A Woman Who Doesn’t Have to Fit In

A Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

Khoobsoorat – Movie Review

(Warning – Spoilers, lots of them)

When my niece recommended I watch this film, I was skeptical. It sounded like a predictable Bollywood romance, replete with beautiful sets, fine costumes and jewelry, one dimensional characters with very little subtlety, and situations that are too easily resolved, usually through the use of lectures and bit of melodrama.

It turned out to be some of the above. But despite these predictable traits, the movie surprised me.

The Protagonist

What I liked about the film is of course the protagonist Mili (Sonam Kapoor). Or rather, I came to like her. Cautiously. Gradually.

Mili is silly, irritating, and clumsy. She puts up her feet on the dashboard, drinks from the wine bottle, and eats messy food with her hands. She takes selfies of herself everywhere. I thought, “And THIS is what they call ‘spontaneous/bubbly’?” I rolled my eyes.

But over the course of the film, Mili emerges as a woman who likes herself and is not excessively concerned whether others approve of her or not.

She is very good at what she does (physiotherapy) and she does it unconventionally and with lots of heart thrown in.

Mili has had 3 breakups so far (shown funnily in a little flashback) and even though she’s just had it with men for a while, she hasn’t had it with life. In fact, she’s enjoying life more than usual, with the complications of a relationship removed.

Mili dares to dream. She isn’t overly awed by Prince Vikram’s wealth or class. At first she’s attracted to him, and then she begins to like him when she sees his human side. As she finds herself becoming closer to him, her only worry is that he is engaged. Never once does she feel he is “unreachable”. It’s as if she’s always seen him as an equal, as another human being. She conveys an easy, natural sense of self-worth here.

Supporting Characters

Another pleasant surprise – there are two other strong female characters in the film – the Maharani, Vikram’s mother, played by Rathna Pathak, and Manju (played by Kirron Kher), Mili’s kick-ass, Punjabi mom. Both characters were portrayed reasonably well. Power does not make the Maharani evil and being middle class does not make Mili’s mom servile.

The Maharani, although strict and rule bound, never raises her voice or gets abusive as befitting her classy background. Her bossiness is restrained, her dismissals aloof, her rebuttals are often polite, and her language is impeccably clean. And there are layers to her. You can understand that she needs to be authoritarian in order to run such a large estate, several businesses, and keep an army of staff running smoothly. You also sense she is protective of the wheelchair-bound Maharaja. She will not let anyone cross the wall he has built around himself. She fears that it could be devastating to him. Gradually, their previous relationship is revealed. How they played polo and tennis together. How the Maharani had love and friendship and playfulness from her husband before one tragic incident brought their lives to a screeching halt. Theirs was (and is) an equal marriage, a rarity among older (or even younger?) Bollywood characters.

As a foil to the Maharani’s character is Manju, Mili’s mom – loud, bull dozer like, and calls a spade a spade. You can tell where Mili gets her guts and a bit of craziness from. Manju often advises her daughter to “go get “em” if she needs to and to “not take any crap from the guy’s family”. That really made me laugh with happiness!:)

And now, coming to the male lead – Prince Vikram played by Fawad Khan. The actor is smoky handsome and sexy (I can see why my niece was so hooked on this movie now:). When I say sexy, I don’t just mean his physical attributes. I think people who are good looking in an empty sort of way are seldom sexy. He has what attractive men and women have – an air of mystery, a certain aloofness, quiet confidence that doesn’t require loudness or aggression, a reluctance to easily reveal himself and yet he does so in vulnerable moments. And when he does reveal himself here and there unintentionally, you like what you see.

When Mili accuses him of not joining the party with the servants because he has to maintain his distance/status, he replies, “Yeah …. something like that.” He doesn’t deny that the class gap exists and he doesn’t have all the answers. And then adds, “or perhaps, they (servants) would prefer it that way (him not joining their fun).”

He is puzzled by Mili’s craziness. He is befuddled by her impulsiveness. He is wary of her inclination to say things without a filter. He is jolted by her tendency to act on whim, without the slightest though to consequences.

But when he watches his mother’s reaction to Mili’s wackiness, he is secretly amused. All of his emotions were subtly conveyed – a raised eyebrow, a shrug, a warning look, a little hesitation, a tensing of the shoulders, a bit of subtle sarcasm, or some delicate rephrasing of an otherwise crass situation.

There is great chemistry between the two characters. In both the kissing/hugging scenes, they are BOTH drawn to each other, the feeling is mutual, and Mili as the woman is a willing partner, and once she is also the initiator.

Vikram finds himself reluctantly but helplessly drawn to Mili, despite his rational understanding of the volcano he’s walking into. Mili, on the other hand, true to her character, courts fire, and gives no thought to the consequences.

Humor

There are several funny moments – some everyday situations, some contrived. When Mili asks people from the royal family to join her skype call with mom, her mother puts on a sweet smile, but once they leave, blasts Mili for doing this to her when “she’s cutting onions and sweating in the kitchen”.

When the kidnappers tell Mili they’re just getting started with their ransom “business” and she’s their first victim, Mili who is now high on something, says, “I get it. I remember being excited too – when I got my first client.”

Mili’s breakups are funny – one is with a clueless guy who has found his soul mate in another clueless girl. Another guy is just someone who couldn’t handle Mili’s feet on his dashboard anymore.

And Vikram’s use of “hum” (we) to refer to himself are greeted by irreverent Mili (and her mom) with a “Who the heck is We?? Hello?? I see only one person here!”

I chuckled when the Maharani (upon being confronted in the middle of the night by Manju) says with lovely poise, “I’m sorry but I need my 8 hours of sleep. Can we discuss these “interesting” theories of yours in the morning?”

Room for Improvement

I thought they could’ve balanced out Mili’s character a bit – she doesn’t ALWAYS have to be smiling or ALWAYS have to drop things – we get it – she’s a fun gal and a tad clumsy. But when Vikram tells her they cannot share a future because they are so different, Mili hardens and softens at the same time. She looks at him both angrily and sadly and says, “I agree.” This is where her character looks more complete, more multi-dimensional. I wish there were a few more of these contemplative moments for Mili.

The confrontation between the moms was unnecessary and Manju’s pettiness and arguing to the bitter end dragged down the last part of the movie a bit.

I also thought the Maharaja’s situation was resolved a bit too simplistically. While I appreciate Mili’s determination to do her job as a therapist and her efforts to bring fun back into his life because she believes it will help him recover, I wish she never explicitly TOLD him he is stuck at the time of the accident, and needs to start living again. I wish she had trusted his capacity for self-direction. And I wish he had taken that first step forward himself, with her support.

The Ending

Loved the ending though! It is the royal family that learns to relax and adapt to Mili’s crazy ways rather than Mili changing herself to fit into the clan’s honored traditions. This is not shown explicitly but implied through the Maharani’s humorous acceptance of Mili and the last credits song.

The movie is based on an older film of the same name starring Rekha. And it does have shades of the Sound of Music. I’m not sure if it passes the Bechdel test but overall, I confess I enjoyed this movie. Charming characters, three strong women, one dashing prince, a hauntingly beautiful palace, and lots of heart make this a warm, pleasant ride. Did you like it? Let me know what you think!

49 thoughts on “A Woman Who Doesn’t Have to Fit In

  1. So in summary, this is a made-in-India Disney movie with a decent 3-dimensional female protagonist AND reasonably fleshed out supporting characters, none of whom fall into any of the major Bollywood rom-com tropes.

    Well, this I have to watch.

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      • This film is certainly not in the ‘art form’ category, it’s mostly a fun ride (or an annoying ride if you hated Mili:) Not making Mili a poster child for anything, just observing how women’s roles in our films are changing, yes, even among the filmiest of films and that says something positive for the viewers’ perceptions as well.
        Hey, I didn’t know friday nirvana is your site! I generally like your reviews and had bookmarked it🙂 Didn’t connect your name until now!

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        • Re: fridaynirvana – thanks! Am happy you like it.
          Also am glad that we are discussing female characters in film. I didn’t hate Mili🙂 I just thought that her character was OTT and fell into the cliche of “brash commoner in love with handsome, mature Prince”. The whole Disney treatment didn’t endear this film any either.
          I do agree that Mili is relatively more empowered than Rekha’s character in the old Khoobsurat, (things are improving), but it is hard to take Mili seriously as a representative role model.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I liked the original Khubsoorat, made by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Of course, there was the entire “elder sister goes and lives in sasural” stuff in it, which didn’t really appeal to me as an equal film, but it was nevertheless fun. Might check this one out.

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    • Yes Fem I remember liking the old one when I was younger. As my older self, yes the whole sasural stuff …. I’m not so sure of. Also, in the older version, Rekha eventually wins the m-i-l’s heart to be accepted into the family. In the newer version, Mili (Sonam Kapoor) walks away and the guy goes after her when he realizes he can’t lose her. The mil lets them decide and doesn’t try to influence his decision either way.

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    • Hrishikesh Mukherjee films were more “real” than “equal”, no? That’s their whether it’s Golmaal or Khubsoorat or Chupke Chupke. They gently poke fun of us and reflect our society so accurately that it makes them more valuable than any level of preaching.

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      • I agree with you. But I also thought it was nice to see the difference in the 2 mils (Deena Pathak of the older version and Ratna Pathak of the newer one – I wonder if casting Deena Pathak’s daughter was a deliberate choice to drive home this point?). The older gen mil must approve the choice of dil. The younger gen mil lets the couple decide for themselves.

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        • The movie started off as a “remake” of the old Khoobsurat. And ran into major flak from fans of the old film. Then re-branded itself over the time it was made. Casting Ratna was done to evoke memories of Dina and initially Sonam’s look was supposed to be an updated version of Rekha’s but that changed later. I believe Fawad was a later addition to the movie too – the hero hadn’t been finalized – after his serial got rave reviews.

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      • Perhaps you are right. I recently watched Golmaal with a friend and we were simply laughing at how the sister was treated in the film. Make no mistake, it is one of my favourite films, if not THE favourite, but poor Ratna exemplifies the meaning of ‘cipher’. Whenever there is any important family discussion to be done, she is sent away with “chai la, beti”, and then finally, they simply tell her “Go there, dear. We need to talk.” ROFL! Even at the picnic, she just shows up to give chai and samosas to the guys then goes away. It was so blatant, I wonder if it was done deliberately.

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        • Yes so many of our favorite films look different now. I think the patronizing way they treated Ratna was very “normal” in those days – people saw nothing wrong with it.

          I remember liking Munna Bhai a lot when I first watched it many years ago mainly for the message of “the human side of healthcare is important” and Munna Bhai’s heart breaking attempts to win the approval of his father because he doesn’t have his unconditional love. Recently saw this movie again and was shocked at how they portray women – there are 2 distinct categories assigned to us – good/traditionally dressed/compliant/always smiling women and the other kind – bad/evil/western-clothed/sexually expressive/having boyfriends/etc. And the hypocrisy – when the men fancy someone they want her to be sexy, but when they want to get married, it must be someone compliant. I was shocked more at myself (than the film) for not seeing this earlier:)

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  3. Well, the film didn’t do particularly well at the BO, which is baffling, given that it had a plot-line similar to Queen — about a woman learning to accept her rough edges and finding independence along the way.

    The Pakistani actor was gorgeous, although sadly lacking in any kind of panache or vigour. I liked Queen a lot better, because Rani becomes the driver of her own destiny, and learns that she can survive, nay thrive, without a man to kow-tow to.

    I also liked Queen more because the family was so very typically Indian — the clinging mother, the father who cannot fathom why Rani wants to travel alone.

    Khoobsoorat’s families are atypical — I personally don’t know real-life families where the daughter calls her mother by her first name, although the royal couple was very, very endearing.

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    • Without a doubt, I thought Queen was better. There was nothing too filmy about it. Kangana could’ve been any girl from small town India. So much more real.
      The main difference in the feminist angle of the 2 movies – in Khoob, she remains true to herself, she is happy with who she is. In Queen, she goes out into the world and finds herself. She actually changes, but for her own self and for own happiness. Both angles are valid but the latter angle of personal growth and evolution (Queen) is definitely more complex and interesting.

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    • Queen was a good film. This is nothing better than a trite Disney made-for-tv movie, and I am surprised at commentators treating it as anything but.

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      • It’s definitely predictable and filmy. But so are 90% of the movies. Maybe 10% of the movies (like Queen) are actually in the good category. But I think it’s interesting to look at the mainstream cinema and observe the changes in how women characters are being treated or if any traditional views (regardless of women) are being challenged (as in PK). Because these films are watched by 99% of the Indian public. Viewers influence movies and vice versa.

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        • I’m afraid Khoobsurat’s BO suffered from multiple factors – the curse-of-the-remake (most 80s remakes have done poorly) and Sonam-as-lead being big ones. Reviews mostly spoke of Sonam’s OTT acting (yes it may have made sense in the role, but it was unrelenting) and that the movie would have done far better with a better actress in the role. Fawad’s acting too came in for flak – he was seen as too restrained🙂

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  4. i have watched it and i do agree with your review. But couple of things that made the movie less enjoyable for me, 1.’ the cute,clumpsy ,talkative girl’-stereotype (that is done to death) is not the only representation for free spirited woman! Frankly, if i ever met mili in real life i would be annoyed nd would request her to calm the eff down!! 2. Why ? Just why do female writers feel obliged to write female characters from the man’s perspective?? Mili’s character almost falls into “i will liven up your life, whether you like it or not !” trope. i m not saying men cannot write good or even great women characters (some good writers do ), i m just very saddened when women writers write a female character on the same lines of the female archetype defined over the time by many male writers hence always feels flat nd unrelatable! I must also point it out, the song “maa ka phone aaya” is the perfect exception possible🙂 Love that song nd i could totally relate to it..! sneha khanwalker is a freaking genius !

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    • I agree absolutely. I wish they showed many different personalities for women – not just bubbly/irritating or strict/no-nonsense. Why not show someone who doesn’t fit into such a rigid personality – a more complex individual who may even surprise you at times.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Well said, wanted to write the same thing but couldn’t think of the words.
      I’m so sick of these bubbly happy-happy girls everywhere.
      One movie where they stepped away from the tropes was Chak De India – Such diverse and realistic women in there!
      The situation isn’t that great in Hollywood either, but its better.
      When o when are we going to see something like Birdman with a woman protoganist?

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      • Yes Hollywood also has a dearth of complex, challenging roles for women. You will like Jennifer Lawrence’s character in Silver Linings Playbook (which btw also stars Anupam Kher). A woman who is definitely unique and can’t be easily slotted.

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        • I was aghast at all the slut-shaming that she endures. Really, really disgusted. If this is America in 2014, where a woman with obvious mental health issues becomes the town slut, then has anything really changed?

          It was done casually — “Ah, she’s gone around, A LOT”, but it was reminiscent of the Scarlet Letter; only that Hester Prynne now wears sweat pants and runs around the neighbourhood.🙂

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  5. I liked it, in parts, yes the actor is smoking hot, except for the costumes, tight pants of the hero for some reason although the role requires it, i cringed at those i don’t know why.
    and i was blinded by mili’s clash of colors and patterns. but then its just a preference .
    but it showed their contrast well. Fun one time watch i guess.

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  6. Speaking of feminist films and documentaries (as we have been doing for the past week), has anyone seen The World Before Her? I thought it brilliantly captured both traditional and modern ways of sexism.

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  7. Enjoyed reading the review.
    Let’s hope I enjoy the movie as much as I enjoyed this review and as much as the original Khoobsoorat starring Rekha.

    That is, if and when I get to see it.
    I am in California now and Hindi movies are not easily accessible.
    The only theatre that I can access by walking is 45 minutes away and it’s not running there.

    Regards
    GV

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      • Thanks for the tip, Priya. But I need to wait for a day when I can get three hours to myself.

        Baby sitting a two and half year old grandson, and also helping my wife in managing a household won’t leave time for an uninterrupted session with Net Flix. I somehow find time for the short documentaries.

        I have to wait till the little fellow goes to sleep and by that time, I too am too tired to sit in front the TV for a movie.
        But I will watch it definitely one of these days.
        I have a DVD of Queen that my daughter arranged for me and I still haven’t watched it.

        Regards
        GV

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        • Please do watch Queen, it’s very uplifting. And I’m going to add one more to your list while we’re at it:) “The Lunch Box” Great movie.

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  8. While I loved the humour in the movie – maa ka phone aaya had me rolling on the floor – one thing I didn’t like was showing that they get married (or plan to ) at the end. Why does every romance HAVE to end in marriage, especially since here the contrast between the guy and girl’s characters and families is SO huge? Maybe it’s just me but somehow I felt that as a married couple, probably they wouldn’t have lasted long. What is important is that they realise that there can be romance between two disparate people, regardless of class, caste, background etc. and let it go at that…The ending was very cute but I didn’t like it…but then I felt the same way in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na.

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  9. Haven’t seen the movie but the female character sounds a bit like a manic-pixie-dream-girl to me (the bollywood version that is). Hollywood rom coms are full of MPDGs–the crazy, fun, slightly nuts young woman who helps the lead male solve his problems with life.

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    • Yes Kay, the bubbly character has been overdone but I want to know if she has changed since the seventies and eighties, and if so, in what ways. In this movie, Mili has had 3 breakups already, a thing that was unimaginable back then. Back then, she was serving tea to the entire family and would run inside at the first hint of a conversation regarding her marriage. Mili’s mom is still pressurizing her daughter to get married (like the older films) but in this one, she begs her to “at least get a boyfriend” which is again a huge step forward.

      There is a Telugu movie called Bommarillu that revolves around another bubbly character (played by Genelia) and of course she “brings sunshine into the guy’s life” and all those predictable things. But there was one of her lines that stood out for me. She says, “Guess what. At first you fell in love with me because I was different. Then you made me try to fit in to your family because you wanted them to be happy. And unwittingly, I played along. But now I don’t like myself anymore. I don’t like US anymore. So, it doesn’t matter if your family accepts me or not. Because I am not accepting you and your family.” and she walks out. This is a HUGE step for Telugu films, which I think are far far worse than Hindi films in terms of regressive ideas.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Interesting points! I suppose the fact that manic pixie dream girls are even allowed to exist may be a step forward from the other usual stereotypes reserved for women in b.wood.

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  10. Now I want to watch the movie after reading such a splendid review. Thanks Priya.
    I have this one doubt though.
    Was it necessary to put the Maharaja in a wheel chair? Is it a way of justifying the Maharani’s character as strict and authoritarian? Couldn’t she be what she is in spite of, and not because of, his condition?
    In the old version, Ashok Kumar was just a gentle soul and Dina Pathak was strict. She explains in the end as to why she had to be so strict.She says discipline is necessary to run this home.Simple reason.

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    • Good point Aarti. When a woman is in charge, it has to be justified to benefit the whole family. When a woman is happy, again, her happiness must somehow benefit others. Same thing for women being educated, so she can educate her children.

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  11. Agree with your premise about the movie, but it is not a film I enjoyed. I would have enjoyed it with a different lead woman actor. The one in the movie ruins everything. Plus I too found the protagonist’s outlandishness overdone. I shudder thinking what is going to happen to Battle for Bittora’s screen adaptation. The same lead pair of Khoobsurat for this one too. One of my favorite chick lits. But Anil Kapoor has bought the rights for it so nothing anyone can do. Fawad is super great in the serials on Zindagi, but left me cold in the movie. In fact the only reason I watched Khoobsurat was the Battle for Bittora news. Wanted to know how bad it could get😦

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    • I am also in deep mourning over the prospect of Sonam ruining Jini from B4B – wish Anil Kapoor would see past his fondness for his dear daughter and cast a real actress!

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    • SONAM KAPOOR IS ACTING IN BATTLE FOR BITTORA?
      She’s a terrible actress and is going to RUIN the film. It’s sad. Anuja Chauhans books are young and fun and I enjoy them.

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  12. And to round off the discussion on the treatment of women characters in Indian films – did anyone watch The Lunchbox? It’s reminiscent of The Brief Encounter (old Hollywood film), an understated romance between two strangers.
    From the feminist lens, Nimrat Kaur’s character, Ila, leads a life of quiet desperation until she eventually breaks free.
    I thought some things that can’t be really explained in words were captured really well through images –
    You notice how constrained Ila’s life is – she spends most of her day in a small flat, either cooking or washing and ironing clothes.
    She is lonely. Her only companion is the lady who lives upstairs. And making this friend invisible (you can’t see her, only hear her) was indeed telling of Ila’s connection (or lack thereof) to the world.
    Ila’s husband is indifferent to her. But since a good Indian husband is a good provider to most people, Ila’s pain (in everyday life) would’ve been dismissed as self indulgence.
    We are reminded of Germaine Greer’s words in The Female Eunuch: “Loneliness is never more cruel than when it is felt in close propinquity with someone who has ceased to communicate. Many a housewife staring at the back of her husband’s newspaper, or listening to his breathing in bed is lonelier than any spinster in a rented room.”
    Ila is witness to her mother’s suffocating, constrained life but Ila’s daughter watches her mother break free from the same. The generational growth is heart warming.
    Despite Ila’s emotional prison (or perhaps because of it), she dreams of going and living all the way in Bhutan.
    In an environment where we are still fighting for basic rights such as nutrition and public safety, portraying such an invisible thing as a woman’s loneliness and her need for connection was satisfying.

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    • I loved “The Lunchbox”. Fabulous film. As was Queen. Other good Hindi feminist films :
      – Dor
      – English Vinglish
      – Astitva
      – Hari-bhari
      – Dirty Picture
      – Aiyyaa (now that heroine IS someone who doesn’t fit in)

      Liked by 1 person

    • I have been that woman. During my first marriage, marooned on a dependent visa in cold and dreary New Jersey, I was told how “lucky” I was.

      I was in the US, my husband did not beat me, harass me or withhold money — what was I complaining about? I was the “epitome” of the “lucky woman”.

      Many times I wonder why our expectations of good husbands are so appallingly low — my ex-husband was universally regarded as a great husband, because he did not hit me, abuse me or control me.

      I think many women can profoundly identify with Ila’s character because a lot of homemakers are lonely and isolated, with husbands who have emotionally checked out many years ago.

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  13. I watched the movie after reading this review and omg, I loved it! And most of my liking the movie is because of Fawad khan (and the role he plays of prince vikram). I did not know of this actor before, and now I am a fan! He reminds me of Mr Darcy..The same smugness, aloofness, yet the human streak and fairmindedness.
    Milli’s character is well penned, however not well executed. She comes across as a confident, independent woman with a good sense of individuality. The only thing that got me a little irritated was her clumsiness and over-the-top behaviour. It would have been more believable if it was a bit more subdued. Also, another thing that I absolutely LOVED was the relationship between milli and her mom. omg, it reminded me of the way me and my mom communicate. Share every silly detail on skype and called each other at weird hours. Totally loved that. And how cool is the maa ka phone aya song. I was laughing like crazy. Anyway, to wind up..I thought it was a fun movie. Definitely not the movie that will get you thinking or with a deep message..but a nice movie to catch with your girlfriends (and with decently strong women and men characters.)

    Liked by 1 person

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