Posted by Nisma Chauhan
Mala from Judwaa (1997) is young and unapologetic. She is a rebel who steals from her own father despite being the only heiress of his wealth. She rides a bike at a time when a woman on two wheels was a rare site and adorns leather jacket like it’s nobody’s business.
She falls head over heels in love with a thug – who steals and isn’t interested in her advances. But she refuses to let that budge her, she relentlessly asks for his love and demands to be kissed because she wants it, throws herself on her lover demanding affection. Needy for love but in full control of her own agency.
Flash forward 20 years…
Alishka from Judwaa 2 (2017), submissively works at her dad’s grocery store in London. She doesn’t speak up when inappropriately touched and cat-called in a crowded aeroplane.
The only thing the first Judwaa got right was Mala, effortlessly portrayed by Karishma Kapoor.
She is gullible and falls in love with a man who smacks her bottom and kisses her without her consent in broad daylight in her dad’s grocery store. It takes harassment and sexual assault for her to fall head over heels in love with the man who subjected her to it.
The only thing the first Judwaa got right was Mala, effortlessly portrayed by Karishma Kapoor. She was bold and in complete control of herself, and didn’t shy away from demanding what she wanted. But Alishka from Judwaa 2 portrayed by Jacqueline Fernandez is anything but that.
I would have been seven-years-old when I first saw Judwaa starring Salman Khan – a story of two brothers who were separated at birth and went on to live extremely different lives. One became a roadside gangster who openly harasses woman along with looting shops. The other is a shy, conservative musician, who despite his upbringing in the West, is quite the ‘damad’ material.
The movie has been recreated 20 years later (in a time that isn’t afraid to call out misogyny or benevolent sexism) in a manner similar to that of the original. It is tone deaf to the pleas of the progressiveness of society: a gangster twin who openly harasses women as he literally cannot be in the presence of a woman’s bottom without smacking it, and a conservative twin who, owing to his supposedly illogical brain wiring, kisses a woman without her consent, and because it is Bollywood, the same woman goes on to become his love interest.
All these problematic aspects of the original have been directly transplanted into the remake. But to make matters much worse, the only character that the film perhaps got right the first time around has, in the remake, been reduced to one that is cringe-worthy, submissive and naïve to such an extent that it’s painful to watch her on screen. The 2017 Judwaa has two women, instead of one, who fall in love with their harassers.
But that didn’t stop it from becoming the second highest grossing movie of 2017, following the lead of Bahubali 2, a movie that, interestingly, held strong women characters at its helm. Perhaps this stark difference between two of India’s highest grossers of 2017 is representative of the divide the nation still stands at. If numbers are proof, there is a long way to go and not only for moviegoers but for moviemakers too.
The 2017 Judwaa has two women, instead of one, who fall in love with their harassers.
Though the character of Mala was also problematic in several ways – she stalks Raja and forces him to fall in love with her – it did portray an overtly sexual woman, as humanly as possible at a time that didn’t understand the concept of women with sexual desires of their own. A concept which perhaps can be seen by the initial ban on Lipstick Under My Burkha is still not understood. But in 2017, the sexual agency of this character is completely lost to Varun Dhawan’s charm and Jacqueline’s over-the-top acting.
I can’t deny that I fell in love with the movie in 1997. The ingredients of a Bollywood masala movie were perfectly panned out to the audience, with catchy numbers and hook-steps that would become a party-must for many years to come.
For a little girl growing up, Mala’s no-fucks-to-give attitude was inspirational, making the nation fall in love with Karishma Kapoor all over again and nonchalantly copying her style. But as I grew up and became aware of my ignorant self, the Hindi cinema didn’t. Judwaa 2, that was released on September this year, has undoubtedly pushed Indian cinema 20 years back with crass-humour, no-holds-barred harassment and a Mala, now Alishka, who is only present to appeal to the male gaze.