Posts Tagged ‘Nadi Palshikar’

(Surekha Sikri as Faiyazi Ma in Mammo)

The actor Surekha Sikri is not keeping very well these days. I wish her good health and send her love. What better way to do that, than revisit a film in which she has acted? I will not discuss in detail the nuances of her performance, or the character she plays. For actually, the protagonist of the film is very ably played by that other lovely actor – Farida Jalal.

I love both performances equally. But here, I remember the film for Surekha Sikri.

Surekha Sikri and Farida Jalal in Mammo

Mammo is an important film. It released in 1994. Often, when we happen to know that a story is based on an event or is about a person from the author’s own life, we label it as autobiographical. In doing so, we deny ourselves the other aspects of the work. Mammo is a story of a woman, Mammo is a story of two nations. For reasons that we can see all around us, Mammo is prophetic.

Just a year before the film is in theatres, blasts have shaken Mumbai forever. Polarisation, Communalism, is beginning, ably aided by neoliberalism which allows the poorest of poor to be deprived of any safety net whatsoever. The 90s’ globalisation has somehow led to decreasing work participation of women. No work, means no income, means no voice. Women’s struggles too are no longer demanding their rights. Mahmooda Begum too is not shouting and fighting for her rights.

Mahmooda is asking, “May I be allowed to stay?”

Right at the beginning, unanswered letters. The film sets very clearly the equation between Mammo and Faiyazi. Mammo is the sister who kept writing the letters even after receiving no repy.
Faiyazi did not reply even after receiving letters repeatedly.
Either a power equation, or that Mammo needs something desperately. We see this from the point of view of Riyaz, now grown-up, obviously a writer. “Mammo Naani wrote so many letters to you, Faiyazi Ma”. The letters stayed unacknowledged. Naani makes excuses – something about ‘small flats’ – for the letters asked whether Mammo could come live with them. The letters told of the ill-treatment meted out to her after the death of her husband.

Tumhaare naana leke gaye mujhe“, Mammo naani tells her grandson. The circumstances in which she left for Pakistan – not forced, not fleeing, but for love.

In a shared traumatic experience that the two peoples, if we may call ourselves that on either side of the border, went through, but out of a personal choice. Not like the ‘abducted women’ (of The Abducted Persons Bill 1949). The women who were abducted and then ‘restored’. Nicely divided between the two nations.

Properly following all the terms of the treaty between the two nations that did not agree to anything else except the ‘rightful’ ‘restoration’ to the ‘community’ of its women.

However, “saare apnon se chhudha liya tha mujhe” – he separated me from all my people. This is rendered with a smile that has fondness for the love, but also states the reason for her wanting to come back to India – her people, her apne, are here. ‘Wanting to come BACK” – BACK is the operative word here. This brings to mind the fundamental premise of citizenship. At the time of partition, it was thought that the premise would emphasise choice. That citizenship would be inclusive. “Open to those who made a choice to stay here, but also open to those who left, but want to come back.” Even then, there were some concerns felt by the then interim government. Only about this part – those who left by choice but now wanted to come back.

These concerns, seem to have been resurrected around CAA. 
But back to the story of this sweet old lady who speaks not of laws , but of intangibles like the earth(the mud) of her land, the smell of this earth..

Meri umar ke ho jaaoge toh samjhoge ke apne watan ki mitti ki khushboo kya hoti hai

Does mitti allude to the mitti put on the body during burial, I wonder, and therefore will be understood at an advanced age with the impending reality of death.

Every little action of hers as she negotiates, speaks of her need to integrate. That this means adopting the mannerisms of the majority community is one of the failures of a country that had started out wanting to be secular.

e.g. Scene in the police station –
First meeting with Inspector Apte (played by Sandeep Kulkarni)

Three greetings
Mammo (smiling): Namaste officer saaheb.
Then, to Riyaz: aadab karo sahib ko.
To the police officer, almost as if trying to ingratiate herself, to ‘fit in’, The Hindu greeting: Namaste
To Riyaz, inculcating the Muslim ways, grace: Aadaab

And what does the boy say? Neither Aadaab, nor Namaste, this boy studying in a Christian school, having a Hindu for a best friend, watching American movies on the sly, 
Riyaz: Hello.

Three Stories
Mammo recounts how she went to the border “doosre mohajiron ke saath“, with the other fleeing refugees.

Kya zamaana tha. Qayamat thi Qayamat.” It was as if the day of reckoning, says Mammo

It was indeed a day of reckoning. There would be questions asked. Only nobody could hear them.
Khoon, lootmaar, lashein“. She is talking to a little boy, her grandson, so Mammo does not describe the rapes.

But yes, she speaks of a woman. A woman who was walking in the same group. She carried her two children. Perhaps a disease, perhaps the malnutrition and stress of walking, one of the infants died. Quick decisions had to be made in such a situation. While passing a river, the others in the group tell her to throw the dead body into the water. Tired, displaced and disoriented, “uss aurat ne zinda bachche ko paani mein fenk diya, aur laash apne seene se lagaakar chalti rahi” – the woman threw the infant who was alive into the water, and kept walking, having clutched the dead body to her chest.

The story of Garam Hawa. The director quotes a film inside this one. It is introduced with humour –
Riyaz: Partition ke baare mein hai film. Teen ticktein laaon?
Mammo naani: Fizzi (referring to Faiyazi) chalegi?
Riyaz (tongue in cheek): Mammo naani, serious film hai.

We smile, only to discover that it is indeed, a serious film. The scene chosen is of the old lady character being brought back to her old house for one last time. “Amma jaan, dekho hum aa gaye purani haveli mein.” And here, in the audience, Mammo exclaims “Ya Rab. Lagta hai meri hi kahaani banayi hai.

We look at the crying faces of Mammo naani and Faiyazi Ma. 

The two sisters cry for the character, but we know that their tears are also for their own lost childhood haveli in Panipat. Mammo has been displaced, yes, and history has sent her far away from the watan, but Faiyazi has lost a home too.

Garam Hava, directed by M. S. Sathyu

The story that Rizzu wrote: A woman is taunted by her relatives for being a baanjh – a barren woman. He narrates the story to his best friend. We know he is describing Mammo Naani’s life.
“What is the point of this story?”
Riyaz’s answer is casual, almost trite, “The point is that everyone returns to their roots.”

The child’s pleading, even angry eyes tell us that it is anything but, or that and much much more – it is about an entire life, about a moment in the life of two nations, and above all, it is about Mammo Naani!

The Birthday party incident – 
Mammo cannot keep out of others’ business. She keeps doing what she thinks is good for the person. This time, she plans a surprise birthday party for Riyaz. Unlike the feigned surprise expressed at such parties, Riyaz is truly surprised. For he’s never invited friends home before.

Woh hum jaise nahin“, he says, showing us how even the boy who fits into quite comfortably in the public space of the school, knows that the private space of the minority community life is different. Different not only from others, but different from that which is considered mainstream. Mammo is more relaxed about it, “but they had such great food.” “They will laugh as soon as they go out from here”, screams Riyaz. Because he is hurt, because it is her fault, because she meant well, and above all, because there is so much love and pain, there is a big fight.

Riyaz comes out with accusations, criticisms, and worse, states that his grandmother Faiyazi has ‘allowed’ her to stay here, “tum mehmaan ho iss ghar ki“, and Mammo has taken advantage of this kindness and has gone too far.

Mammo is, as if, kicked out of her marital home all over again.

Jinka apna ghar nahin hota, unka koi ghar nahin hota.

When the doors of her home were closed on her, back in Pakistan, Mammo had spent some days in a dargah. Faiyazi remembers this. The search begins. The refuge of the homeless. Homeless and distressed. Across religions – at one dargah, we are shown a Hindu woman – a woman characterized as a Hindu. Riyaz supports Faiyazi’s frail body in the search. He is trying to make amends for his words. What her husband could not do. What that other family in that other country did not do, this boy wants to do – Bring Mammo back home.

The song picturized over beautiful old heritage Dargahs in Mumbai – beautiful old heritage dargahs whose steps lead down to residential areas clearly marked Muslim, clearly marked poor, clearly SEPARATE. Even in the country she wants to belong to, there is no real equality. Here too, she, as a member of the minority community, will be inferior. Yes, the members of the community Mammo belongs to, do have formal citizenship, but can they ever hope for a substantive citizenship based on equality? Mammo’s struggle, even if it becomes successful, cannot even hope for this substantive citizenship. There are too many inequalities.

Na Jaane kaunsi matti watan ki matti thi
Nazar mein dhool, jigar mein liye gubaar chale


Yeh kaisi sarhade uljhi hui hai pairon me
Hum apne ghar ki taraf uthkar baar baar chale

Restored home safely, Mammo is looking at the fish in the home aquarium, “yeh machchliyaan kitni mehfooz hain apne ghar mein. Inhe yahaan se koi nahi nikaal sakta.” When she had first arrived, she had suggested that they be left loose into the sea. To allow them to live a free life. Now the same aquarium represents safety and permanence. Even the desire of personal liberty is secondary to the need for CITIZENSHIP. For good. Forever.

When the tout/agent at the Police Station (played by Kishore Kadam) asks “ab aur kitne din rehne waali hain?“, Mammo’s answer is “bas jitney din reh gaye hain

Why is it so? Is it because of her age? That wherever she has lived, she wants to come home to die? 
And why the citizenship of a particular place? Her husband’s country? No. Her Father’s land? No. But

Yeh MERA watan hai

She has now gone to a restaurant to meet the policeman. This meeting has been arranged by a tout. This scene, one can correlate to what is called ‘A different relationship being sought with law’. The marginalised in search for what calls ‘Citizenship outside the domain of the state’.

The two-faced nature of this process of the illegal means to get a legal document is reflected in the face of our protagonist.Confidence when she says this. “Yeh MERA watan hai“.

Vulnerability when she removes a ring off her finger and hands it over as baksheesh/bribe/commission.

Police escort-
Riyaz is not at home. “Meranawaaza aake baat karega.” Bravado. A male relative who will come and speak for her. But we know that Riyaz is just a teenager, a child.

A teenage orphan is the only male in the family. There is a heartbreaking kind of fragility in this household – bringing to mind what Roy calls in her lecture, “A certain kind of family”, and ths person the family is trying to shelter. Roy calls it “the awkward person the family is trying to absorb.”
But the family is helpless in face of the face being now applied by the sovereign state and its police arm, “seedhi tarah chalti hai ke hathkadi daalun?“, “yahan Hindustan mein chipke baithi thi?“, asks the police woman. All pleas unheard, the police drag her out of the house. No luggage. No change of clothes. She is not allowed even her burqa. Her sister Faiyazi runs behind the vehicle holding that burqa in her hand. Where is Riyaz? At the tailor’s for a trial fitting. Mammo has bought material and has a master tailor stitching him a Sherwani. “Badhne ki gunjaayish rakhna“, he has been told. A growing child’s dress.

Now this child behaves a lot like a grown-up. He goes looking for Inspector Apte who they have bribed, only to find that the cop has been transferred. So, finding out that the train is leaving from Bombay Central Railway station and “sabhi pakistaani ghuspaithiyonko wahaan leke gaye hain“.

Our dangerous ghuspaithi, the portly, cuddly Mammo has been dragged to the platform.

Now, this woman cop character, the two minutes the film spares for presenting the cops in a good light (the male cop has said “yeh kaisi duty hai yaar“). Veteran feminist Veena Das has describe the behavior of the “social workers and policemen” at the time of ‘restoring of abducted women’. “State was exercising powers of domination and persuasion.” The manner is (pretending to be) what Veena Das calls “non-coercive”.

So in our film, the woman cop says in a sympathetic tone “kaay ko itni khitpit karti hain? Tum apne ghar ko jaa rahi“.

But Mammo’s ghar is here. Her struggle has not been for a passport, but for an understanding, an acceptance by her ‘home people’, the permission to be buried near home.

Mammo says her final line “mera ghar toh yahi hai. Kya mujhe do gaz zameen…?

That is not the last we see of her! In an epilogue, the adult Riyaz who is now an author answers the doorbell, and there she is – an initially unrecognizable, but remembered and loved Mammo naani. In a comic twist she has declared herself dead, and has stolen across the border – for good. Now nobody will try to look for her. Shyam Benegal the director and Khalid Mohammed the writer give us this joyous end.

In reality, did Mammo cross the border back? In 2019, I read a novel by Khalid Mohammed. The Aladia Sisters is a story of sisterhood that tells the history of a subcontinent. But coming back to Mammo – Is Allahrakhi actually Mammo naani?

In this book –

The Aladia Sisters by Khalid Mohamed

On page 267, “Allahrakhi Aapa had never let me know what was going on”, Faiyazi ma continued, “then that awful awful news came. When her body was sent for post-mortem, the reporters said there was an evidence of violence and traces of a sedative… I can’t say more child… whether it was…” “I don’t want to hear more.” Says Mammo naani’s grand-nephew. We do not know what really happened to Mammo, on which side of the border. The fate of the women displaced, kicked across the border lost, abducted has always been uncertain – always covered in silence.

But we have left the film at the last scene on the railway platform. Mammo is being almost pushed into the train by the police.

The sight of Mammo, that line she says, “mera ghar toh yahi hai. Kya mujhe do gaz zameen …?” is heartbreaking. As if heartbroken himself, for yes, sometimes characters break a writer’s heart, the writer gives her a solace. A man puts a small child-passenger in her care. This too, is a hurt child, like the one she is leaving behind. “Abhi abhi operation hua hai. Thoda kamjor hai“, says the child’s guardian as he gives her the responsibility of taking this child safely across the border. The woman who came over because she was labelled a baanjh. Mammo naani, without whom, little Rizzu is going to be lost. Riyaz reaches the platform, finds her seat. The train starts leaving the station. They are torn apart by borders. She is not allowed time to even wear her burqa, but she leaves behind her, a boy wearing her gift – his first sherwani. An obviously Muslim boy. Her citizenship is the issue in the film, but for a moment we forget it, at the sight of this boy running after a train.

Can he hope to receive substantive citizenship, of equality?

nadi (Manasee Palshikar) an MBBS doctor, had worked with women from lower socio-economic strata for several years, when she went to The Pune University to do an MA in Gender, Culture and Development,from the Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre(KSPWSC). She has completed the course in Screenplay writing at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, and then, briefly taught there. nadi’s novel, Sutak was received warmly, and appreciated for its treatment of Gender and Caste.


After a long time, a sexy love story.
I wish to share the joy I felt seeing The Dum Laga Ke Haisha race as a metaphor for sexual love.

Of course throughout the film, sex has been spoken about – real sex, real problems and some harsh realities.
Hurtful things have been said, like
“Let alone making love, I do not even feel like touching her, a man who had to be in the same bed as her would know what hell means.”
The narrative allows her to give him a (well-deserved) slap.
He has said hurtful things and she has borne the rejection.
There can be nothing worse for a woman to hear that the man she loves has spoken so derogatorily about her.
She has been hurt and angry.
She has slapped him in anger.
He has slapped her back in anger, in retaliation.
In guilt?
In love?

What love, we may ask
“S&M?”                                                                                                                                                                                     We may sneer with the shallow labelling that people who think they know all about sex fall back upon?
Yes, we know the terms and we throw them around in our endless conversations about sex, which we are so busy having that we have forgotten how once, just in the way that is contained in those two slaps, we felt hate and love all mixed up.
We fight for the right to depict sex in our films, our writing.
We think of twisted narratives, and explicit scenes which will prove us bold.

And while we sexualize every story, every argument, a seemingly simple story not only speaks bravely about sex without using a single expletive, and without vulgar visuals, in an evocative way makes us feel the sexual love.
Kya aisi hi filmein hai jisse kranti aayegi?

I congratulate (and envy) the writer of Dum Laga Ke Haisha.

To the race.
It is flagged off by a singer whose fan Prem has been all his life.
Unsuccessful, loser Prem.
Taunted and laughed at for his one obsession.
All he did was listen to the voice of a distant singer.

Today, when for once, he has dared to take on a challenge, when he needs it most, his idol is there.
Not any machine here, but Prem’s Deus himself- in person.
But that is another story, another one of those many nice things in this film.
The race- yes, first they have to be convinced to participate.
Bua knocks on the door.
Come in, they answer- of course –for they are not together- that is emphasized.
Bua enters the room.
Nain Tara Bua has something to say.
Death has forced her to leave behind, finally, a dead marriage.
The one-sided marriage that she had bitterly kept alive, and yet not lived.
She comes to the couple not with advice from someone who has made partnerships a success, but as someone who knows what it is to be alone.
She has been alone, and perhaps that is why she knows the importance of being together.
She comes as a person who has nothing.
Perhaps that is why she says -When you have nothing to lose, why not dosomething which is not aimed at winning?
For its own sake.
Why not do something together?
For each other? She asks.
From this point the Dum Laga Ke Haisha race is a metaphor for sexual love.
Beautiful sexual love. Beautiful it is and am not going to spoil the subtlety of it by drawing parallels to any acts so to speak.
Let us just go through the various stages of the race and feel it in our hearts.
The race begins. This couple has not, unlike the others practiced.
She encourages him, tries to erase his fears – why are you so afraid, she asks.
Initially, they are awkward, a little slower than the rest.  Then slowly, establishing comfort with each other, they dare to go faster.
She knows his weaknesses and advises him accordingly.

While the other couples are making a beeline for the finish, we see Sandhya gently instructing him.
Not to rush over the obstacles. Put both feet in one tyre, then taking time, go to the next one. This takes longer, but he obeys her gentle instructions and sure enough, even as others stumble and fall, our couple makes their way across.

Finally what makes them eligible to compete for the last lap is the fall in a muddy puddle.
The competitor couple falls too. The competitor couple who roughly pick themselves up, in a hurry to make a beeline again.
Sandhya and Prem take the time to look at each other, even laugh at each other first, then at each of their own selves, and finally at themselves as Us.
Most important is the fact that we see that of the competing pair, the girl is injured, but paying no heed to this, her husband pulls her and literally drags her to achieving the end.

Prem on the other hand has asked Sandhya whether she is okay – her well being is more important to him than setting the record.

They are concerned about each other, laugh together and then run together. We already know who will win.
The screenplay too has won – has succeeded in being sensual while telling a simple story, has succeeded in being feminist while telling ‘just a ‘ love story.

The most beautiful , triumphant finale comes while they have to come out of this fall, this puddle.
She emerges stronger – as she has in the narrative.
She is stronger and holds out her hand.
Again, as I said, let us not disturb the subtlety of this fine writing, so I am not mentioning their earlier discussion on prepositions.

He is still struggling and she holds out her hand , and with an expression of utter pleasure – pride and pleasure on his face, Prem allows himself to be supported out of the obstacle .
And they are off on their way.
Together now, but for that crucial moment, much to his happiness, she has clearly, been on top.

Nadi Palshikar

(An MBBS doctor by training, Nadi has done screenplay writing course at FTII, is currently doing Gender Studies at Pune University, and is a published author. Sutak is her first novel.)


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.

Fatema disagrees. She says there’s more to it. So, over to Fatema Kagalwala and Nadi Palshikar for the rest. We are going with the Cocktail trend. This post is also by 1 guy + 2 women –  @CilemaSnob

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.