Aitraaz, released in 2004, is a Bollywood thriller. The plot revolves around the protagonist (Akshay Kumar) who was falsely accused by his female superior (Priyanka Chopra) of sexual harassment who also happens to be his ex ‘crazy’ girlfriend.
Aitraaz brought to light the underlying attitudes and beliefs of our society towards women. Clearly making a distinction between how and what makes up for a good and a bad woman. This is done by introducing two strikingly different characters and their outlook on career, sexual desires and clothes.
Even though Priyanka Chopra gave a power-packed performance, her character was created in a negative light. This was because she was introduced to us as a woman who is overly-ambitious, open about her sexual desires, wears revealing clothes and uses her sexuality to climb the corporate ladder.
We still live in a time, where women who express their sexuality freely are labelled as ‘slut’ or ‘bad girl’. Even today, girls are taught to suppress their sexuality. Our brains have been wired to believe that women are marriage-centric, less libidinous and just want to be nurtured.
But, people of the world, let me burst this bubble and tell you the truth. Women want and crave for sex as much as men do, and many times a little more. The word ‘sexual desire’ has been proportionately linked with the word dignity because of which they hide it and even avoid exploring their own bodies. When women do anything that is ‘unacceptable’, feelings of shame and guilt come into the picture.
Aitraaz clearly made a distinction between how and what makes up for a good and A bad woman.
There are many taboos attached to female sexuality, such as ‘women don’t masturbate’ or that ‘women do not watch porn’. Even though the film tries to break a few myths, most viewers still consider Priyanka’s overt and direct demand for sexual pleasure as something only bad women do.
The abortion narrative is the most pivotal scene in the movie. Priyanka Chopra makes it clear that she is not getting this abortion done due to the fear of pregnancy out of a wedlock. Rather, she wanted an abortion because at that stage of her career she did not want marriage or a child. Further adding that ‘having this child is not my ambition. You know how hard I have worked to get to this stage of my career. I have imagined a different life for myself’.
She wanted power, prestige, status, and money. But ding-dong! In comes the sexist, insecure mindset of Akshay Kumar which made him feel that she did not love him, as a result of which he decided to leave her because she had an abortion.
For a moment, let us question why a woman who is over-ambitious and career-oriented, seen as bad? Isn’t it very much possible that a woman might not be ready to handle the pressure of balancing both family and work life? Women’s careers and individual identity are given much less importance than that of a man.
Even if women put themselves first, over others, they are made to feel guilty. Women who come from a family of financially independent women are downplayed due to guilt. They are told that just to have a career, they are putting everything stake.
Have you ever come across the word ‘career-oriented man’? Well, probably never because such a word does not exist. It is very conveniently assumed that a man will be driven and career-oriented. They are never expected to stay back and handle the responsibilities of the household. A career-oriented woman, on the other hand, is seen as someone who cannot handle a household and is expected to fulfil society’s expectations.
Aitraaz breaks the stereotype of a ‘career-oriented man’ and brings to us an empowered woman who at her own free will decides to choose her career and ambitions over marriage and a child.
Not only this, Priyanka Chopra is also judged on the type of clothes she wears. She wears short skirts, bikinis, and dresses. This is falsely seen as a way of attention-seeking and also reveals the ‘slutty’ character of women. This oversimplification about skin-baring outfits is erroneous. No way means that she is ‘asking for it’ or is giving consent for sexual activity.
In one scene, a bunch of guys pass lewd comments because she was wearing a bikini. One of them says, ‘Yaaaaar, jitney bold utni beautiful. Jisne Iska photo dekha Hoga voh iska pata dhoond raha hoga‘ (she is as bold as she is beautiful. Whoever must have seen this picture, must be looking for her address).
Have you ever come across the word ‘career-oriented man’?
On the other hand, we have Kareena Kapoor who plays the role of Priya Saxena—a sweet-looking, ‘properly’ dressed and an ‘ideal’ Indian woman. Kareena Kapoor, who is a lawyer, applies for the job of a secretary. She mistakes Akshay Kumar who is actually an engineer for his neighbour-friend who is a barrister. Here also, there is an inherent sexism. She is shown to do a job that is in a lower position to a man, thereby showing her subordination.
Furthermore, Akshay Kumar falsely makes her work for him, because he starts liking her. When she gets to know about this, instead of filing a case or resigning, she decides to forgive and marry him further. In the initial scenes, she was shown as a young woman who is career-oriented and eager to learn. All this is washed away when she meets Raj.
Additionally, she decides on to do what an ‘ideal’ woman would do—fall in love, get married and soon expect a child. Throughout the movie, she is dressed ‘appropriately’, according to patriarchal standards. Later, she only decides to get back to practice as a lawyer, when her husband is under threat. I wonder why she did not do this before for her own self-satisfaction?
Needless to say, the ending of the movie showed Priyanka Chopra punished and rightly so for falsely accusing Akshay Kumar of sexual harassment and Kareena Kapoor gets her happy ending with her husband. Said good woman only stepped into the workplace, in the end, to protect her husband.
To conclude, one should acknowledge that Aitraaz should be given its due for having women characters who were key players plot development. However, in attempting to be a groundbreaking film in its portrayal of women, it still ended up catering to outdated binaries of good vs bad women.
Featured Image Credit: Bollywood Hungama