Aitraaz! This is a terrible terrible movie! Terrible terrible! But very fun. But SO BAD!!! And I will be shocked if anyone shows up in the comments to contradict that statement.
First reason it’s terrible: the name sounds like a dozen other movies, so I always have to look up the plot or cast before I can go “oh right! That one!” If you are in the same boat as me, going “wait, was that the one where Juhi and Amrita are sisters? Or the famous cult comedy with Aamir and Salman (Andaz Apna Apna)? Or the weird remake of the Clark Gable movie China Seas with Priyanka Chopra and Lara Dutta (Aandaz. I know you don’t believe me, but I promise you it is a remake of a Myrna Loy-Jean Harlow movie)” Do producers think we pick movies from the phone book or something? Why so many “A”s?!?!
(I promise you, it’s the same movie)
Aitraaz is the one where strong women also manage to be insanely regressive, but in a way that is so over the top it almost swings back to being progressive somehow. Let me just run through this plot, to see if I can make sense of it.
First, Akshay is a nice guy living in squalor who is planning to hire a maid. Kareena is a young law student planning to apply for a prestigious clerkship. She ends up at the wrong address and Akshay hires her as a maid. Naturally, the process of cleaning up his house and bringing him tea makes her fall in love with him. They decide to get married almost immediately and there is no more discussion of her legal ambitions, despite her initial introduction as a dedicated young law student.
This brings up another random issue, have you noticed that being a lawyer is one of the acceptable jobs for women in Indian film? Lawyer, doctor, teacher, fashion designer, interior decorator, and sometimes model. All of the others make sense as an extension of traditional “Bahu” duties, teacher is like childcare, doctor is like caring for ill relatives, fashion design is like making your kids’ clothes, interior decorator is like housekeeping, and model is like being a beautiful bride all the time. But lawyer? What’s that like? Solving disputes between your in-laws? I suspect the whole thing is just because Awara was so freakishly popular that Nargis’ character imprinted “lawyer=woman” in all our minds ever since then.
(Also the source of the “Kapoor Man=Misunderstood Little Boy” imprint)
Anyway, what all those jobs have in common is that they are good training for being a wife, but you can pretty much forget about them the minute you put on a Mangalsutra, because now your true responsibility in life can begin. And therefore, Kareena is just a happy corporate wife from now on! Unless I am forgetting some vague reference to her law practice, but I don’t think so.
Thank goodness they cast Akshay in this, by the way! You really need at least an Akshay to sell this role. Otherwise, it would be totally unbelievable that Kareena and Priyanka would get into such a massive cat-fight over a miscellaneous middle-management type, when they are both not only gorgeous, but accomplished and successful women. But since it is Akshay, when Priyanka enters their life, she is all jealous of Kareena’s happy homemaker home life.
(Look at how she’s holding on to him here! This is her prize in life and she doesn’t want anything else)
Priyanka, by the way, is just about the evilest person ever! She started out as a model (acceptable female career), but now is trying to be a corporate CEO! The horror! The blasphemy! A woman ordering around men! Naturally, she perverts her power to try to seduce Akshay (I mean, come on. It’s Akshay. Who wouldn’t?).
And then we get a whole flashback to show her inherent un-womanliness. She and Akshay were in love and living together (No! An Indian woman living with a man outside of marriage! SHOCKING!!!!). And when she got pregnant, rather than choosing marriage and domesticity with Akshay, she chose an abortion and to continue her career. HOW COULD SHE?!?!?
But at least it’s up front about the insanely regressive social theories. So upfront, in fact, that it kind of feels like a spoof? I mean, the scene where flashback-Priyanka explains that she is choosing her career over love is shot like a horror movie!
Compare this with, say, Bipasha’s character in Bachna Ae Haseeno. Again, she is a model who is living with her boyfriend. But that time, while her boyfriend assumes she isn’t romantic or traditional (because they are living together), she really does want to get married and would put her love over her career. That part I kind of like, that it is saying that women don’t necessarily fit into little boxes, just because they live with you and enjoy their jobs doesn’t mean they aren’t also willing to get married. But what I didn’t like is when he finds her years later and she has become all about her unfulfilling job. Because after missing her one shot at true love (and you know a woman only gets one!), she had no choice but to take the sad wreckage of her life and try to fill in the holes with work.
(Okay, this song makes her life look awesome, but right after there is a whole speech about how empty and sad it really is)
Wouldn’t it have been awesome if he found her years later super happy and grateful to him because she never really wanted to get married, she had just brainwashed herself into it because it’s what she thought she should want? Or married to some other even better guy and grateful to him for breaking her heart because this other guy is so much better? Or a mother of like 5 adopted kids with a string of casual relationships with younger men? But no, she has to be miserable and filling in gaps with work, because a woman who misses out on the change to be married will never be truly whole.
Which is also the point of Priyanka’s character in Aitraaz, sort of, but made in such a crazy and over the top way that the whole premise becomes ridiculous! She is married to Amrish Puri, and running his company, but one look at Akshay drives her MAD WITH DESIRE. Her whole perverted unfulfilled womanly body cannot resist his manliness!
(MAD WITH DESIRE)
Of course, Akshay tries to protect himself with the shield of Kareena’s virtue, but it doesn’t work. Poor Akshay. He gets molested (or raped? something, anyway) by evil Priyanka. And then he loses his job. And has to confess the whole thing to Kareena. Who, I believe, is now pregnant. Just to complete the picture of the perfect wife.
Kareena, being SO PERFECT, decides to literally defend Akshay and return to law as part of his team. That can’t be legal, right? A woman defending her husband? Not to mention a woman who hasn’t appeared to do anything but be a wife and prospective mother for the past several months?
But it is a lovely over the top moment, to have the virtuous wife confront the evil other woman in court. It’s virgin vs. vamp for the whole last half hour! Oh, and it also comes out that Amrish Puri couldn’t satisfy Priyanka sexually. Poor Amrish Puri. In this and in Koyla, we all got to spend ages thinking about his sexual incompetence as a major plot points.
(See, Amrish can’t satisfy her, because he is only attracted to Madhuri, so she seeks out hot stable boy Shahrukh Khan. And people say films used to be family friendly now!)
And then at the end, Priyanka is left alone and kills herself. Serves her right! Too evil for this world! And also, stay with me here, I think this is the most feminist moment of the film.
In most cases, the woman villain gets off scott free. It’s kind of insulting, right? In both American and in Indian movies, it’s like a woman doesn’t count as much as a man, so everything she does can be forgiven. Whose to say we can’t be just as evil as anyone else!?!?!
In a standard film, Amrish Puri would be the mastermind, and Priyanka would turn out to be just his stooge. And then she gets to a pull a “in my heart, I will always consider myself married to you, and now I am going to go off and do good works” kind of ending, like Priety in Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, and Amrish gets dragged off to jail or thrown off a building or whatever horrible death they decide to give him in (in Koyla, he is burned alive in his own coal pile. Again, back in the old days when films were for families!).
But in this case, No! Priyanka is actually evil and horrible and the main mastermind! There is no man pulling her strings. And there is no reason to grade her actions on a curve and let her off for all the terrible things she did. She deserves death! The horrible falling off a building kind!
Akshay may be the prize they are fighting over, but the real hero and villain of this movie are Kareena and Priyanka. Ignore the terribly regressive gender role lessons, and just look at that, and this could be the most feminist movie since Sridevi horribly killed Amrish Puri in Nagina.
(How are her eyeballs still attached to her head!!!)