Now DDLJ is a film I watched 32 times in the cinema hall. But I feel very strongly for the issue of representation of women in literature and cinema. Which is not to say that I am not flawed or don’t make mistakes but this subject matters and so it makes me think and introspect and grow.

I thought about this for a while. And the strength of his argument was effective. I began to wonder and also agree with him on various points. Suddenly all the conversations I’d had with my women friends about women not being able to really drive stories forward in popular cinema and how they always only succeeded if they came into the arms of the hero at the end and I began to agree with him.

Then I went down for a swim and I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something in my thinking on the subject was amiss.

And I came to the conclusion that there were a couple of points, which just didn’t work for me. Thankfully I had my storytelling experience and learning at the screenplay writing class at the FTII that id done years ago to fall back on for clarity.

If a story is a man’s story, then it is just that, a man’s story. Yes more stories and films should be made on women’s stories. But that’s a separate issue. So here are my points of difference:

  1. If the story is a man’s and in this case Raj’s story then HE will drive it forward and every major plot point will be driven by him. That is just storytelling. It isn’t being sexist.
  2. If it were Simran’s story then she would but naturally have driven it forward like in a film like Damini or Kahaani or Chandni Bar.
  3. Kajol/Simran DOES TAKE A CHOICE. She takes two choices that make her a rockstar of a character in my eyes. The first choice is to love someone who she knows isn’t someone her father would like or accept. And with SUCH a strong patriarch in the family for her to take this decision shows tremendous strength of character. Next she wants to run away but when her lover proposes that they shouldn’t run without trying their best to convince her father she agrees and then works in that direction full throttle. Despite knowing that its an uphill climb, that the odds are stacked so crazily against her, that she might lose the love of her life, she takes the chance because she values the fact that this family has been with her for so many years and deserves the hard work of an attempt to convince them. These two decisions make her a very strong character the way I see it.
  4. The girls mother also expresses in a scene at night when she gets to know about her daughter, that she should run away because she wants her to have a life more free than the one she herself had. But then again later ends up giving her the same advice that the world is unkind fo women and she will have to succumb to patriarchy. But Simran doesn’t do so. She still forges on. So they’ve again gone against Patriarchy and not for it.
  5. The patriarch who clearly DOES hold the bastion of patriarchy and is the epitomy of patriarchy in the world IS THE ANTAGONIST. So the film isn’t promoting it, it is in its own way talking against it. If the patriarch was the HERO of the film the film would be PRO patriarchy. But this isn’t the case. Also this PATRIARCH is transformed by the end; he realizes that his ways are not correct and says ‘I was wrong. I failed to recognize him. I realize now that no one else in the world will love you more truly than this man’

DDLJInterestingly in this debate where many people had agreed with him by this time, another woman, named Laura Mishra, came up in defense of the film. And the following were her points:

  1. a woman travels alone with a man across Europe, not really your typical Indian bride, breaks a shop window for a dress, gets crazy assed drunk.
  2. a boy who doesn’t rape her or sleep with her when she is under the influence of alcohol is a nice guy not some lout.
  3. Thirdly the father is a portrayal of a typical patriarch who has lived all his life in London but still keeps raving about India. The India that he knew, this is a true portrayal of most Asians who have been in India, they are more conservative than the Indians back home, they have a picture of India that is unreal. And that is time and again bought to the front by the character of kuljeet, the to be husband.
  4. Fourth point is the mother begs the daughter to give in but does the daughter? She decides to manipulate her father, weave a web of deceit with her boyfriend. And when that doesn’t work she decides to elope with him. The mother also suggests that to her. The heroine makes her displeasure known to her father, who even asks the mother that she still hasn’t forgotten him? She runs into the hero’s arm in front of everyone.. her father, her to be husband and her inlaws?
  5. Lastly the father lets her go, unmarried with the man of her choice, the mother gets her to the station, and unlike what actually happens which is honour killing the father lets her go with the whole world watching.

[quote]“How is that living life on someone else’s term? In the Indian context she doesn’t even care about the reputation of her family. This film is not regressive; the message (it puts out) is clear, that the woman has a right to choose and fights for it and gets it in the end.”[/quote]

Reading her arguments I was happy. Me, being a man talking and defending DDLJ is one thing, but if another woman also feels that way it does prove that even this side of the argument holds water. Of course there are dialogues in the film which are sexist and even racist but those are very very small sections of the film and clearly NOT the whole film. The very PREMISE of the film is ANTI-Patriarchy and the pressures of family.

Also the film was released in a time where this issue, eloping or just succumbing to the pressures of the family, was prevalent. Also the whole NRI indian wedding business where the women marrying someone they had absolutely no clue about was a norm because their father’s wanted them to. And this film broke that mould without insulting the patriarchs but still saying what it had to. So as such at the time when it was released it was a progressive film. And each film also could be viewed in the context of its time of release and the situation and conditions of society at that point.

[box_download]My final understanding from this debate is that yes films must be seen from the lens of the sexual themes they promote and the depiction of women that they promote but they are also stories and must be seen strongly from the lens of a story. Of course we can view things from multiple perspectives and that’s the strength of having a human mind. So lets, in the future try to apply various lens to understand film. Not just any one kind. And to reiterate, the subject of how women are represented in Indian Cinema is a very important subject.[/box_download]