(By Bhargavi Vadeyar)
Hunterrr is a movie that seems to be going in several different directions at once. While it objectifies women heavily (for example, the three ‘Rs’ in the title ‘Hunterrr’ shown during the opening credits are actually made up of the legs of women wearing only underwear), it also has some redeeming feminist aspects.
The film describes through various flashbacks the life of a middle class heterosexual male called Mandar Phonkse. His sole purpose in life appears to be to seduce and sleep with as many women as possible and he sees himself as a vasu, or a “player”.
Such sexual activity in general is not the problem; what is troubling is the way that Mandar actually treats women. For example, he stares at almost every single woman he sees in a way that would be genuinely disconcerting were anyone to encounter him in real life, and he only thinks of most women only in sexual terms.
While the total cast is made up of quite a lot of named female characters, the film miserably fails the Bechdel test. There is only one scene with more than one named female character in it, and conversation revolves around how the son of one of the women resembles his father. Considering that this is a film about a man and his interactions with women, this isn’t very surprising.
Mandar: The Wonder Years
The flashbacks show us Mandar’s childhood and how his passion for the opposite sex begins when he accidentally goes to watch an adult film. One of the most troubling aspects of the film is its depiction of the exploits of Mandar and his friend as children.
They spend their days eve teasing women by pretending to turn around and bump into them in order to get a feel of their breasts or brushing up against a woman’s backside while she is leaning over to pick vegetables at the local market. The boys congratulate each other on being able to pull off such stunts without getting caught. This kind of behaviour is laughed at by the film in a boys-will-be-boys sort of way that trivialises the demeaning nature of this kind of harassment.
The film also plays to stereotypes when Mandar tells a rapt audience of boys that the secret to being able to get a girl is to aim for the second most attractive girl in any group, as she will be most likely to be flattered by your advances. After all, he says, any girl is good enough.
Pune: Parul and Jyotsna
On the positive side, Hunterrr does appear to disapprove of Mandar’s later relationships with women. Near the end of the film, he attempts to seduce a woman he meets at the airport, not realising that she is his relative. When he finds out, he is horrified and regrets the way he has treated women, particularly the two women he was with during his college years, Parul and Jyotnsa.
Mandar dates Parul while he is in college and it is implied that they sleep together. While they are in a relationship, Mandar begins an affair with a married woman named Jyotsna who lives in the building opposite his and who has a young son. He consequently ignores Parul, breaking her heart. At first, Jyotsna appears to be conflicted about starting an affair; while she calls Mandar and asks him to meet, when she arrives at his flat she tells him to leave her alone. He, however, convinces her to give him a kiss and the affair begins.
Ultimately, Jyotsna’s husband does find out about the affair and the film attempts to address the inequality in the situations of Mandar and Jyotsna. When Jyotsna comes to see Mandar for the last time, for example, she tells him that there have been strange men calling her house and asking to speak to her and asks him to stop giving out her number. The film hints here at the reality that in Indian society, a woman who is seen to be sexually active is viewed as someone who has lost her respect and dignity, and who can therefore be harassed. Later in the same scene, Mandar tries to tell her that they will work it out, but Jyotsna refuses. Mandar can run away, she points out, but she has nowhere to run; as a woman, she is trapped in her marriage in a way that men are not.
Sunita and Tripti, The (Sort-Of) Redemptions of Hunterrr
In stark contrast to Jyotsna, who Mandar somewhat coerces into a relationship, is Sunita. She is also a married woman, but she has no qualms about carrying on an affair and regularly invites Mandar to her house while her husband is away. It is unusual in Bollywood to show a woman driven by sexual desires in the same way as a man, and even more unusual for her to not suffer any horrible consequences for this behaviour, so for that Sunita deserves an honourable mention in this review.
Tripti, the ultimate love interest of Mandar, is similarly a refreshing heroine in an industry that tends to view girls who are sexually active outside of marriage as fallen women who cannot have a happy ending. Take a look, for example, at the film Cocktail, in which the woman who is more innocent and less sexually experienced ends up with the male protagonist.
Mandar meets Tripti as an arranged marriage, and the two get engaged. There is a kind of reversal of gender stereotypes, in that Mandar hides the truth about his sexual exploits from Tripti. She, on the other hand, is unabashed about her sexual exploits and never tries to hide them from Mandar. She openly admits to having had multiple relationships and even one live in relationship.
Unfortunately, she is not really a very well developed character, and so I have somewhat mixed feelings about her. To me, she is somewhat reminiscent of the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. The MPDG is a woman who exists solely for the purposes of changing the life of the male hero and has no story (and often, not much character) of her own. In other words, she is exactly what the doctor ordered for our wayward protagonist.
What makes Tripti a milder version of the MPDG is that she is essentially the female version of Mandar, and therefore the only kind of woman he could ever marry. She thinks his friend is hilarious when he does a silly and slightly vulgar dance that ends with him ripping his shirt, she too likes to objectify women and she is experienced sexually. All of this sets her up to be just what Mandar needs in order to finally forego his philandering ways and fall in love.
Furthermore, at some moments in the film, her motivations are unclear and her behaviour seems rather improbable. When Mandar finally comes clean to her at the end of the movie about his sexual exploits, she is not angry with him for keeping his past from her while she was completely open about hers. Instead, she forgives him almost instantly. While this could just be bad writing, it does take away from her as a feminist character.
After the Credits
Hunterrr has been touted as India’s first movie about sex, but I think that it actually somewhat reinforces the taboo on sex in Indian society. Mandar is fascinated by sex partly because it is whispered about and forbidden, which is something the movie never addresses. While the characters are open about wanting and having sex, there is always a furtive undertone. There is a sense that of immaturity, as though the film makers are teenagers talking about sex for the first time, and the entire film seems to rest on this novelty of talking about sex openly. Although, to be fair, this probably comes from Bollywood and the rest of society as much as from the film makers.
In conclusion, Hunterrr is not going to win any prizes for feminism. The film objectifies women constantly, and while it hints at the differing gender standards for sexual experience that are acceptable in society, it does not come close to addressing it in any meaningful way.
(Bhargavi works as a research assistant with the Centre on the Dirty Picture Project)