I’d heard good things about it, from people I trusted (like Anupama Chopra), so I finally gave in and watched. And you know, it was good! Just like everyone said!
It lived up to expectations, it didn’t exceed them. There are two specific things it didn’t face head on, which would have really sold it over the top.
1. Amitabh has a great speech, about how if a woman says “No”, you have to stop, even if she had a drink, even if she wore a short skirt, even if she is your girlfriend, even if she is a sex-worker (kudos to them for using “sex-worker” instead of prostitute!), even if she is your wife. Only, of course, in India a wife can’t say “No”. Because there is no marital rape law in India. This movie would have gone from an A+ film to an A++++ film if they had taken a second here to acknowledge the reality that “No” means absolutely nothing for a large number of women in India. And all over the world, there are 49 countries where marital rape is still legal. It was still legal in America in my lifetime, up until 1993 in some states.
2. The whole thrust of the film is that the attempted rapist is trying to get off with the support of his powerful uncle in an attempt to stop a rape accusation from ruining his life. I don’t know why he’s so worried, in the 2012 elections, 6 MLAs had rape charges against them, 36 had lesser charges like molestation and “outraging the modesty of a woman”, and 27 candidates from state elections between 2007 and 2012 had been charged with rape (if you want full details, check this link). Rape charges, apparently, have no effect on a political career. Or on an artistic career for that matter, Nate Parker in America got all the way to an Oscar campaign before his old charges popped up and started to throw a few obstacles in his path.
But besides those two big things, which it just didn’t want to face head on, I really have no other complaints. There were so many brilliant touches, so many places where it crossed the social lines so far you couldn’t even see the line any more. So refreshing! To look at all those things that every other film and person and Op Ed piece says matters, and to ask, “why does it matter? what are we so afraid of?”
And to have Amitabh be the one to ask that! To guide us through to a more open future! I love how they used him here, they came up with a script related reason for his affect to be flat, for him to seem off for much of the film. It dampened him down, made the “Amitabh!” less thunder and more sort of, I don’t know, organ chords? Like rumbling deep down where you don’t even consciously hear it really, but you can sort of feel it in your gut.
The actresses are all fine. Amitabh was very clear during all the promotions that it is really their film more than his. And it is, or at least it should be. They were all very good. Taapsee Pannu was supposed to be the lead actress, she is the one that had the biggest name and was mentioned slightly more in the promotions. She was good, and so was Andrea Tariang. But the real stand out to me was Kirti Kulhari. She just had a kind of dignity and adultness to her. And, while Taapsee’s role was the “strong” one on paper, Kirti, I think, got the most interesting emotional notes to play. And her character was clearly written as the leader of the three. Not the manly protector type of leader, but the nurturing wise mother type.
That’s my second favorite thing about the movie, after the way Amitabh gently guides us to a fearless future, is the way the relationship between the 3 girls is so strong and so loving. They give each other a kind of support and love that they don’t get from their families. And, more interesting, they also don’t get from the men in their lives. These 3 girls could very easily, and very happily, spend the rest of their lives together, supporting each other, building a home, finding all the love and warmth and companionship that you could find from your parents or your husband from each other.
There is a clear sense of how they function as a family, with Taapsee as the more aggressive “father” type, Kirti as the mother, and Andrea as the child, the one to be protected. We get that from the very first scene, in the car, Andrea leaning on Kirti for comfort while Taapsee volunteers to sit up front with the driver and keep him awake for the drive. And it just escalates through out the movie. These women don’t need anybody but each other.
Well, and sometimes Amitabh. But just a little, just to balance the incredibly uneven scales of society. One thing I really love, that the film did such a good job with, is showing how those who are the most powerful and the most privileged are also the ones least able to deal with any kind of attack. To them, anything that goes against their perfect future and perfect lives seems like the biggest injustice ever.
A few years back, I went to a workshop on bullying and kids. And my big take away was that the standard “oh, he’s just bullying you at school because his life is so horrible and he feels so powerless” isn’t true at all. More often, bullies are the perfect golden boys who get used to everything going right for them and everyone loving them, and they get off on using their power to make life a little bit harder for the ones for whom it is already terrible. Which is what this film shows, so well.
There’s a gender imbalance, of course, but there’s every other kind of imbalance too. They have the political power, the monetary power, the every other kind of power. And any time anyone threatens that sense of power, makes it feel at all less, they react with overwhelming force. And that’s where I think Amitabh finds his place. He’s not a white knight come to save the three women with his might, he’s another damaged and weak person who knows what it is like to fight against overwhelming unfair odds.