I saw Neerja! And it was just as high quality and emotional and so on as I was expecting. That sounds not so complimentary, but the fact that it was able to meet my expectations is really something, because they were sky high. Oh! I made a pun! I would laugh, but I am still too emotional.
The acting, the peaceful message, the uncontrollable sobbing, all of that I was expecting. But what I was not expecting was how feminist and female focused it was. They really did a remarkable job of showing the value of the female perspective and involvement in the world, and how toxic an all male environment can be. Fascinating!
All of this starts with our heroine, of course. She is most definitely a woman, a normal woman. She loves Rajesh Khanna, and she loves her dog, and she wears lipstick and fingernail polish. She is the baby of the family, the one everyone calls “laado”. But she is also a divorcee who chose to leave her husband, and she loves her job, and she is good at it. She doesn’t fit into the “noble martyr who only cares about high ideals” mold. And she doesn’t fit into the “so sweet and simple and innocent she never even thought about or realized her danger” mold. And she doesn’t fit into the “basically a man, always angry and strong and fighting” mold.
It’s the last that I find so interesting. So often, our female heroines are changed so that they react in a “manly” fashion. Attack, rather than defend. Use anger and dominance instead of calm and passivity. Go down fighting, instead of protecting.
I don’t know if it is the constant social conditioning, or something innately different between genders that leads to this. But the fact is, if I am watching a movie and the bank robbers storm the lobby or Magneto takes over the train station, my first thought is “Where are the children? Is anyone upset? Hurt? How can I help them?” I always relate to the random extra in the background sheltering children with her body much more than our hero in the foreground who is punching people. I can’t even imagine having the urge to hurt people, but I constantly have the urge to protect and care for people.
Through out this film it is the protection and defense that works, while the attacks fail. In small ways, over and over again, Neerja tried to keep things calm, to keep people happy, to do all those things that women are trained to do since birth. And behind her, over and over again, we see the same thing happening among others. Even in the group of 3 children, two boys and a girl, the girl constantly takes the lead, comforting the others. A grandmother tries to protect her grandson, a mother grabs an attacker by the leg and drags him off her child, and back home Neerja’s mother provides the support for her entire family. There is a telling shot at one point. Both her older brothers, who in another film would have been shown to be the strong ones caring for their mother, have gathered in close to her, hand on her knee, head resting on her shoulder, while she sits upright, leaning on nothing.
And if you watch closely, you can see that the terrorists, the all male group, are the ones slowly descending into infighting and chaos. I don’t think this movie is saying that women should run the world (although it couldn’t hurt!), and I definitely don’t think it is saying that man are evil. But it is saying that women have a place, a powerful place, in supporting and protecting society. And it is acknowledging that it is always the women who do the worst jobs and take the biggest responsibilities. Whether it is a “stewardess” taking charge when the pilots abandon the plane, or a mother being the strong one for her grown sons, or a little girl comforting two boys who are no younger than her.