Warning: spoilers ahead
Veere Di Wedding has had a double-digit first day opening, we are told. It has made INR 10.75 crore on the first day at the box office. It’s a successful film, we are told.
The film has women protagonists who cuss, drink, smoke and who—most importantly, we are told—have sexual agency. And all this, in a “mainstream film”, we are reminded. This is a move towards expanding the idea of the mainstream. It’s not perfect, but hey, it’s something. Focus on that. Focus on how it pushes the envelope. The future is female, we are told. Females pushing the envelope.
Here’s what we are NOT told.
Veere Di Wedding is feminist to the extent the market will allow it to be. It is not a radical overturning of gender roles and expectations in Hindi cinema. It is a pragmatic negotiation with market forces that lend a semblance of the radical, without wading too deep in.
Veere Di Wedding is feminist to the extent the market will allow it to be.
For those who haven’t seen the film, the plot in a nutshell is this: we follow the journey of four friends from roughly 18 to 28 as they talk first about boyfriends, and then about husbands. The narrative focus is Kalindi (Kareena Kapoor Khan), who hesitatingly agrees to marry her partner of three years, then changes her mind, then changes it back again. Since this is a film meant to be about women, Kalindi’s three friends must figure in the plot. Each is representative of a different kind of marriage problem. One is on the verge of a divorce (Swara Bhasker). One is married to a foreigner who isn’t accepted by her father, leading to father-daughter estrangement (Shikha Talsania). The last one has the biggest problem of them all. She is single in her late 20s (Sonam Kapoor Ahuja).
As the film opens, protagonist Kalindi sets out to educate her mother—and us—on the meaning of the word “veere”. It’s “like bro,” we are told. This is a story not just about four women friends, but about four women friends who are bros. And that’s exactly the limit of the film’s imagination.
It’s a bromance. Only the men are now played by super-affluent, upper caste upper class women. Was it refreshing to see some woman character on screen express reservations about the institution of marriage? Hell yes. Was it refreshing to see a female protagonist masturbate on screen? It was. Was it also refreshing to see a single woman in her late 20s dealing with the pressures of getting married? Also, yes. Was it even more refreshing to see a woman who is not waif thin to be allowed a (latent?) sexual life? Yes again.
But it’s more important to look at how some of these refreshing details are framed. Kalindi is unsure about getting married because her parents had an unhappy and loveless marriage. Her biggest fear is not marriage, but the banality that marriage apparently brings to romance. Sakshi (Bhasker) is shown to masturbate only because she was having a dry spell with her husband. And her masturbation—and use of a vibrator—precipitates her divorce.
The film capitalizes on the focus of gender equality of our moment while milking it for all it has to offer. It is bro-culture packaged as feminism, extending kindness and empathy only to certain kinds of women: women within the network.
The film capitalizes on the focus of gender equality of our moment while milking it for all it has to offer.
As an audience, we are supposed to bridle at the moral hypocrisy of all the aunties of the world who won’t let us drink, smoke, love and fuck in peace. These could be the three neighbourhood aunties who routinely pester Sakshi about her lifestyle and husband, or the prospective mothers-in-law to be (Kalindi’s fiancé Rishabh’s mother, and presumably aunt Sujata aunty). Because that’s what garish aunties with their loud taste are meant for: to be bashed as we bask in the assurance that the problem is them, never us. Do these women deserve to be caricatures simply because the audience is expected to have zero ability to go beyond their self-involved perspectives of empowerment?
I think not.
To be fair, none of the characters in the film show any explicit ideological commitment to the women’s cause. Film promotions have also steered clear of the F-word. If anything, lead actor and female hero Kareena Kapoor Khan has gone on record—once again—to say she’s not a feminist. And of course, like this piece points out, it is not productive to try to force actors to declare they are feminists.
However, if the film does keep harping about its female-centricness as a USP, it opens itself up to questions of integrity in representation. Because quite simply, you cannot have your cake and eat it too. Sure, the film has four women in the lead, no male superstar, and it has women producers. But does the absence of a male hero mean there is no hierarchy within the four women leads? Is this hierarchy based on seniority alone? Or is it based on certain notions of who is more mainstream? Watch footage of any promotional event and you will see who is Queen Bee and who are subsidiary appendages supposed to be grateful for this one stab at Box Office success.
This is a cautionary tale meant as much for me as for others. The part of me that was really happy and excited to see a woman not wanting to get married on screen? That part of me needs to be careful. Because it is very easy to be swept away in adulation at what might just be another clever product.
Featured Image Source: Bollywood Hungama