This movie was so interesting! It really is just a southern action movie with the hero turned into a heroine. But at the same time, there were all of these things that are so specific to the female experience, and I just have to wonder, did the director look at them and think “Hey! I should remake this with a female star!” Or, were they added in when the hero became a woman?
You know His Girl Friday? The movie that inspired Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani? It was of course a remake of The Front Page, only with the gender of the main character changed. In the original, it is the story of a hardbitten cynical reporter who is trying to break free, get married, and have a normal life. But his editor keeps trying to “seduce” him back into the job, offering him money for one last interview, knowing that he will inevitably get caught up in the excitement. Hugely successful play, turned into a hugely successful movie, and then one night at a party, just goofing around, the writers had some friends read it, but with a woman in the reporter role. And suddenly everything clicked into place, all that subtext of the boss being in competition with the love interest became text, and all of that sparkling creative and intellectual energy that was sparking between the editor and reporter got even brighter with a little bit of male-female romantic chemistry.
(Now, picture this with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell)
The brilliance of it was that they really didn’t change much else. They didn’t turn Hildy into “just” a female character. They kept her this ambitious unscrupulous hard-driving reporter, they just added on the little touches of insecurity over working in such a man’s world, the extra bit of how her ex-husband/editor refuses to treat her as a woman, while her new fiance refuses to treat her as anything else, and how she uses her identity as a woman as needed to advance her aims (sweet-talking an interview subject, creating sympathy with a spooked female witness, etc.). It was great! Usually being a woman means a character is diminished, even the best intended male scriptwriters tend to subconsciously weaken pull their punches with female characters. But if the character starts out as a man, it means making him into a woman just serves to augment them, give them all their original traits, but with the added meaning of having a woman carry them out.
Anyway, that’s what I am wondering about here. There were so many elements that are so specifically female. Like, the idea of silence and insanity. Those are tools used against women constantly! Like, going back to ancient folktales, there is always the woman who is attacked but cannot speak of it for whatever reason. Removing a woman’s voice is always a symbol for her power.
And madness, of course, that’s in everything! You know the book The Woman in White? Great great Victorian novel, super fun read. The plot involves a woman being wrongfully committed to an insane asylum at one point, by her evil husband, and of course she has no way of escaping because no one will believe her husband over her. And then there’s Gaslight, the 1940s movie from which we get the verb “gaslighting”. Ingrid Bergman’s husband convinces her she is going insane. Well, almost. She managed to break free of his mind games with the help of Joseph Cotton.
So here in Akira we have a plot with all of these very female problems for our heroine. She is ignored and dismissed by everyone, including her own family. Those in power don’t even consider her as a factor. The only people she can rely on are fellow outcasts and powerless people of society. But, it was originally written for a male! That’s what surprises me.
Although, being originally written for a male, that means she gets to be an AWESOME ACTION HERO alone with everything else. Sonakshi is, truly, phenomenal! She should always be an action hero! Great with the fight scenes (I am pretty positive that she did all her own stunts), and great with the quiet stoic bits in between fight scenes. And she has the strong presence to sort of hold the movie.
Also surprisingly good, Anurag Kashyap! How did I not know he was going to be in this movie? He is essentially playing himself. Or at least, himself as I imagine him. In love with his own power and his own opinions, sees other people as obstacles to his own success, and women in particular are primarily there to be used by him. He makes another part of the film that is just so much better with a female heroine. As a classic disgusting confident macho man, he just doesn’t even consider her as a problem.
Konkona Sen Sharma is unsurprisingly wonderful. She’s always wonderful, and I didn’t realize how much I had missed her until I saw her back on my screen. Her character provides a lovely slow serious discussing counterpoint to Sonakshi’s silent action.
Let’s see, what wasn’t so great? The songs. Vishal and Shekhar forgot to take their caffeine pills or something, there was just no energy there. After a pretty all time awesome soundtrack for Sultan, this is just nothing special. Not that they had much visuals to support their sound, there were barely two real song sequences. No dancing, just montages.
The plot was also a bit confused. I went with the same friend I always see these movies with, and she could not get over how corrupt and venal and violent and confusing everything was. And it seemed normal to me. And then I remembered that I have been on this Telugu film kick and she has not! Yeah, for a standard big budget Hindi film, this plot is crazy complicated with way too many moving pieces, and crazy violence, and a very dark view of society. But for a southern film, eh. Kind of run of the mill.
It would be a kind of run of the mill southern film in general, with a little added touch of “the innocence of society are forced to carry their burden”, but that gender switch brings it to a whole new level. It’s too bad that the early box office reports are so bad, no one’s going to be willing to risk a female action heroine again. Well, at least not until Kahaani 2 comes out.