Ki & Ka Review: So Many Roads Left Untraveled! (SPOILERS!)

I already posted a spoiler-free review, now here’s the one with lots of spoilers!  Not because I want you to know every detail of the film (that’s what my full summary is for, going up sometime soon), but because I want to talk about parts of the film that are directly plot related and how they affect my analysis.

The basic set up for this film is really really bad.  Like, really bad.  A man and woman meet, and after three brief conversations, in which they immediately lay out their whole philosophies of life and future plans, decide to get married with the woman being the “husband” and the man being the “wife”, all the way to the point of the man being the one who wears the Mangalsutra.  The Mangalsutra is where I had enough.  I mean, come on!  If a woman works she isn’t even a wife any more?  She doesn’t get the mangalsutra?  And a man can’t come up with some other symbol of marriage for his gender?  Because if a man wants to be visibly married, he isn’t even a man any more?

And then it gets worse.  Because it never ever thinks outside the box.  Yes, sure, the man stays home and the woman works.  But it never questions whether anyone can be fully fulfilled staying home.  And it never questions whether anyone can be fully fulfilled working constantly.  The day after their marriage, Kareena goes to work and jokes with her boss about how she learned from him, he was even taking work meetings on his wedding day!  Meanwhile, back home, Arjun is meeting and blackmailing the maid to make her work harder.  The only ways the director/writer could think to show their positions also immediately showed their flaws.

If Arjun was truly happy being a “homemaker”, why would they need a maid?  That isn’t a criticism of people who have maids, that’s an acknowledgement that housework suuuuuuuuuuucks!  Being a homemaker is a lot of boring repetitive backbreaking labor.  And it’s a problem that the perception is that it is a happy go lucky job, that it’s all about picking out pillows and rearranging furniture and trying fancy recipes.  That the kind of things that we see Arjun do are all that homemakers do.  That every homemaker has a maid available to blackmail to take over those tasks they don’t want to do.

And at the same time, this binary is just as hard on the wage earners.  Kareena shouldn’t have to go to work the day after her wedding just to prove her commitment!  We shouldn’t have to have people staying home, working all day, killing any outside interests or desires, just so that other people can spend their entire lives at the office with no outside connections.  Both sides end up equally isolated, with no idea of how the other side lives (which probably explains why the director/writer of this has no idea what homemakers actually do, besides the fun stuff like hiring a bunch of people to re-decorate).

(Also, setting up a toy train to travel through your whole apartment is super stupid)

But, see, the movie never goes there!  It completely fails to provide the questions that it is heading towards!  Nope, wage-earner is always happy and fulfilled just through promotions and approval of her supervisors.  And the home-maker is always completely fulfilled staying within the home, no need to get a part-time job or find a way to volunteer or really any kind of intellectual challenge.

And this kind of missed opportunity continues throughout the plot!  They need a little extra money to buy their apartment, this would be a great chance for Arjun to get a part-time job, to struggle to fulfill his home responsibilities as before, for their marriage to feel the strain as neither of them has energy at the end of the day, and so on and so on.  That’s interesting!  Or, maybe another way, Arjun feels the pinch in his household budget, realizes that life isn’t so fun when you can’t afford the maid and the fancy ingredients and elaborate cooking equipment.  That’s real!  But, nope!  Instead, they just fixed the problem basically immediately.

Later, they have a pregnancy scare.  Okay, again, interesting!  Kareena realizes the lingering workplace prejudices when her career is stalled once she starts showing.  Arjun starts pressuring her about working less because he is worried about the health of the baby.  They have to give up their crazy apartment decoration because they need to make space for a nursery.  Again, real!  But, instead, it all turns out to be a false alarm, just put in so the director/author can inforce again how “different” this couple is, they sincerely don’t want kids, oooooo, groundbreaking!

But, has he ever actually met a couple that truly did not want children?  Because, this scene makes no sense.  If you were 100% sure you would never want children, why wouldn’t you have taken surgical steps to make sure it never happened?  I mean, I understand that this is a hard decision to make and it takes a lot to reach that point and so on and so forth.  Okay, so maybe they had some unspoken reservations that held them back from such actions.

But wouldn’t a normal couple, after this big emotional moment when they face the reality of pregnancy, have a conversation about why they never did go in for a vasectomy, and if maybe now they are sure they want to do it because they faced the reality and knew they didn’t want a child, or if maybe the reason they never did it is because they aren’t sure, and maybe they put a pin in the baby discussion for now but keep in mind fertility options for the future when her career is more stable, and so on and so on.  But instead of having the conversation and life change that this scene is just CRYING OUT FOR, the director backs off and steers them onto their pre-determined path.

The only scene that felt real and organic and like it understood what a marriage is like, was the “surprise” scene with Jaya and Amitabh.  I mean, it wasn’t much of a surprise.  I remember when English/Vinglish came out, the whole theater audibly gasped when he Amitabh showed up.  This time, no one really seemed to care.

But what I liked about Amitabh and Jaya’s conversation is that it sounded like a real couple, not like two cut outs representing different societal roles.  They acknowledged that they were both working at one point, that maybe if things had been different Jaya would be the one going out and waving to the fans every Sunday and he would be inside watching TV.  But, Jaya points out, they had kids.  And besides, would Amitabh ever really have learned how to cook?  And yeah, that’s what it gets down to in the real world for real people.  There’s kids, there’s who has the skills already, and there’s the reality that it is really really hard for two people in a couple to both pursue challenging and demanding careers.  It’s not a simple “we just met!  Let me explain why I want to make a home instead of have a career while you explain why you are completely career focused and uninterested in a traditional marriage,” it’s about a constant series of decisions made as a team with the good of everyone involved being considered.

Jaya is also part of the only time the film even comes close to any sort of discussion about how women have to struggle more than men, no matter what their position is in the household.  And it came so close to really dealing with that!  At the end, Kareena’s career is taking off, she is being heralded as the biggest female executive, lots of interviews and articles, and Arjun gives one interview about being a house husband, and suddenly he is the focus.  It’s spun as a jealousy thing, she can’t handle him being the focus after he has supported her all along.  Basically, it’s the exact same plot as the Doris Day-James Garner movie, The Thrill of It All.  Only, The Thrill of It All came out FIFTY-THREE years ago, because that’s how outdated this attitude towards marriage is, where only one partner can have any public presence at all.

(Ha!  They even have the same poster!)

What would be really interesting, would be to talk about how men always receive more societal attention and acclaim, no matter what “role” they take in the marriage, than women do.  How he is getting more credit for playing the “women’s” role, than she is for playing the man’s.  And, more importantly than that, the only reason he is being asked to give interviews and speeches about being a homemaker is because he is a man.  Why aren’t they interviewing women homemakers?  Why is this work only worthy of regard if it is down by someone with a penis?

It all culminates when he is invited to be a guest at a Women’s Day event.  He briefly prevaricates, saying they should have a woman speak at women’s day, but then gives in.  Only, he’s right!  They should have a woman speak at Women’s Day!  The only reason he is being invited to speak is because he is fulfilling a “women’s role”.  So, number one, it is confirming that making a home is a woman’s role. And number two, it’s confirming that even on Women’s Day, we should all shut up and listen to a man tell us about our lives.

Much more important would be for Kareena to talk, to explain how she never thought she could get married because it is expected for women to be both the providers and the caretakers in a marriage.  To talk about how a woman is never allowed to leave work early, or even take maternity leave, without being accused of being unserious about her job, damaging her opportunities for advancement.  How a woman can only advance to the level she has with this kind of absolute social role division, with a “wife” taking care of everything at home, because although a male worker might be allowed to leave early if their kid gets sick or pick up groceries on lunch hour, and be rewarded with compliments for “helping out” at home, a female worker doing the same thing would receive eye rolls and comments about “lacking focus.”

And that’s where I thought it was going, in so many scenes!  Kareena even kind of played it that way.  Maybe she didn’t want him coming to the office, because she knew any reminder that she was a married woman, or a woman at all, would make it that much harder for her to advance and get the respect she deserved from her underlings.  Not just because she was “jealous”.  Maybe she didn’t tell her co-workers right away about getting married, not because she was so work focused, but because she knew it would hurt her opportunities for advancement as they “mommy-tracked” her.  Maybe that fight she had with Arjun when he was jealous of her interactions with a superior was because she has had to deal with sexual harassment on some level her entire career and, once again, the woman is being blamed for it, instead of the male superior.  But, again, every time, the film pulled back.  No, her career is perfect, her bosses are completely gender blind, there are no problems at all for women in the workplace, the world is a perfect rainbow of happiness and we should all talk some more about how awesome Arjun is.

At the very very end of the film, after exploding at Arjun and accusing him of “using” her to get the life he wants, Kareena gets a letter from Jaya, in which she talks about how Arjun is getting a lot of publicity, but the only reason he is able to do what he does, is because of her.  That going out into the world and earning is a hard thing to do and she deserves to be noticed for that.  FINALLY!  The wording isn’t quite right, there’s nothing in there about how she no doubt has to deal with much more criticism for being “unfeminine” than he does for being “unmasculine”, or about how unfair it is that a woman can only advance if she completely gives up any part of a home life, or how she deserves to be recognized as a hero for women, but at least it is something!

7 thoughts on “Ki & Ka Review: So Many Roads Left Untraveled! (SPOILERS!)

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