[Dirty Picture Project] Ki and Ka : Well-intentioned, but not quite there

by Suniti Sampat and Anushka Sachdev

With Cheeni Kum, it was ageism. With Paa, sensitization about degenerative diseases. With Ki and Ka, R Balki attempts to take on gender stereotypes. However, along the way, he seems to forget how multi-faceted the problem really is. While attempting to highlight stereotypes, there is always the risk that one ends up propagating them. Sadly, such is the case with Ki and Ka.

Kiya (Kareena Kapoor), a marketing executive with a promising career ahead of her is married to Kabir (Arjun Kapoor), who seeks to emulate his mother by becoming a home-maker. While the movie is based on the unconventional relationship the couple shares, Kiya’s mother plays an important role in the film.

The Proposal
The movie certainly begins on a good note, with the heroine stating how conventional Indian marriages are unfair to women, who are expected to be extremely sacrificial when in the relationship. So here we have a woman who thinks that marriage is an inconvenience for a career woman and hence steers clear of it. On the other hand, we have a man who is willing to stay at home to manage her home. Seems like a perfect fit, no? So Ki and Ka decide to tie the knot and the awkwardness begins.
Kiya’s mother is portrayed as an uber cool mom, the kind who asks her daughter if she’s had sex with the guy before she takes the plunge. Yet she asks Kabir if he’s in it for the free meals, devaluing household work in a nonchalant manner. She also seems to believe that most women’s love for their husbands is dependent on the financial security they receive from the relationship. If things weren’t going bad already, Kiya gleefully announces that Kabir will be her wife- perhaps it was meant as a joke, but it reinforces the stereotype that household duties are those of a wife.It’s ironic that Kabir has to clarify that he is not gay and likes whisky, after he bravely admits his desire of being a house-husband. Disappointing, yes.

Asli Mard
The film focuses on and struggles with the question of who is an ‘Asli Mard’? In a rather uncomfortable discussion that Kiya and Kabir have with the latter’s father, Kabir’s father attempts to humiliate Kabir for his inability to perform his (socially-determined) gender role. A nuanced discussion about masculinities and gender stereotypes could have followed. Sadly, this did not happen. According to the film-maker, the proof of manhood lies in one’s chaddi (underwear). A classic example of phallic-centrism, the film simply ignores gender identities and deals with masculinity in the most stereotypical way imaginable: with a penis.

The film is guilty of a grave injustice to women : misrepresentation of the women who work at home. The film would have you believe that all housewives need fitness classes, go for kitty parties and hang out with a homogenous pool consisting of other housewives. Now that Kabir has donned this role, all his new friends are middle-aged women deeply concerned about losing weight and are dependent on Kabir for ‘fitness’ classes.
While mocking stereotypical roles, it reinforces certain ideas. For instance, the notion that the home-maker must always be at the beck and call of the bread-earner, waking up at the crack of dawn to prepare the beverage of their choice without expecting the same from them. God forbid, if they falter in their ‘kartavya ka palan’ (duties), the home-maker would be sent to their ‘maika’ (mother’s home) !
Credit must be given to the filmmaker for the portrayal of Kiya and her mother as independent working women who know their mind. Their comfort with Kabir living with them without contributing (at least, at the outset) to the household income is telling of their comfort to do away with generic notions of gender roles. However, there is a lot of stereotyping that the movie is guilty of, while portraying modern career women. Apparently, such women live in extremely untidy homes, skip breakfast and are unable to take care of their health.
As for the bechdel test, the movie does not pass muster. The female lead has a few conversations with friends and colleagues, but these are either really brief or about Kabir. The long conversations that take place between females are those between Kiya and her mother, which again, are centred on Kiya and Kabir’s relationship. However, It may be noted that the film successfully passes the makomori test. The character of Kiya is well-written. She is shown as having an independent personality, independent of the male lead’s character.

Separating Gender and Roles
The film has highlighted the idea of dominance of one gender over another by showing that even after the so-called reversal of gender roles; one dominates the other in a marital relationship. Despite flipping stereotypical gender roles, they maintain the power equation of the bread-earner over the home-maker. This is reflected when Kiya becomes insecure on Kabir becoming successful, and tries to dictate his professional choices, or when he gets shouted at for leaving her mother alone. While it is fun to see the woman lord it over the man for a change, it’s troubling because it devalues the work done by a housewife. The film completely ignores the struggle undergone by housemakers for a standing at par with the primary earner’s and continues to demean housework and trivialise the person who does it. This continues to be problematic because housework is usually done by a woman, so by constantly demeaning it, the film furthers gender stereotypes.
The movie concludes on a strange note. The filmmaker would have the audience believe that the problem does not lie with gender, but with the hierarchical relationship that exists between the earner and the home-maker.The film-maker does not acknowledge the fact that housework is perhaps not given its due because it is women who are traditionally performing it. Perhaps if men were traditionally performing the same, they may have been given more credit and importance for the same. Even in the film, Kabir’s role as a home-maker is celebrated, with him receiving so much adulation for the same. While this may be due to the novelty of the situation, it’s difficult to miss the irony of the situation, as women have been performing this thankless role for centuries! While credit goes to the film for highlighting the fact that the home-maker never gets her due, the film ignores this gendered aspect of division and valuation of labour. Perhaps, the filmmaker could have acknowledged the fact that Kabir was only receiving so much praise because it is rare to see a man in such a self-sacrificing role. This begets the question – can we really separate gender from these hierarchical roles? Does the systemic subjugation of women to roles that have been undervalued by society since time immemorial mean nothing? Dear filmmakers, please wake up and smell the sexism.

The Dirty Picture Project: 2 States

[Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University is running the Dirty Picture project that reviews blockbuster Bollywood films from a feminist perspective. This particular review is by law students but anyone who would enjoy this and is capable of carrying the work out is welcome to join in. Please do write at ccg at nludelhi.ac.in with ‘Dirty Picture Project’ in the subject line if you would like to be a part of the project.]

(By Bhargavi Vadeyar and Sanya Kumar)

Tumhare shorts kaafi short haiTum yahan logon ko excite karna chahti ho?” This dialogue from Krish to Ananya is one of the very few instances of overt sexism in 2 States. There are no scantily clad women dancing in item numbers here. Instead, we get a strong female lead, and witness the breaking of a couple of good old patriarchal stereotypes. Yet, for all this, 2 States lacks proportional female representation, and is essentially a male centric movie.


The Bechdel Test Marker

The movie scrapes a pass on the Bechdel test, with the four named and speaking female characters talking to each other fifteen times, six of those times being about something other than a man. However, each one of those six times was under a minute, always in the presence of a male character, and usually about marriage and the clash of cultures that the conflict in the movie stems from.

Kavita: The Overly Attached Mother

The movie reinforces an old trope about women, one that we may call ‘The Overly Attached Mother’, who is embodied by Krish’s mother, Kavita. Near the beginning of the film, Kavita asks him why he had to go so far away to study. She also continuously refers to Ananya as having trapped or caught her son, as though she is afraid to lose him to another woman. She reinforces gender roles when she comments that a daughter-in-law is supposed to be respectful, and that they are supposed to be kept on the ‘edge of a knife. Moreover, she becomes offended that the bride’s mother met her, the bridegroom’s mother without a gift, as though the groom’s family is superior to the bride’s and sulks about the same until she receives her share of presents!


Krish’s interactions with Kavita constantly bring out the motherly side of her character. When she is angry with him, he coaxes her by saying that he told Ananya how much care Kavita took to raise him and how beautiful she is. This attempt to please her further reinforces gender stereotypes about the worth of women in society; it tells us that women are valued mainly for their good looks or care giving attributes.

Krish also dominates his mother to some extent. When he calls her at the beginning of the movie, he berates her for forgetting to keep her phone with her, and his tone is one of irritation. This reinforces the destructive social norm in India that justifies controlling behaviour as a demonstration of affection and care.

Ananya: The Tandoori Chicken Eating Tam-Brahm

If Kavita is a character that enforces gender stereotypes, Ananya is a character that breaks them. She is portrayed throughout the movie as a strong woman, who is expected to have a good career by her family and by everyone around her. Surprisingly for Indian cinema, on multiple occasions, the film shows her being unable to meet Krish because she is working in office or is on a business trip: something that the movie does not judge her for, and which is a storyline that is usually given to men.

1Ananya constantly challenges the patriarchal ideals of other characters, most notably in the memorable scene in which she confronts Duke, the groom at a wedding in Krish’s family for asking for a bigger car as his dowry. She deeply embarrasses him by asking him his salary and mentioning that she earns twice as much. She shows him that he could never afford to buy the car he wants from the bride’s family with his salary, and that if the marriage wasn’t arranged, he could never have gotten the bride to agree to marry him. On a related note, the character of Duke actually caricatures men somewhat. He is shown to be overweight, with a high voice and a childish manner of speaking, and the movie hints that this is related to his worth as a man.

Another stark example of Ananya challenging gender stereotypes is her encounter with Krish. When she tells him she can’t cook, he looks shocked, so she asks him whether he can cook. He replies in a very obvious tone that he can’t, but that he is a man. Ananya sarcastically says remarks it’s a woman’s job to cook, and he agrees with her jokingly, after which she hits his arm and tells him she can’t do it. While she does end up cooking eventually, this dialogue is rare in popular films, challenging of the traditional gender role of women as cooks.

When Krish asks Ananya if she is trying to ‘excite’ boys by wearing extremely short shorts, Ananya becomes impatient and tells him that she can’t help that. The effect of this liberal push-back is ruined somewhat in the next scene though, where she is shown wearing black clothes which cover her from head to toe for their study session because he got angry and walked off when she wore the shorts.

Her character’s wardrobe is also fairly standard, though she does display more skin than Krish in certain scenes, when she wears off the shoulder or strapless clothing. In certain key scenes though, such as the first time the two of them kiss, she is wearing something completely normal and not at all revealing. However, the wardrobe choices in this movie in general do stick to the unwritten rule of fashion in Bollywood that men on formal occasions wear suits and western clothing, while women wear saris or Indian clothing.

Krish: Punjab da Munda

Unlike Ananya, one can see a tinge of sexism when it comes to Krish. He comments on how the worst thing about weddings is that it spoils all women moods at once. He also comments to the therapist when Ananya cuts her finger while cooking that it is the job of women to create melodrama, even though Ananya was not being all that dramatic, and was angry with him because he had forced her to lie about her cooking skills. However, there are some gender stereotypes that Krish doesn’t reinforce; for example, he takes it for granted that Ananya will have a career, and does not agree with his mother that the groom should not be picking up the bags of the bride’s family.

2The contradictory nature of the movie is further embodied in the fact that Ananya, despite being shown as a strong, intelligent woman, never seems to talk to anyone of her own age apart from Krish; she mentions during the course of the movie that she has no friends apart from him. Also, the movie seems to imply that Krish is more intelligent than her when he offers to give her lessons in economics and then scores higher than her on their test, even though she is a top economics graduate, and he is an engineer.

Dr. Iyer: The Wall

Another interesting character is Krish’s therapist. The first female character to appear on screen, she is shown to be a doctor, which is a position of power. It is slightly odd, then, that the movie never names her directly, that she never speaks, and that the camera never focuses on her. We only see her indirectly. She does matter to the storyline, but is only a plot device for Krish to narrate to. One of the first shots in the shows her hand scribbling on a notepad, and later shots show us the back of her head, or a birds-eye view. This objectifies her, and makes her merely a prop in the telling of the story by the narrator.

All in All

D3espite having a strong female lead, the movie is not overtly female friendly. The female characters are all one dimensional, even to some extent Ananya. The male gaze runs through the film: even when Krish tells Ananya he loves her, it is not her intelligence, strength or courage that he references. Instead, he tells her that he has fallen for the mole on her left check, or that he cannot stop thinking about her.

That the narrator of the movie is a man, and that the director, scriptwriters and producers are all men too, may be the reason for this lack of representation; women rarely ever seem to be at the center of stories that are written and made by men.

(Bhargavi and Sanya are Research Assistants for the Dirty Picture Project at the Centre for Communication Governance at National Law University, Delhi)