Not again, I said. Bhartiya naari gets the guy. Boozie naari gets converted to bhartiya nari as she tries to get the guy. And the guy is desi at heart who is also Mama’s boy- will sleep with boozie, will fall in love with bharatiya. Imtiaz Ali, Sajid Ali and Homi Adjania took bollywood’s oldest and most favourite formula of love traingles and did just one brilliant thing – remove the communication gap between the three which has always been a bane in desi love triangles. So all three of them sat together and discussed it openly – tum mujhse, main isse pyaar karta hoon. And then? Nobody had any clue what to do – writers, characters, makers. As the formula goes, cool and confused lovers will travel a distance to discover true love. London —-> Cape Town —-> Delhi.
Cinema feeds us so many stereotypes. Loudly, brazenly, irresponsibly. In the race for finding the formula, women characters have been brutally pigeonholed in our cinema for ages, making us believe there isn’t anything more. The curse of populist feminism as well as quick mass appeal has given us generations of blanket portrayals of loud, gender role-defying women as ‘strong’ and shy, silent and traditional women as helpless wimps. It is easy for us to see a gun-toting Zoya and the sassy Veronica as perfectly liberated but is it a true portrayal of liberation or is there more? Are we missing something because the definitions we are fed are shaky themselves and years of gender polarisation have left us no gaps to sieve characters that don’t fit in? Is Meera as wimpy as she comes across and is Veronica as care-a-damn as she looks? Let’s uncover the world behind the characters of Veronica and Meera discovering what makes them tick and different in Imtiaz Ali’s and Homi Adajania’s Cocktail. First, over to Nadi…
Veronica’s Parents. They send her money but do not really care. So our girl is a wild child. An attention-seeking child. She breezes into places and then behaves brazenly. Look at me, I am being bad. The loud music gets faster and faster until towards the end she says, “I can’t do this anymore” Tantrums are tiring. The tantrums have not worked either. Kya hai mere paas, she asks- not once saying “what did I get after loving you so much?” There has been no question of that anyway. There was supposed to be no question of that anyway. But that she is fatigued, exhausted. Going round and round like a child having a fit. Having banged her head against a wall to seek attention and then complaining that her head hurts to the same person that never saw anyway. For now that she knows that the love she wants can never be had, does she want to gain bliss by being child to this couple? This couple, who unlike her own parents, will stay together. This woman who has given her house a feeling of ‘Home’, this man for whom, what started as a superficial thing has turned into a love so deep that he has to be clung to- whatever maybe the rules of the game. Like Martin who does not mind being scolded like a child and then comforted by his wife Antonia when he finds her with Palmer in iris Murdoch’s A Severed Head. Like Anais Nin in some moments, felt about Henry Miller and his wife. And in our own cinema- my favourite ‘triangle- Gulzar’s Ijaazat (based on Jatugriha by Subodh Ghosh) where Maya says about Sudha, her lover’s wife- “Didi maarengi toh nahi” while Mahender has said – I will put you in Sudha’s care. She will know what is to be done with you. And the bitter words between Sudha and Mahender that Maya hears over the phone- which remind her of the fights between her parents. And she goes away-
But coming back to Veronica-
Outside the club, Gautam glances at Meera- like an adult signalling to another about taking care of a child who is sick. Veronica quiet easily slides into the role of child being taken care of by parents. Two people who love each other, and yes she knows that, but are responsible for her well being. Deep, difficult, this. The scene – Lest we do not recognize that this has gone beyond mere two friends taking care of a drunk friend, is the explicitly spelt out – “Why can’t Gautam take me to the bathroom?” The tantrum of “Why can’t Daddy take me to the bathroom?” which is usually explained by a “Because you are a big girl now, and so you go with the women.” Which usually appeases the child.
But here the script goes dangerously close to the enactment of incest or rather an incest –like fantasy with the shocking “There isn’t anything you haven’t seen before.”And how easy it is to sink into fantasies. (Maybe this is the way he need not give this girl up?) Sink together near Veronica’s bed after tucking her in and ask a very adult, really caring. Are you okay? Parents saying thank God, the children have finally slept.
The next day- while Meera who is good and kind has done what she thinks is the right thing – gone away, we have veronica trying to win Gautam back. Not like an adult woman. But emphasizing the imitation of Meera – See, I got the recipe off the net – I will cook – just like her. The apron almost a disguise – poised with a ladle in hand. Saying defiantly – I sent her away. The simulation of the fantasy of mother being banished – I’ll look after father – I can even make ‘the yoghurt salad thing’ and the difficult biryani. And here, thankfully, I thought, Gautam does the responsible thing. He is angry, rightfully so. From somewhere far away there was more than money coming for this neglected child at last. Sensible, stern ‘parenting’?
And ‘stern’ I do not think she would mind. For looking back, we now remember that comic scene with Gautam’s Mama telling her how to sit properly, for Kavita Kapoor would surely disapprove. This comic scene in retrospect, seems poignant as this is what Veronica has never had – a gentle reprimand for the way she has been dressing and behaving wilder and wilder.
Here, when Gautam does the right thing- reprimands her for this silly behavior, looks for Meera, I saw hope for Veronica. After that little relief that is awarded to her – Gautam looking after her- making her laugh, feeding her. Plaiting her hair- (reminding me of that other film – Sadma which too hinted at a kind of quasi-incestuous relationship), I hoped Veronica would realize the situation that she was in.
And so we are okay with Meera ordering Gautam to take care of Veronica, this being agreed to. Sure. Sometimes the writer would like to provide just a little succour for a character he can’t help but love.
And Veronica did not let us down. Being cared for a while- like someone blowing softly on all those wounds the crazy girl carried on herself- the hospital-bed scene actually bringing out the wounds, making visible, the scars of Veronica. This almost dying and then being given a chance to make a new beginning- and she does realize what the situation is. And decides to restore the rightful couple to each other. It is here that the script is not very kind to this, its most lovable character. And we see that although the character arc of Veronica seems to be on the way to something good, Gautam has not become adult enough. So there’s the jumping out of autorickshaw and dialogue like “My best friend’s marrying my other friend” or something as corny as that! And our photographer girl who has put them in the rightful frame and would have liked to click and walk away, is pulled into the frame- collective hugs all around. Once again, she is let down. You can’t really blame the Kapoors for not knowing the right thing to be done of course – after all, the D’costas didn’t.
For this is where she should have been restored to her place, the door shut in her face, so to speak. However traumatic it might be for her, the script should have left her behind while Gautam goes to India (Meera’s located nicely in this other separate world to where he can go ‘leaving’ Veronica to her own resources of which she has quite a few, considering her realization etc).
But even as the potential darkness is broken by a loud song, as the screen fulfils the Indian fantasy of both these girls dancing with the hero, I say to myself – once again a ‘not really my type of movie’ has connected in a way I cannot describe. Once again, just a love story – good looking people in pretty locales – written by Imtiaz Ali has gone beyond – has shown me the painful journey, the remarkable transformation of a character. And just like that other time, Homi Adajania has very subtly gone dangerously close to taboos, hinted at the terrible hurts that lie behind our ‘bad’ behavior.
And now Meera. Nadi Palshikar’s intuitive post on Veronica made Fatema want to delve deeper into Meera. She was intrigued to uncover the world behind her character because something told her there was more to her. She felt Imtiaz hadn’t written a stereotype howmuchever our sensibilities may push us to believe… Read on.
Meera – In our cinematic landscape where women characters have to be one of a few ‘types’, on first glance Meera seems to be your regular chhui-mui, sacrificing goat because she knows no better. The first time we see her she is dressed in a demure salwar kameez, with jhumkas and a mangalsutra, extremely uncomfortable sitting close to a garrulous gent on a cramped flight to London. She manages her luggage awkwardly while she waits for a husband who doesn’t show up. We see her as a reserved and simple girl from the heartland of India (assumed by her dress and demeanour) and think she will be the dependant, helpless type as we are generally shown such girls to be. Soon after a long wait at the airport of a foreign land where she knows no one, has no place to stay and whose ways are completely unfamiliar to her, she heads to the police station to seek her husband. Her first action when she meets trouble is to look for a solution. Her first thought is not a victimised ‘oh what will I do?’ something we’d expect a character like hers to automatically do. She breaks down only after her husband brutally rejects her. We see her hiding in the bathroom of a store sobbing away…It is only later that we understand she wasn’t sobbing because she was feeling helpless at her plight but because she was deeply hurt. If by then we have already typecast her in our heads we are likely to miss out on more that we learn of her later…
Meera is a product of her upbringing. An upbringing that is rooted in values very Indian across the spectrum of positives and negatives. She does not understand live-in relationships and relationships without commitment. She is a self-respecting girl, one who is a little out of her depth in this foreign land but who does not let that become an excuse to wallow in self-pity. She willingly looks for and takes up a job to support herself, as if it is the most natural thing to do. Yes, she blames herself for her husband leaving her and that hints at a typically low self-esteem but how many of us haven’t blamed ourselves for our partners leaving us? Especially if you come from a space where marriages are sacred and a world where women’s identities are closely linked to their house-bound roles…Actually even without either…
One would expect Meera to ‘Indianise’ the rootless Veronica and Gautam, and the film to an extent. Any other film would have done so and that’s where Meera’s character becomes independent of the demands of the story. It does not use her character to sell Indian values, which is what we are used to seeing. She is who she is but she also lets the two stay who they are. She draws the limits of her comfort but does not impose her will. Yes, she does lack a confidence in herself in relation to the larger world but not in her own values; hence, she does not shy from praying to her gods in the irreverent household she lives in but refuses to give friendly hugs to Gautam, even after they become friends. Yet, she straddles both worlds beautifully, allowing herself to change some and then drawing her boundaries tight. She keeps emphasising ‘Main aisi hi hoon’. She rejects an idea not because it scandalises her but because that is who she is and that is what she identifies with. That is what she does not want to change… She does not flee at the first hint of trouble, but then we know she is not the fleeing type. She leaves when she thinks that is the right thing to do. Right not because she believes sacrifice is a great virtue and as a woman she is supposed to be so, but because that is what she sees as doing the right thing by her friend Veronica, someone she has come to love like a sister.
It is a thin line Imtiaz Ali and Homi Adajania tow in keeping Meera just this side of stereotyping but they do it with an intuitiveness and maturity we aren’t used to. It is another thing that a lot of this is swept by in dialogues and the compulsive yuppie-ness of the film. Some more is in the over-weaning need of romantic films to be dreamily so. Extrapolating a bit, it is this strength of character that must have made the flighty Gautam fall in love with her, something the film should have emphasised rather than go on a romantic trip of ‘you are this’ and ‘you are that’. She grounded him, something Veronica (or any other girl) couldn’t do for him. Isn’t love after all, about finding a home for our souls to rest in? Gautam had to find it in Meera because she always chooses to remain who she is not because she cannot go beyond her boundaries but because she won’t. Choice is empowerment and what better symbol of strength than the ability to make it?
It is for this that despite her shy exterior, Meera comes across as a woman stronger than cinema would have us believe. Because being true to oneself requires far more strength than we can imagine, in cinema as much as in life. It isn’t an exciting thing many times, hence Meera is a boring character and Veronica is attractive. But isn’t the foundation of ‘self’ far more solid than colourful antics and a glossy exterior that barely manage to hide the chinks inside? As a film, Cocktail didn’t strike me as anything more than a warm romance but all its superficiality couldn’t hide the worlds of its characters…created with a subtlety we aren’t used to watching.