Ishaqzaade – In defense of Zoya

Posted: May 18, 2012 by moifightclub in bollywood, cinema, film, movie reviews, reviews
Tags: , , , ,

Has SPOILERS. DON’T read if you haven’t seen the film.

We are running a week late on this one. A new film by Ramu has already released this week and as expected, it’s call-it-whatever-you-want-to-call. Because of Do Dooni Chaar and the way the first promos of Ishaqzaade played out, we were really looking forward to Habib Faisal’s film. I liked lot of things in the film but it had the same problem which most desi films suffer from – 2nd half. It was the same story with his Band Bajaa Baraat and Do Dooni Chaar. And then a thanda climax. If it had to end that way, i would have liked to see them jumping from the roof with guns blazing from every side on the beats of the romantic title song and freeze!   say Thelma and Louise kind. The other criticism that the film received was of being sexist. Habib tried to defend it here.

And we have someone who is on the same page – Neeraja. She is from one of the many Almodas of India. She loves to think and her priorities in life includes books, cinema, mathematics, philosophy, politics and arguing about the same, in no particular order.

Ishaqzaade is an interesting film because it throws up interesting questions and reactions. I wouldn’t call it a love story but then what one takes away from a film is very subjective. After all, there are people who enjoy bodyguard and wanted.

Ishaqzaade is a story of a girl born in a society where violence is a way of life. There is not a single character in the film that is averse to violence. It is shocking and from what I know pretty close to truth. Upper-caste gun-toting warring political families is a cliche in real life…and not only in these parts (UP/Bihar) but in most parts of the world. Modern Politics at grass-root level is bullet-ridden and blood soaked. Patriarchy is a common feature of politically influential families across the world. Power flows from the barrel of the gun. Everywhere. In india, it has its own flavour blended with caste, religion and feudalism.

The film is a “love story” set in the backdrop of warring political families (hindu and muslim) in a small town somehwhere in north India. The kind of families that perpetuate honour killings, where only women worth loving are either prostitues or mothers and domestic violence is culture. To have a female character that defies all this and comes out a winner at the end would have been awesome but very unreal. The film portrays an honest and ugly picture of patriarchy that exists in it’s most violent form in some parts of our country.

Zoya is a spirited girl. She owns a gun (which she buys by selling her jhumkas) and she can address a crowd like true blue small town sharp-tongued politician but she is also naive. What she doesn’t understand is that most of this freedom has been handed out to her for she is the youngest and the only girl in a moderately progressive family. Most of her strength is inherited. It comes from the fact that she was brought up in a politically influential family. A family where everyone carries a gun in their hands and a dhamki on their lips all the time. She gets to do things that perhaps other girls in the neighbourhood cannot and won’t even dream of doing. Her peers see her as a strong young woman who makes her way while her family just sees her as a spoilt little girl who wants to be like her father but will be married off to a nice muslim boy soon enough.

What’s a strong female character really? According to most of the reviews/opinions that I have been reading, it is someone who subscribes to feminist ideas of urban women. Zoya’s world however is very different from that of ours. She lives in a society where for young boys to visit prostitutes is coming of age (and is even encouraged by their fathers/grandfathers). Where a woman’s opinion is non-existant and her body is only for abuse. Where young adolescent girls do not learn about love by reading romantic novels. They watch crappy hindi movies where the hero is usually a stalker and a charmer. So, when they experience the hormonal rush of emotions when a boy touches them or claims to be in love with them – they are smitten and they get foolish. So, it is not a surprise that when Zoya falls in love, she falls hard. An outspoken, argumentative Zoya at home transforms into a blushing and smiling girl when she is with Parma. The boy, on the other hand, knows love, sex and manipulations all too well to succumb to any emotion.

Her values come from the society that she lives in and in some sense helps to perpetuate them (she tells her mother to shut up because she didn’t understand politics but she wouldn’t dare to talk to her father like that. It just shows how women are treated in the family and how this treatment is considered acceptable by other women members of the family). She wants to be a part of the very system that treats women like that. She wants to be an MLA like her father and agrees with the power hungry, violent politics that surrounds her. She just wants to be one of the boys but at some level she is aware of the fact that no matter how many shots she fires, she is a woman at the end of the day. She knows that being seen with Parma in college bathroom will bring dishonour to her and therefore to her family because she is a girl and a girl’s honour is attached to her family’s honour. She doesn’t however agree with the concept which is what makes her different from other women in her place. She is not angry at Parma for having sex with her under the pretext of a fake marriage (which is technically rape), she is mad at him for betraying her. She cannot stand the fact that she was stupid enough to fall for someone who betrayed her and made her look like a fool in front of the whole community which is why instead of attempting a suicide, she tries to kill him. The fact that in her mind her honour is not attached to her body makes her different. That is also why she is able to forgive him later on.

In the end, what do people really want to see? A khoon bhari maang like woman who wields a gun and seeks revenge? Is that liberated enough? Will that change the fact that no matter what she had done, she would have to die in the end because there is no place for a spirited independent woman in that society.

My biggest problem with the movie is that there is no emotional involvement. There are very few moments where you get to feel what the characters are feeling. None in case of Parma which is why the change in his attitude towards Zoya is unbelievable. There is a lot of running around, shooting and lost and found moments but you hardly ever get to feel what the characters are feeling. The Romeo-Juliet-esque death scene is hilarious and almost spoiled the film for me.

What makes it work is Parineeti Chopra’s Zoya and the small town ambience. Zoya’s character is so close to reality, it hurts to watch her. If you have lived in a small town, if you have met spunky, street-smart, sharp-tongued girls from conservative families, it would do you good to go back and check what happened to them. How and when they were tamed. It’s not always cruel. Most of the girls believe that it’s the right way…just like most of well educated independent girls believe that no man can dominate them but at the end of the day they must marry someone who is smarter or more educated or at least earns more than them. There traps after traps and you succumb somewhere and justify it to yourself using your brilliant analytic skills that you acquired through higher education. We have all fixed boundaries for ourselves according to the freedom and strength granted to us. There are few who venture beyond and try to break the status quo. Lets not judge them for not breaking your boundaries.

Just because a woman wields a gun and talks like a boy, doesn’t mean she is liberated and just because she fails to challenge the patriarchy on all fronts (in the way we want her to) doesn’t mean she is not strong.

Just for the sake of irony, I leave you with this poem by Meena Kandasamy

Paracetamol legends I know
For rising fevers, as pain-relievers—

Of my people—father’s father’s mother’s
Mother, dark lush hair caressing her ankles
Sometimes, sweeping earth, deep-honey skin,
Amber eyes—not beauty alone they say—she
Married a man who murdered thirteen men and one
Lonely summer afternoon her rice-white teeth tore
Through layers of khaki, and golden white skin to spill
The bloodied guts of a British soldier who tried to colonize her. . .
Of my land—uniform blue open skies,

Mad-artist palettes of green lands and lily-filled lakes that
Mirror all—not peace or tranquil alone, he shudders—some
Young woman near my father’s home, with a drunken husband
Who never changed; she bore his beatings everyday until on one
Stormy night, in fury, she killed him by stomping his seedbags. . .

 

We: their daughters.
We: the daughters of their soil.
We, mostly, write.
PS: I wonder if one can make the same film with a muslim boy and a hindu girl? Won’t that be a blasphemy in our shining secular nation!
Comments
  1. Vikram says:

    No mention about Arjun Kapoor? I think he was decent in the movie to be mentioned atleast once..:P

  2. Nidhi says:

    “So, when they experience the hormonal rush of emotions when a boy touches them or claims to be in love with them – they are smitten and they get foolish”. You think urban women spend everyday being touched by men and so are immune to their charms?

    The film is regressive because it pumps the same old misogynistic ideas.. women become foolish when they fall in love, no matter how spirited they are , all a man has to do is fuck the woman to tame her and of course, woman are so easy that they forgive their abusers if they sound earnest enough. The fact that this film is set in a rural milieu, just gives the makers an excuse to justify their regressive ideas.

    The film’s position should be different from the positions of its characters. These characters are regressive and abusive towards women, and you seem to agree. But the film sympathises with at least two of the abusers (Parma the rapist and his mom who gags and threatens Zoya) and worse still expects us to, too.

    • Neeraja says:

      “You think urban women spend everyday being touched by men and so are immune to their charms?” lol. No, I didn’t mean that. I was trying to make a point about adolescent girls from small towns. Perhaps it didn’t come across well.
      “women become foolish when they fall in love, no matter how spirited they are” Everybody gets stupid is love. Men or women. Pyaar ka panchnaama depicts all otherwise fine men as morons in love (and women as selfish bitches). It has nothing to do with how spirited you are. Our society doesn’t equip us well to deal with these emotions because sex/love is to be shunned and not talked about.
      “all a man has to do is fuck the woman to tame her and of course, woman are so easy that they forgive their abusers if they sound earnest enough. ” err yes, because everyone and especially women are constantly told that sex is bad, a sin before marriage and something you should never enjoy/indulge in. They are brainwashed not to think about it. I disagree that the film is trying to justify these regressive ideas but that’s just my opinion.
      “the film sympathizes with at least two of the abusers (Parma the rapist and his mom who gags and threatens Zoya) and worse still expects us to, too.” I don’t think the film sympathizes of expects us to sympathize with Parma’s mother. She was just another female character who enabled men to perpetuate their regressive ideas. You are supposed to pity her and hate her. Parma – yes, and that’s where the film fails. His change and the part where she forgives and they fall in love again was ridiculous. I am not defending the film. It has many flaws. I am just defending Zoya’s character because she seems real to me. I have met girls like her in real life. Our idea of strong women is limited to women who want/talk about sexual liberation because we are professional, well educated women but how many times in hindi cinema do you see a girl whose purpose in the film is not to titillate, who has more ambition in life than just finding a perfect guy. That’s why I could connect to Zoya.

      • Nidhi says:

        Zoya offers jewellery in exchange for guns, drives a jeep full of goons chasing after another set of goons, dances with a prostitute in public, swears like a sailor and holds ambitions of getting into politics, so I really doubt you met anyone like her. As Shubhra Gupta of Indian Express put it, and I am quoting from memory here, ‘it’s hard to believe any woman, urban or rural, would behave the way Zoya does in the film.’ I agree. She is a work of pure fiction. My grouse with the film is this. Why create an extraordinary character like Zoya, and then continue to victimize her throughout the film through a combination of contrivance and harsh reality, to an extent where she can’t be distinguished from any ordinary rural girl ?

        A possible riposte would be that the film only wanted to show that oppressive societies can break the spirit of even someone like Zoya. But that would have worked if the film had a ‘Zoya versus the world’ narrative. But it’s ‘Zoya and Parma versus the world’ (because it happens to be a commercial love story), but Parma here happens to be her prime abuser! The film’s ideas are muddled to say the least.

        Also, I don’t subscribe to your idea that feminist ideals are only for urban women. Reeks too much of ‘women’s rights are a western concept’ argument frequently put forth by Middle-eastern mullahs and leaders.

        “She is not angry at Parma for having sex with her under the pretext of a fake marriage (which is technically rape), she is mad at him for betraying her.”

        That’s a huge assumption to make. Care to give any proof?
        Assuming you are right, of course, let’s recount the scenes from the film in you PoV.

        Parma touches Zoya in the bathroom. She is aroused. Sexuality ON.
        Parma betrays her and rapes her, following which she becomes a woman seeking vengeance, without feeling sexually violated at all. Sexuality OFF.

        What is this sexuality switch that can be turned on and off at will and where can I borrow or buy it? Because I have a potentially embarrassing crush on a hot colleague that I intend to take control of.

        “Everybody gets stupid is love.” In this film, only the girl does. The guy either never falls in love or just doesn’t act foolishly, I’m still not sure. That’s the film’s PoV and it’s misogynistic.

        “err yes, because everyone and especially women are constantly told that sex is bad, a sin before marriage and something you should never enjoy/indulge in”. I’m with you there in theory. But I’m always wary of using the argument ‘Well, it happens in reality so we showed it’ because one can use that to justify any number of exploitative films – poverty porn, violently gruesome films, just porn etc.

        “I don’t think the film sympathizes of expects us to sympathize with Parma’s mother.” “You are supposed to pity her… ” Contradiction.

        • Nidhi says:

          ” Everybody gets stupid is love….Our society doesn’t equip us well to deal with these emotions because sex/love is to be shunned and not talked about”

          It’s not a common grouse against just Indian films. Many western films are accused of showing women as fools in love. Besides, being foolish in love to the extent of making some truly dumb decisions and society shunning sex/love talk ….how are they related? Your argument does not make sense.

        • Neeraja says:

          I did not mean I have met a girl who had a gun or did whatever else she does in the film. I meant spunky strong young women who were tamed (and some of who, by the way, had very regressive ideas when it came to men/sex. It is hard to learn all your feminist lessons at one go. You learn them as you grow up and discover the world, provided you are given a chance to do so. Most women are not.)

          “A possible riposte would be that the film only wanted to show that oppressive societies can break the spirit of even someone like Zoya.” That’s what I was trying to say. You say it better than me. There are traps after traps and if you start from somewhere close to level zero, it eventually breaks your spirit.
          “But that would have worked if the film had a ‘Zoya versus the world’ narrative. But it’s ‘Zoya and Parma versus the world’ (because it happens to be a commercial love story), but Parma here happens to be her prime abuser! The film’s ideas are muddled to say the least.” Agree on that. Zoya’s character is real because it’s not black or white. It is strong but it has its shortcomings which is why I like it but I agree that film’s ideas are muddled.

          “Also, I don’t subscribe to your idea that feminist ideals are only for urban women. Reeks too much of ‘women’s rights are a western concept’ argument frequently put forth by Middle-eastern mullahs and leaders.” I didn’t say that. What I said was expecting every woman to be on the same page at the same time is naive.

          “She is not angry at Parma for having sex with her under the pretext of a fake marriage (which is technically rape), she is mad at him for betraying her.”
          …because the way film was going, it seemed like the only solution for a “spoilt woman” would be to kill herself but she chooses to pick up a gun and try to kill Parma.
          I don’t think Parma ever fell in love with her…which is why the entire second half was ridiculous.
          Was the film exploitative? I don’t know. May be. For example, The Dirty Picture was so obviously exploitative. It’s not so obvious to me with Ishaqzaade. I have been thinking about it since I watched it and I still don’t know. I was affected by how accurately it depicts the brutality of a patriarchal society that brainwashes its women to subscribe to regressive ideas and destroys any move that could be a threat to the status quo.

        • Neeraja says:

          You are supposed to pity her AND hate her.

  3. John Galt says:

    Well, what did you expect from the Adi Chopra school of expert screenwriting? Ek aur writer/director gaya kaam ka.

    And this is for moifightclub, dude not one single review/word on Vicky Donor? Are we so impressed by the Cannes thingie, that what ran at Kanjurmarg is of no significance?

    • moifightclub says:

      @John Galt – really liked Vicky Donor. And if you follow us on twitter, we all have been celebrating its almost 40crore collection. but didn’t get time to write. nobody else also didn’t write. so that’s it. no conspiracy there, really.

  4. John Galt says:

    Dost, wasn’t hinting at any conspiracy, and am not on twitter, but here was a film that truely defied convention, was just little surprised and a cheesed off that while we dissect every other film, not one review was found here. That’s all. And I did go and watch the Bong film recommended here minus subs @ Fame Malad 🙂 It was funny, alright, but needed more work in terms of script.

  5. John Galt says:

    Dost, wasn’t hinting at any conspiracy, and am not on twitter, but here was a film that truely defied convention, was just a little surprised and cheesed off that while we dissect every other film, not one review was found here. That’s all. And I did go and watch the Bong film recommended here minus subs @ Fame Malad 🙂 It was funny, alright, but needed more work in terms of script.

  6. fattiemama says:

    Guess, the problem lies in the emotional disconnect and hence the town’s gone mad calling it regressive. I didn’t find it regressive myself as such but was left questioning why a girl like Zoya wouldn’t feel sexually violated as much as we’d expect someone like her to…(Speaking for myself I wanted to walk out of the hall at interval :)) Also, the fact that we are never sure of Parma’s love and change of heart…it almost feels like he is simply fulfilling his mother’s last wishes, not realised he was wrong and trying to repent. It all adds upto Zoya’s betrayal and violation as a woman being shoved aside and puts a misogynistic blanket on the outcome where the intent wasn’t really meant to be so. It also kind of makes the rest of her character, so carefully built-up in detail, as irrelevant to the film by the second half. In fact, I wasn’t even sure about her own love for Parma, even in the scene where she declares to his mom that she seeks revenge coz she loves him…the love part just didn’t fit in anywhere…and there wasn’t any exploration of gender inequalities or assertion to begin with anyway…

  7. Shubh says:

    Well, the bottomline is that the film is working well at the box office & has received very good audience acceptance ! 25 crore in 1st week & holding well in the 2nd…Parineeti is a rockstar & the most exciting talent to hit the screens in last couple of years.

  8. SSD says:

    There is no smooth transition/development of her love for Parma. He corners her in the bathroom, asks for maafi (which accounts for half of his dialogues in the film) and she suddenly likes him. She sees him getting beaten up by her brothers and she feels for him. And when does Parma actually start loving her? Does he really love her or is he just fulfilling his duty to his mother?

    Also Zoya herself is confused. One moment, she comes all guns blazing to kill Parma. Next moment, she is running away with him. I understand she is naive, but why is her behaviour like a sine wave?

  9. Ranjan says:

    I can’t get myself from not liking this article,but seriously all this writing makes one feel of a lame partiality between types of cinemas in bollywood.Mention of bodyguard and wanted is really not justified here.I agree if wanted was bad,BG was shit load of crap,but that does’nt put it in genre of Ishaqzaade.The fact that movies like Wanted and BG are still in the making obviously leads to conclusion that they work,not on sensible bases but on purely entertainment basis.
    The new age hindi cinema which is slowly going away from old school, cannot and will not out do old bollywood.
    Since start bollywood is feeding us with crap on regular bases and we can’t complain,there were fortunate sparks and many of them,but they kept on getting scarced,and were left to handful of films since 2000.
    The fact that crap movies were made,are made even today and will be made in future is inevitable.So rather than whining about them,why can’t we take it like you-don’t-want-it-just-not-watch-it,let future of different types of movies be decided by audience.Make way for new age industry but not succumb to it,you always need balance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s