Since I’ve had my feminist awakening, it is impossible to watch movies which have misogyny, bigotry, supports harmful stereotypes, conforms to gender norms, romanticises stalking, and identifies toxic behaviour as love. Unfortunately, that covers most of the Bollywood. Saath Saath has been a refreshing break from this. At first glance, it appears as a classic Rom-Com, with an outstanding cast. While Dipti and Farooq’s love story is the central theme, the gang and the college banter make it fun. However, when analysed from a feminist lens, it goes so much deeper.
Geeta (Dipti Naval) is a young college student pursuing BA, and her father is a rich textile merchant. She is impressed by the opinions and the ideals Avinash (Farooq Shaikh) believes in. Avinash is the son of a rich landlord but he leaves home due to philosophical differences. He aims to live an idealist life and lives by stern principles, and as a college student he speaks up against capitalism and the media. He has high morals and the materialistic world doesn’t charm him. They fall in love despite their social differences and get married. The story revolves around the change in their life when they come across parental responsibilities. To fill the financial insecurity Avinash has to compromise with his political and philosophical stance and turns into someone he always loathed.
Saath Saath, unlike most movies, does not set unreal romantic standards. Such standards at best are boring, repetitive and predictable and at worst are harmful, as it influences people to rush into decisions without thinking through, and induces insecurity for not experiencing the same imaginary standards. When we are introduced to the characters, we don’t see instant sparks or love at first sight. We see the protagonist Geeta is impressed by the speech Avinash gave regarding socialism. When she understands how he lives, and his views over various things, she develops feelings for him. Instead of restricting it to the superficial as appearance, she chooses him because of his intellect and thought process.
Since Geeta and Avinash belong to different social classes they are aware that marriage won’t be easy and will require work. There is a scene where they decide to end their relationship, and Avinash explains that within college everything seems workable, but in real-world they will have to struggle for survival. While most movies portray marriage to be breezy, in Saath Saath they recognise the hardship. Instead of blindly jumping in, they think it through and make the decision regardless of the problems. In their married life, we see them working to odd hours to fulfil their basic needs. It does cause difficulty especially with regards to time and monetary security, but that is how real life is.
Idealism vs Materialism
When viewed from a feminist perspective the central theme shifts from the love story to a contrast of idealism and materialism. This mainly involves the shift in the character of Avinash. There are several area’s where we see the difference in from the first and second half of the film. These include his opinion over beauty, comfort and success.
In the first half, we see Avinash as a woke student, pursuing his MA. He lives from hand to mouth with a part-time job and dreams of bringing societal issues to light. He lives in a small, rented apartment, and his financial condition is very weak. Despite that, he is proud of who he is and is an ambitious person. In the second half, Geeta is pregnant and they require money for it. He then decides to join the printing press owned by his friend. He enters with hope, and soon is lured in by material comfort. He turns into a shrewd businessman who does everything required to earn his profit.
Initially, we see him quoting Marx with “amassing wealth beyond needs is theft” and in another instance when he takes his article to get published. He is asked whether he dislikes food on his plate, because of his controversial articles. He beautifully replies with “achi toh lagti hai par zameer bechke nahi” ( I do like it, doesn’t mean I sell my soul for it). In the second bit, he is driven only to increase the profit, he devises plans that would save them on author loyalty, bribes and also considers selling pornographic magazines. We also hear him say that you should either work with all means or just stop living altogether.
Beauty and Pride
At the start Avinash has no shame in being himself—everyone knows where he lives and his financial situation. He is rather proud and feels independent. In the later part, we see him get embarrassed by his house, and he no longer intends to invite people. He calls his life then “batsurat” (ugly) and defends all his needs on the pretext of beauty.
However, when he is confronted, we see him straight up spilling facts about the difficulty that comes along with living an honest life. He talks about the daily struggles of running behind the bus and breaking their back for nothing but sadness. holding the moral high ground is not as easy as it seems. We see him acknowledging and prioritising his familial needs, which very well reminds me of a quote by Churchill,
“If a man is not a socialist by the time he is 20, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 40, he has no brain.”
Avinash and The System
Saath Saath in a subtle way shows how hard it is to abide by your ethical values in a corrupt and bigoted world. And that it’s much much easier to mould yourself as per the system than to challenge it. However, it also tells us in the end, that doing the right thing is more important than the easy thing. In the last scene, we see Avinash heading back to his roots and attempting to strike a balance by working for a newspaper run by his professor.
Geeta as an Unconventional Female Character
Bold and outspoken, when her teacher asks her unsolicited questions about her relationship in the classroom, Geeta calls her out for gossiping and stands up to her instead of feeling humiliated. We see another such instance of her standing her ground to authority figures when her parents find out about her marriage. Her mother looks down upon her and asks her “Sharam nahi aati?” ( are you not ashamed of yourself?) Geeta refuses to be shamed and expresses how she has made the correct decision for herself. She reinforces her autonomy.
After her marriage, she decides to pitch in by working as a teacher. In the ’80s, women doing a job was not common. Avinash also says that he doesn’t like her working, and she retorts by saying “Chaar kitabe kya padhli, lagta hai mard ko he kaam karna chahiye” (just cause you’re educated, you feel only men should work), hurting fragile male ego.
We all know how much Bollywood loves coy shy ‘Bhartiya Naari’ when it comes to romance. Women are expected to step back, let alone take active steps. Geeta, however, is seen taking active initiatives. Since the beginning, we see she always approaches Avinash—she even enters his class to ask him for an outing. She defies another popular trope of ‘whiney wife’. Women are often portrayed as constantly complaining in their married life, with regards to material pleasure and security. Geeta is more than satisfied and would much rather lead a life without deceit than a comfortable life.
And last but not the least, she also breaks the generic materialistic portrayal that projects women as shallow and vanity. She sticks to her morals longer than her husband does. She is not complacent and expresses her disapproval. She puts her ethics and preferred lifestyle over moral wrongs and even her own husband. She is ready to leave him and live independently if that means living an honest life.