It’s true, the movies have shown me. The old white man in America who has to painfully and carefully learn that, maybe, not all racism is good. Poor Lord Crawley in Downton Abbey who has to consider that maybe class distinctions are sometimes unfair. And of course all the Hindu patriarchs in Indian films who have to suffer being told that, sometimes, maybe, non-Hindus and women have a right to live.
Whole plot in two paragraphs:
Farhan is an enforcer working for Vijay Raaz. He gets beat up and goes to the local clinic where the doctor, Mrunal Thakar, yells at him for coming to a charity clinic for gangster injuries. This inspires him to try something different, and at the local gym, the teacher shows him a video of Mohammed Ali so he decides to start training for boxing. The teacher takes him to meet Paresh Rawal, top boxing coach in Bombay, and he takes him on. But he does know that his daughter Mrunal is dating Farhan and Farhan doesn’t know she is his daughter. Farhan quits his gangster work and dedicates himself to boxing, and he and Mrunal get closer and closer. Then the night after his big state championship fight, Paresh finds out the truth and throws Farhan out of his life because he dares to date a Hindu. Mrunal yells at her father and goes to Farhan. But they can’t find a way to live together because the rental options are so religiously divided. Vijay Raaz offers money, but Farhan turns it down. Instead, in desperation, Farhan agrees to throw his national championship match. The truth comes out immediately, Farhan is banded from boxing, and Mrunal yells at him. But forgives him, and they get married.
5 years later, Mrunal and Farhan are happily living with Supriya Pathak, the Christian nurse at the clinic. Farhan has built up a little car driver company, and they have a tiny daughter. Paresh has never forgiven Mrunal for marrying a Muslim. And then they get a letter that the ban is up and Farhan can box again. Mrunal pressures him to try again, he tells her that time is over, and then she DIES. In a random accident. So he has to train in order to prove himself to her and win for her and stuff. And Paresh agrees to train him for Mrunal’s sake, and makes peace with his granddaughter. Farhan wins the big thing, with Paresh at his side. Yay.
Truly, Paresh is the problem in this movie. It’s not just that I don’t sympathize with him at all, it is that he does not make sense. This is a sports movie. It’s supposed to be about the human spirit and blah blah blah. And it’s supposed to be a kid with nothing who worked hard and made something of himself. And it’s supposed to be a love story about the unexpected couple who stuck together through thick and thin. And finally, a redemption story, the aging boxer with the troubled past who wins in the end.
None of those themes require Paresh Rawal! The heroine does not need a father to make their romance impossible, the hero does not a coach to show how he needed help, and the redemption story CERTAINLY does not need a coach. The only reason to include Paresh Rawal is pure cowardly blindness. It INFURIATES me. Why does a heroine have to be defined by her father? Why does a young hero have to be defined by his mentor? And most of all, why does a Muslim have to be defined by a Hindu’s willingness to tolerate him?
There is a poster or shirt or something I saw somewhere that said “Because she is someone’s sister. Because she is someone’s wife. Because she is someone’s daughter. Because she is SOMEONE”. In the context of gender, we shouldn’t be telling people to avoid violence against women because “she could be your sister” or whatever. We should be telling them to avoid it simply because she is a human being. And that is what this film FAILS to say about the Muslim underclass. The hero “deserves” a shot because the Hindu man says he does, the Hindu woman says he does, and he follows all their rules. And isn’t too religious anyway, so don’t worry about that. We have at least a dozen Hindu prayer scenes, and ONE Muslim prayer scene. Our hero’s own child does not seem to have been raised in his faith. Our hero’s wedding is technically a registry wedding, but it has way more Hindu symbols than Muslim.
If you remove Paresh from the equation you have a much better tighter movie. The strongest part of the film was the theme of “choice”. Early on, Mrunal challenges Farhan that he had a choice to not be a gunda. And then we see how, maybe, he kind of didn’t. The little orphans running around this neighborhood have few options in front of them. The one stable steady support in Farhan’s life is his gangster boss, Vijay Raaz, start to finish. Later, Mrunal and Farhan choose to be together despite the religious and class differences. And they don’t have many choices either. They can’t pick where to live or how to live or even how to get married. Farhan is forced into taking money to throw the match, because he can see no other way.
His redemption is forcing a choice on the world. An old out of weight boxer under a cloud should, seemingly, no longer have the choice to be a champion. And yet, he MAKES it happen, against all odds. That is an interesting movie. Acknowledging exactly how those odds are stacked against people, how insurmountable and unfair and horrible they are, but also saying that if you persevere, you can get passed them.
The strongest natural mentorship relationships in the film are among people who also have no choice, banding together to make it. Vijay Raaz’s character is instantly powerful, especially learning that after he threw Farhan out, he was still willing to help him get an apartment, still showed up at his wife’s funeral, and so on. We also have the first boxing gym, where the trainer explains that boxing is about fighting in the ring and being friends out of it. And the Christian nurse Supriya Pathak who helps and gives a home to the young couple. A story of these losers coming together and making something of themselves, that is a natural outgrowth of the rest of it.
But if we tell the story of the loser outsiders banding together and helping each other and succeeding, that might threaten the Old Hindu Man. He is a fragile creature, timid, easily broken, the slightest touch can make him crack into a thousand pieces. We must always avoid shock to him, insult, any sort of suggestion of Change above all. And so, we dump the story of the cross-religious couple struggling to survive in intolerant India, of the poor boy who made it thanks to the folks in his neighborhood, of the second chance when it seemed impossible. And instead, we spend EONS of screentime making sure the Old Hindu Man feels important. Farhan only wins, start to finish, because of Paresh’s coaching. The film says that again and again. His wife needs him as a father, and his daughter needs him as a grandfather, we see that again and again too. Family is NOTHING if you don’t have a grumpy old Hindu man being petted and cossetted like a spoiled incontinant yippy dog in the corner.
And in a boxing movie in particular, this just feels almost sacrilegious. Boxing is the sport of the underdog, of endurance, of talent. At least, that’s how the movies make it. A boxing movie is supposed to be about taking punch after punch and still standing up. It is not supposed to be about someone graciously lowering their hand from a greaaaaaaat height above to help.
(one final argument I want to deal with from this film. Paresh Rawal is only a Bigot because his wife was killed in a bomb blast, presumably by Muslim terrorists. I HATE this argument!!!!
- There are many many people in the world who lost loved ones through violence and did not react by hate. Hate is not inevitable, it is a choice you are making.
- If you are saying that your hate is forgiveable because of what you have lost, you must acknowledge what they who you hate have lost and forgive their hate. In an American example, if you want me to accept that you are afraid of Black men because you were mugged once, then you must accept that all Black men are afraid of you and might lash out in violence because White men have damaged them in thousands of ways for hundreds of years.
- Everyone has something in their life. You lost a loved one in a terrible way, so did other people. Your pain is no more valid than their pain. You do not deserve to be the hero of everyone’s story.)