani to go abroad. Why must she find herself in a foreign land? Why can’t she do that in India? Surely, a trip to Goa, with its gambling halls and free-flowing alcohol could have had the same eye-opening impact. If a foreign director had made this movie, it would have been reviled as Orientalism. The backward, sheltered Indian girl must go to Paris, the most Western of Western cultures, to find herself and rebel against every known Indian cultural constraint. I’m certainly not arguing for isolationism. Yet, this film feels a bit like Eat, Pray, Love in reverse. Yes, moving abroad has opened my world in a way that I never dreamed possible. Nevertheless, I challenge the notion presented in this film that one must go abroad to awaken one’s true self. I am also left wondering how successfully Rani will manage to maintain her new freedom after she returns to India.
It wouldn’t be a Bollywood movie without songs! So, each review will feature a link to at least one song from each movie. In this case, I found an entire album. Enjoy.