Posted by Lakshmi Pillai
When it comes to growing, healing and empowering women there is, enigmatically, a development of a sense of community that is necessitated. The media is rife with such formations of community as subjects, misogynist in nature, crop up every day. There is a vitality that is derived from identifying with a community. A vitality that gave voice and helped to cope with healing can be exemplified in the #MeToo movement. A feminist sisterhood is crucial to achieve women empowerment.
The recently released flick Veere di Wedding was a merry account on the lives of four female friends. The trailer’s release was remarked as being loaded with cuss words and vulgarity. Pretty sure that had the movie been about four male friends, there wouldn’t have been much hungama created on the same lines. It would have been seen as just part of ‘buddy bonding’. The movie has also been seen as an Indian version of the American series Sex and The City. The movie depicts how four modern, upper-class, educated women deal with life and make choices.
It doesn’t take a genius to realise that Veere di Wedding is just a fun-loving movie and that it is not a hard-hitting feminist flick. That shouldn’t really matter. Not all women-centric films have to be serious and angst-ridden. It isn’t really the genre that matters, it is the depiction. And it shouldn’t really matter if the depiction isn’t perfect. What matters is the attempt. And what Veere di Wedding does is foreground female friendship as an important source of happiness and well-being of the girls’ lives.
A feminist sisterhood is crucial to achieve women empowerment.
Sororal associations are crucial to feminism. Like a dig on the bro-bonding fraternity that is often glorified in the media as ‘bros-before-hoes’ and an ode to yaari, the girls in Veere di Wedding address each other as bros rather than gender-specify their bonding. However, it must be pointed out that the movie is quite exclusionist as it caters to bourgeoisie feminist ideals that women of lower and middle class do not really have the liberty to make or even think of.
But I am reminded of the ending scene of another poignant movie Lipstick Under my Burkha. Towards the end of the movie, all the female leads have been caught and shamed for their transgression and it looks like patriarchy has won through disciplining them. However, what ensues is the formation of a community, where the women bond and create a space untouched by patriarchal influence, where they can celebrate themselves and their desires.
The company of other women is important in a world that constantly seeks to insubordinate women into passive creatures existing solely for men. Take for instance the critically acclaimed Parched. The problems faced by the women are quite grim. The women come together and drive off into a desert and exult in the moment of ephemeral freedom. They are also seen taking care of each other and forming a bond of sisterhood. This bonding is a site of healing and is best manifested in the scene when one of the women sits in another woman’s kitchen floor and tends to the wounds as a result of domestic violence. The women serve to protect each other and towards the end, literally run away from the clutches of their patriarchal village.
Female friendships in Bollywood movies haven’t been explored as much as male friendships. There is more celebration of female enmity in Indian cinema: women pitted against each other centred on a male, mostly the hero. The celebration of female friendships is Bollywood is quite recent.
I am often tempted to wonder if what prevents the frequent depiction of female friendships in Bollywood arises from the incomprehensibility to imagine a woman’s life outside the social sphere that centers around a male. And in addition to this, it is seen as less enjoyable because of their restricted mobility. Or possibly, there is an underlying dislike of the idea of female friendships because it does not really cater to the patriarchal notion of a woman being dependent on a man for a sense of purpose.
It might be odd that I will now pick the movie Kuch Kuch Hota Hai for this analysis. This famous flick seemed quite problematic to me on several fronts, but I surprised myself by realising that it is in fact quite relatable to some girls. The tomboy Anjali befriends the feminine Tina but their friendship is constantly hindered by competition that is suddenly ignited in Anjali, for the male. And then she attempts to be ‘like Tina’ and somewhere I think instead of the overt ‘competing over the guy’ idea that is generated, it is more of an ‘aspiring to be like another girl who is desirable’.
Eve Sedgewick talks about homosocial desires between men in the case of the love triangle. I wonder if that can be chalked out in the case of this love triangle (the first, involving Anjali, Rahul and Tina). But while we talk of the girls and their relationship, there is no real competition between the two. There is more of a latent camaraderie developed. Anjali desires to be like Tina but that is only ephemeral; she reverts to being herself (and later matures in a stereotypical woman on her own). Tina is not hostile towards the bond that Anjali and Rahul share. This is one of the curious portrayals of female friendships which in its own away, attempts to counter patriarchy but falls into the trap of the script which necessitates that the hero gets the girl he wants.
That’s what female-centric movies need to focus on: the women, their struggles and their moments of reprieve and resistance. We must dismantle the notion that women will only be competitors, constantly competing for men and power. Women can form friendships too and real ones, just like any other friendship which is filled with laughter, jokes, bonding, solidarity, quarrels, forgiveness, mutual empowerment and, most importantly, shared lived experience.
we must dismantle the notion that women will only be competitors, constantly competing for men and power.
There is also a very evident formation of sisterhood amongst the women in Angry Indian Goddesses. The sorority is presented as a protective strength for the women against patriarchal power structures, so when the women are harassed, they boldly confront the men but the moment one woman leaves the group in a fit of rage, she is raped and killed. Like Veere di Wedding, it is a movie that foregrounds female friendships but serves as a gripping tale that revolts against restrictions forced on women.
Female communities and friendships are crucial to both feminism and a woman’s self-development. I have oft seen some women proudly claim that they find it easier to form friendships with men and cannot do so with women and then a tirade of complaints against their own sex ensues.
Every friendship is unique. But a true female friend and a strong group of female friends is more powerful than true friendships with men. This observation does not come from a space of experience; on the contrary, women carry with them lessons and experiences about their lives and struggles, living as a subordinate in a patriarchal framework. These lessons contribute to a woman’s self-development and to ensure her de-conditioning from the misogynist mindset programmed into them. Sisterhood and friendship serve as liminal spaces and are thus powerful.
The success of Veere di Wedding should hopefully open new spaces in Bollywood: a receptivity towards female-centric movies that are varied in genre and that are unapologetic. Because we need to celebrate ourselves. And we need to celebrate ourselves together too.
Lakshmi Pillai is just an eternally mutable person and an unapologetic feminist who pens poetry and creative pieces, and low-key indulges in soul-searching in her spare time.