This was not the best movie to watch the same time as Pink. Or maybe it was the best movie to watch? It certainly helped highlight exactly why Pink is groundbreaking! And yes, I know, it’s another one that wasn’t recommended, but it’s the last one on the Netflix list. And I really hope it isn’t the first Malayalam movie anyone watches, because ENRAGING!!!!
This is one of those movies that purports to make an empowering statement about women, but fails because it accepts the basic premise of a patriarchal society. Grrr! So frustrating! Especially because the filmmakers probably thought they were making a feminist statement, because they couldn’t imagine anything more progressive than what they put onscreen.
The lack of free-thinking starts right with the casting. Jayaram, 43, plays the husband of Gopika, 24. Gopika is of course the mother of a 14 year old. Because don’t all mothers of 14 year olds look 24 years old? Isn’t that a normal expectation to have of your wife? And isn’t it assumed that all film audiences are only interested in seeing super young heroines? And all film audiences get a kick out of the fantasy that they are 43 and married to a woman who looks 24? Because all film audiences are middle-aged men, right? In fact, all the people who matter in the world are middle-aged men and everything should be aimed at them!
This isn’t to say that Jayaram and Gopika don’t do a good job in their roles, just like Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence did a great job in Silver Linings Playbook or Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire in Funny Face. But the fact remains, the casting makes absolutely no sense on paper, unless you are fulfilling some kind of fantasy of a very very young woman falling for a much older man.
And that’s just the start of the weirdness. It checks off all the other social assumptions, that a wife automatically loves her husband, that a marriage should be saved above all, that a woman’s sexual purity is the most important part of her life, and that all the problems of a marriage are just about the one marriage, not about a whole social system set up to place these women in impossible positions. ENRAGING!!!!
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So, the starting point that is strong, is the opening song showing the daily life that Gopika has. Waking up before dawn, milking the cow, making chai and breakfast for her family, waking her husband, sending everyone off, making dinner, etc. etc., ending with having sex with her husband, just one more chore.
And she doesn’t just give up and take it, she talks back to her husband, demanding that he see how hard her life is and the value in spending a little money buying her more labor saving devices. And she makes sure her daughter sees the problems in her life, and why her daughter has to do better than getting married at 18 and working dawn to dark taking care of a house.
All of this is fine, but where I start to lose it is when her father and brother come to visit. As always in these movies, they are concerned about their daughter, and worried about the state of her marriage. But there is still that moment of hesitancy, because of course they don’t have the “right” to interfere between a husband and wife. Better to let her stay in a house where her husband publically humiliates her and forbids her from doing something as harmless as attending her brother’s engagement ceremony. Nothing is worse than implying a husband doesn’t have the right to do whatever he wants to his wife! All of society would break down if we said that!!!
And then there’s the moment when Gopitha has had enough and leaves. Which is also the moment when I have enough and decide that there is no way I will ever believe in a happy ending that brings her back to her husband. The final straw, for her and me, is when he has no sympathy for her, the day her mother dies! Which Gopitha takes as a reason to give him a big speech about how she now sees that he thinks of her as just a slave, someone who lives to serve him, who doesn’t have any right to feelings of her own or desires or anything besides being there to make his life easier.
And I completely agree with her. Especially with the unspoken idea that this is also how he sees her sexual, as a receptacle for his desires, there whenever he needs to use her, with no wants of her own. These are all excellent reasons for her to divorce him, soak him for alimony, and never forgive him.
Which isn’t what she does, she decides to return to her father’s house and start serving him again. Where she is welcomed because it gives her new sister-in-law “someone to talk to”, although her father is worried about her staying indefinitely and warns her brother to keep a sense that she is his sister and not run out of patience with her (as will inevitably happened, is the implication).
This whole bit is so BLIND to the massive social assumptions that have lead to this bad situation to begin with! Don’t marry your 18 year old daughter off to some guy 20 years older than her! Don’t bring your new wife home to a place where she has no one to talk to unless her new sister-in-law has to come back home! Don’t assume that an extra woman around the house will eventually feel like an imposition, not a blessing!
Pink has the solution to all this with the idea that a young woman can have a job and a home with no family obligation at all and it’s all fine, just fine. If Gopika had been allowed to get a job and an apartment instead of being married off, she would be doing much better. Or if she had been able to get a job and an apartment now, instead of living off her family, she would still be doing better. There is nothing wrong with a woman finding a happy life alone than spending her life living with and serving others.
Pink is my new gold standard, but even the other movies with similar plots, a marriage in trouble that is resolved, do it better. English/Vinglish does it much better. And How Old Are You? is a little better too. At least both those movies show that the husband has some basic concern for his wife. How Old Are You? husband lets his wife run the house, buy her own labor saving devices if she wants them, have friends, and so on. And he takes an active role in childcare. English/Vinglish husband may take her a little for granted, but while Jayaram doesn’t even care when Gopika’s mother dies, the English/Vinglish husband arranges for Sridevi to spend weeks helping her sister prepare for a wedding, takes care of the kids while she is gone, and then shows up to be the supportive and helpful life of the party for the actual wedding.
But this movie, she really really has no reason to go back to him except that “a wife needs a husband.” Oh, and a girl needs her mother, or else her sexual purity will be threatened. Because a girl without a mother will be immediately attacked by hundreds of sexual deviants.
That’s literally what happened. Gopika leaves, Jayaram is left alone to raise their teen daughter, he gives her a cell phone, which directly leads to her being sexually assaulted. As all cell phone usage does! Ever since I got my first cell, strange men have chased me through the streets, I have had to put bars in my window, my virtue has been threatened dozens of times, and my proposals to nice arranged husbands have been constantly rejected (not really, that’s sarcasm).
Even within the movie, the internal logic doesn’t hold up! She gets a cell phone, she starts talking to a guy from school, he takes her for a ride to see a dance rehearsal, he is nice and respectful and kind. His car breaks down, and “bad people” suddenly appear and start chasing her, until she is saved by Jayaram who spontaneously arrives, at the same time as the cops. So, first, the guy she was talking to on the cell phone was perfectly decent and kind, her own judgement was enough to guide her. Second, if the car he was driving hadn’t broken down, they could have had a nice afternoon with no concerns. Third, she would have been saved by the police anyway, even if Jayaram hadn’t found her. So, what’s the problem here? Why not give your daughters cell phones?
But who am I to make that argument! I’m just a woman, I don’t know anything. The wise authoritative MALE police officer tells Jayaram that it is all due to the cell phone and generally “spoiling” his daughter, this will inevitably lead to rape. Oh right, this is the argument that Amitabh was fighting against in Pink! If a girl drinks, has friends, lives outside the home, wears jeans, smiles at strange boys, all of these things means she is fair game and will be raped. And if she didn’t want to be assaulted, she shouldn’t have done any of those things. Or, in this movie’s versions of the argument, her father shouldn’t have let her do any of those things, even if it means beating her and locking her in the home. What the heck?!?!?
That’s actually the resolution, Jayaram locks her in the house while she slowly dies, and the school finally calls Gopika who has to go break into the house and rescue her daughter. This is all explained as Jayaram getting increasingly disturbed, because men are not capable of raising children? Or something? This argument feels in the same category as the American sitcom trope of “useless husband, perfect wife.”
(I actually kind of like King of Queens, but I can recognize that it is part of the problem)
It seems good for women, because it is complimentary. But it’s actually bad, because it is lowering the bar for men. Single father? Better to abandon your child to be raised by relatives, because you don’t have the temperament for it. Married father? Let your wife do the homework, the food, the school schedule, don’t even try, you aren’t able to do it. Oh, and that strange obsession you have with your daughters virginity? Totally normal and socially acceptable! Honor killings, teenage arranged marriages, all just an understandable reaction to a father’s basic desire to control his daughter’s sex life up to and including picking out for her the man who will take her virginity.
So, happy ending, the wise doctor who sees their daughter after Jayaram has locked her in the house to let her slowly starve to death and die of her head injury because better that than letting her interact with another man, declares that Jayaram is clearly an abusive unfit parent and calls the cops to have him arrested while the daughter is sent home with Gopika. Ha-ha, I kid! Of course not! The wise doctor tells Jayaram that his reaction is perfectly normal for a single father and the best solution would be to reconcile with his wife. And then he tells Gopika that this is all her fault for abandoning her responsibilities and being an unnatural wife and mother. Happy happy!!! Gopika is back in the kitchen, but with a new mixer. And Jayaram learns to say “thank you” for his morning chai. Truly, this is all a woman could dream of! Or at least, all a woman SHOULD dream of.