Well, this is a total downer of a movie! The posters and even the title sell it as more fun happy women together sort of thing, it’s more of a “life sucks and then you die, having scratched out one small piece of happiness for yourself” kind of thing. Watch if you want a very well made and well performed version of a woman’s life in modern urban India, don’t watch if you want escapism.
This is part of a growing number of new era “feminist” Hindi films. “Feminist” meaning they show the life of the modern Indian woman with all its difficulties, not the fantasies. There is no big agenda, no simple moral, it just is what it is. They aren’t even inspirational exactly, no big moment that makes you feel empowered as you watch them, more about saying “I see you, I know your life is hard, it’s hard for all of us”. Anarkali of Aarah, Lipstick Under My Burkha (by the same director as this film), Pink, even Dear Zindagi in a way. What all these films are getting at is that the world of the modern Indian woman is one foot in freedom and one foot in chains. You can get a job now, you can get an education, you can even have a boyfriend, or keep working after marriage. But you can’t find a place to live, you can’t be with your boyfriend without risk of being arrested, and you certainly can’t walk out on your marriage just because you aren’t happy.
This movie is aggressively of a particular time and place, Noida, the growing suburb of Delhi where the new tech firms, and the new suburban family home towers being built up there. It starts with the setting, and the particular strangeness of life for women there, “modern” women who have jobs and shop at malls and all the rest of it, but are still trapped by the expectations they inherited from the villages and towns they came from. In order to fully explore this life, the film has to split the story in two, one heroine a young educated woman who has chosen not to marry and instead take a risk living in the new city and being independent. The other a young wife and mother struggling to find the money to maintain their middle-class lifestyle, and ignore the discontent she feels inside.
The two stories are perfectly balanced, except that Konkona is just better than Bhumi. With Konkona, I find myself smiling with her, worrying with her, and generally wanting her to be happy. With Bhumi, I feel sorry for her, but nothing else.
Thinking about it, this exact movie could have been made in 1960s America. There is the odd push forward of youth against the intransigence of social structures around them, and the people who are betwixt and between, still young enough to respond to the changes, but already trapped in a life that keeps them away from what is happening. And, like 1960s America, modern India isn’t so much breaking new ground and trying to unravel the recent walls put up. Working women, dating, wives who deserve respect for their own needs, this was all just normal and accepted in films of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. As this movie shows, it’s the Hindu terrorists of the 2000s who have suddenly made new bricks that have to be torn down all over again by a new generation who can feel that things have gone wrong somehow. We even have Neelam Azeem’s character representing that older generation, the 1970s woman who went off and found happiness and it wasn’t the end of her life, the way everyone is saying it will be for a modern housewife.
The fact that I am thinking about all of these things, about how there are opportunities but also restrictions, about the way those restrictions are of new invention, about how it is similar to 1960s America, is a tribute to how well constructed the film is. Mostly. The first 2/3rds are very clear on what they want to say, and how the lives of the two heroines move in synch together. The last 3rd is kind of a total mess. The conclusion works, mostly, but the lead up to it is shakey and strange and makes no sense. But the first 2/3rds are so good, and so clear on what they are saying, that the film is still definitely worth a watch. So long as you are up for thinking about modern Indian womanhood and the problems therein.