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 knowFor rising fevers, as pain-relievers—Of my people—father’s father’s mother’sMother, dark lush hair caressing her anklesSometimes, sweeping earth, deep-honey skin,Amber eyes—not beauty alone they say—sheMarried a man who murdered thirteen men and oneLonely summer afternoon her rice-white teeth toreThrough layers of khaki, and golden white skin to spillThe 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 thatMirror all—not peace or tranquil alone, he shudders—someYoung woman near my father’s home, with a drunken husbandWho never changed; she bore his beatings everyday until on oneStormy night, in fury, she killed him by stomping his seedbags. . .
We: their daughters.We: the daughters of their soil.We, mostly, write.