The Dirty Picture Project: Hunterrr

(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.

hunterrr

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.

Bechdel Testing

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)

The Dirty Picture Project: Highway

[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 Aarti Bhavana and Hemangini Kalra)

Highway-Movie-Poster

Stockholm Syndrome – NO! It’s Love.

Finally a movie where the rich, pretty, Delhi girl is shown not to fall in love with your stereotypical pretty Punjabi boy, but a truck wallah. It was a bold idea which would be path-breaking in any other context; but a representation of textbook Stockholm Syndrome as a genuine romance is more worrisome than refreshing. The depiction of Stockholm Syndrome as your typical girl-meets-boy-girl-dislikes-boy-no-means-yes-wait-girl-actually-loves-boy stereotype reinforces the terrifyingly widespread idea that stalking and abduction is the quick-fix means to win a woman’s love.

Alia Bhatt plays the role of Veera, a girl kidnapped by Mahabir, a goon played by Randeep Hooda. While this movie had the opportunity of exploring the relatively uncharted waters of Stockholm Syndrome as a psychological disorder, it completely misses its mark, by romanticising the affection shown by a woman towards her captor. If not caused by a psychological disorder, her behaviour, (especially her choosing to return to her captors after running away, as well as letting further opportunities of escape slip by), is absurd. Interestingly, the movie also showed the captor sympathising with his victim, a psychological disorder known as Lima Syndrome, but chose to cloak it as falling in love.

Shh! Log kya kahenge?

Throughout the film women were cajoled into hushing up their experiences of sexual assault, as is the unfortunately ubiquitous norm. Brave Veera finally confronts her “abuser – uncle” but her father’s first instinct, unsurprisingly, was to brush the incident under the 5s45yz0vfwukznff.D.0.Alia-Bhatt--Highway-Movie-Piccarpet. More bothered about gossip mongers, her mother shushed nine year old Veera when she confided in her. We guess confronting an abusive relative is after all more inconvenient than years of hiding abuse. This tendency seems to permeate across all socio-economic strata, as Mahabir’s mother had been sexually exploited when he was young, but she too had endured it silently.

She is hot tamale!

Objectification of women is omnipresent in Bollywood offerings, and Highway is no exception. Throughout the first half of the movie, Veera was Mahabir’s ‘Consignment’, ready to be sold to a brothel at a moment’s notice. When one of his accomplices tried to force himself on her, he was told that she was just a consignment, not a woman. So we imagine it’s okay to assault her if she was treated as a ‘woman’.

One refreshing thing about Highway was that unlike other mainstream movies, it didn’t have an item number. Oh wait, it did. An awkward two-minute scene where Veera does a sensual dance to a song in a misplaced setting with misguided lyrics which left the viewer completely bewildered and just embarrassed for the protagonist. That is not to say that there is ever a right time for a sensual dance to a song proclaiming oneself to be a spicy Mexican dish (‘hot tamale’). Even if the intention was to convey that she felt free and uninhibited in those surroundings, a less sensual song and dance would have sufficed.

I lady, you knight

Despite taking a step forward, and having a woman as the lead character, Veera is the only named female character in the entire movie. Other women (who had a total screen time of under a minute in an approximately 170-minute long movie) are seen in fleeting glimpses, gushing about frivolous things like clothes, jewellery, elaborate engagement proposals, and exotic wedding locales. Ripe with gender stereotypes, several instances reinforced the role of women in the family as nurturers and homemakers. Within the first fifteen minutes, Veera describes her dream life as up in the mountains where she stays home and cooks, while her husband goes out and herds sheep. So internalized is this role of a caregiver, that whenever Veera saw her captor haunted by memories of his troubled childhood, she instinctively rushed to comfort him.

highwaymoviedownloadinhighquality_sandhira_1392965154570At the same time, the converse stereotype of women relying on their knights in shining armour to come to their rescue is on display – right from expecting her fiancé to protect her while driving in an unsafe area, to banking on Mahabir to handle things, should they go awry. Guess it runs in the family, since when the kidnappers call Veera’s mother with a ransom demand, she doesn’t answer the phone, leaving ‘The Husband’ to take care of it instead.

So Close Yet So Far

Must affection shown towards one’s abductor necessarily be a manifestation of a psychological disorder? Can one choose who one falls in love with? What does it mean to be in love and how is it different from Stockholm Syndrome? Imtiaz Ali’s shallow screenplay fails to engage with the very core of the story he presents.

highway02-650x288

More than anything else, Highway was a disappointing film because it had the potential to be a fantastic exploration into the psyche of a victim of Stockholm Syndrome and delve into such complex questions of love and despair; but instead, it cheapens it down to a baffling love-conquers-all (even abduction!) story.

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

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.

2-states-movie-talk

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!

1

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)