I like discussions! And maybe this post will start one, or maybe it will just give you a watching list the next time you want to sit down with your daughter or mother or sister or husband or friends and have a wide-ranging “no right answer” consideration of complex issues related to women.
There’s movies that take an issue and address it head on and tell you what to think about it. I don’t want those movies. You can watch Mardaani and learn to care about human trafficking, but there aren’t really any grey areas that can start a discussion and force you to think, it is what it is. Instead, I am going to list out movies that have these considerations kind of hovering in the background and off to the side and it is up to the audience to see and consider them as they watch.
Domestic Violence-Kaatru Veliyidai
This is the best example on the whole list. If you watch one movie, this is the one to watch. It shows a magical lovely romance between two people who love each other. And it also shows an abusive relationship. The two things go together, and the movie never says “this is abusive”, it just shows this couple and how they fell in love and how they were together. Heck, you don’t even have to agree with me that it IS an abusive relationship! You can say it is just passionate and youthful but not abusive. The film gives you no easy answers.
Body/Beauty Issues-Qarib Qarib Singlle
There are a fair number of movies that address beauty/body head on, either with an earnest call to not think about it, or by accepting the basic premise and showing a heroine struggling because (obviously) society only values her looks. But this movie is really interesting because those issues are never addressed head on, they are just there in the background. Our heroine is older, she dresses unfashionably and modestly, she has oil treatments to straighten her hair, she hides her face when she puts her photo online. And when she meets other women (especially romantic rivals), appearance is the first thing she sees. It’s not major traumatic body/beauty issues, it is just the normal every day kind that a woman lives with and which are a large part of why starting a romance is so fraught and scary.
This film comes closest to directly addressing the issue. But it comes at it sideways, it shows the reality of a woman who lives in a world that she knows is unsafe and how that affects her very ability to interact with others in an honest way. And it shows all the ways that the world is unsafe for women, at home, in the streets, everywhere. Watch this film to think about where a woman is safe and unsafe, and if there is truly anywhere. In the same way, is any man safe for a woman? Or is every man potentially both a threat and a savior equally? Certainly the places that society says are “safe”, are not.
Workplace harassment-Luck By Chance
There are a lot of issues in this film, but the sexual harassment in the workplace is there through out. Not in an obvious clear way, but then that’s how it works most of the time. There is no moment that a woman is told “sleep with me or your fired”. It’s implied, it’s making you think it is your idea, it’s the way a woman’s sex life and her professional life are seen as entwined in some industries. Or maybe you can say there is no harassment in this film at all, that it is all the woman’s idea and with her permission. Lots to talk about.
Gender Preference-Dear Zindagi
This movie seems like it is about a lot of different things, our heroine is trying to figure out this and that and the other thing. But when you get down to it, it is about her parents giving more to her brother than to her. At least, that’s how I see it. And that basic childhood issue carries through to adulthood, making her feel not worthy in her romantic life, her career, every where. At least, that’s how I see it. You can also argue that she is imagining things, there are other issues, that’s not it. That’s part of how gender preference works, it is so pervasive in society that it is possible for someone to imagine it where it doesn’t exist. Or alternatively, to be accused of imagining it where it doesn’t exist.
The Right to Choose-Kaminey
Most of the time “the right to choose” is considered the right to choose to end a pregnancy if you do not want to continue it. But in the Indian context in particular (where forced abortions are an issue), it is important to remember that the right to choose cuts both ways. And that is not an easy thing. In this film, we have a woman who chooses to continue her pregnancy which is also making a choose for her boyfriend that he would not want for himself. This is a conversation between the two of them, but also her decision alone. And it’s not a situation that has an easy answer or which is necessarily “fair” to anyone involved. Which is accurate, pregnancy and birth control and everything else is both between two people and not between two people, simultaneously.
Forced Marriage-Ninnu Kori
I was trying to think of a better example, and I just can’t. This is a case where there was truly no reason for our heroine to be married besides her family forcing her into it. She did not want to get married, there was no practical reason for her to marry, her father just decided it was time and picked someone for her. She married a perfectly nice man but it was not her choice or in her control. Is her relationship ultimately happy? Or not? Is it possible for a relationship started in that way, where she never truly has control over her choice, to ever be happy?
Sexual Freedom/Awakening-Jab Harry Met Sejal
This experience is so personal, and so ineffable, that it can only be conveyed in a circular unspoken way. Which of course made many people miss the point of this film. Or maybe the film isn’t dealing with this question at all. That’s what makes it good for discussion, is this a heroine who is sexually experienced and merely falling in love with someone knew? Or is it a heroine who is sexually immature and is rapidly growing in response to falling in love? If the second, what does it mean that she was already engaged and planning a marriage? If the first, what does it say about the difference between her engagement and her falling in love? And how does the heroines journey towards sexual awakening intersect with the hero’s journey away from being oversexed?