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!

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When a daughter refuses to go back…

Sita and Geeta worked for us when we were newlyweds. Geeta was eight, Sita a little older. We offered to sponsor Geeta’s education but their mother said she had seven kids to raise and she needed the girls to work.

We found the kids adorable, bought them trinkets and treats, but we let them do the dishes and clean our homes.  Then we moved to another part of the city and lost all contact.

Around six years later I was in-between-maids and buying veggies when a young woman in a colorful sari and bangles greeted me with a huge smile. She was Sita. She said it was God’s wish that she found me, she needed help.

She moved into our servant’s quarters and pleaded with me to speak to her parents and let her stay there and work –she wanted to leave her husband. She said they were married three months ago, she was afraid of him, he had a bad temper and he had threatened to kill her if she tried to leave him, he also threatened to chuck her out of his house. She didn’t care, she was sure he’d kill her if she lived with him. She hated him. She feared her in-laws also. She had been making similar appeals to other families she had worked for. She looked afraid.

Today I feel if a girl says she does not want to go back to her husband’s home, it is reason enough to let her stay. No arguments. No attempts to ‘reason’ with her. No assumptions that she is behaving like a spoiled brat who has never learnt to adjust with her in laws. No insisting that she would ‘get used to it’. No talk about her ‘sanskar’ or her duty towards her parents. No demands that she must try to make the relationship work.

But I was inexperienced then. I asked her how she was going to manage on her own. I asked her what she did to anger her husband. I wondered if she liked another man. (As if that was the perfect reason to send her right back to her husband). Basically like everybody else I assumed she couldn’t possibly know what was good for her. I thought her parents (obviously) would want the best for her, and would do what was best for her*, even if they had married her to a much older man when she was less than seventeen.

Her parents did speak to her husband but this angered him, he insulted them too. Within weeks her in laws wanted them back in their joint family home in another part of Bombay, they left.

We moved to another city and I forgot about her. Such stories are extremely common; most girls learn to live like this, and their marriages ‘work’. Happy or not, they manage to keep the system of semi-forced marriages going. We Indians are grateful to thousands of Sitas who live with some violence and abuse. Their sacrifices are appreciated.

What is happening in Afghanistan hurt because it is not unfamiliar? Even though we are conditioned to treat anything common as ‘normal’.

Around five years later we were back in Bombay and one day I called a malish wali. She saw me and started crying. She was Sita’s mother. She said Sita had died of third degree burns. She was making tea and the stove burst, and her sari caught fire. Her in-laws did not inform the parents until two days later.  While dying Sita begged her mother not to leave her three months old son with her husband. She told her it was not an accident; her husband had poured kerosene on her. She made conflicting statements in her dying moments. This seems to happen all the time.

But I read, “If it’s an accident, you can almost always escape the fire. It’s not really possible to burn all of the body,”

Everybody blamed the parents. Her father died of grief within six months of her death.

Sita’s husband died a year later, of something that made his body turn black as coal. Her mother said god punished him.

She sent the grandson back to his paternal grandmother when he was three years old.  She wants him to be close to his paternal grandmother so that he does not loose his father’s share in property.

I felt little sympathy for her, although she brought a happily married Geeta to meet me. Nothing had really changed for her; I feel she would still do the same if any other daughter of hers were to come pleading for support.

And we have millions of parents like this taking life changing decisions for their helpless daughters.

And this doesn’t just happen in the lower or uneducated classes.

So then why did this man get married?

The reason why I wondered about why we get married at all, was this mail from an anonymous Indian wife… please do take the time to read it, specially the second part. I really wonder why this marriage should be saved…?( if at all)

Mail 1

Divorce after 9yr marriage,need som advice Please advice me what are my options at this time….

I have been married for 9yrs but hardly stayed with him due to my career and job in diff. states. he is scared to hav kids since he has lot of responsibilities of his family members(who has no education and no jobs and we take care of them and their children) I have been compromising for every damn thing he does to his family and now we are here in debt and no good savings and he has been away frm me from past 4 yrs..I was married in india and got exported to US- in a month i got engaged, married and send to US.

i hardly know him or his family. but still i love him so trying hard to work out things. But he wants to end the marriage. i am 32yrs old and i am scared of my future with another man but i cannot take this stress.

he left me alone 3 times when i was sick and went home to his parents. there is no emotional attachments.

He controls me all the time. I was girl who thinks if u workhard nothing is impossible but after staying with him i hav break down so much i am so scared to live alone and i have also changed my career for him so that if i am close to him , things might change but i see no difference.  Being a south indian i have compromised so much in life and i was a Commercial pilot and flight instructor due to stress and to work out my marriage i have left my old loving job and now i am into Computers.

I tried so hard to make my relationship good But its not working and he just lives the way he wants never compromises and does not wanna change a bit. My whole family wants me to try and workout still with this guy. what am i supposed to do…

Thanks Indian girl

Mail 2

Hi,
Thank you so much for all the advice. I tired to put into your Blog but could not,so i emailed you. You can put this on the blog and i really would like to hear other peoples opnion also.
He was away from me almost 4 yrs and No sex at all and i was thinking he may be stressed out of work or something bothering him.

then he was also scared to have kids since if we brk up he loses his half pay check as child support and alimony.
he and his family wanted money. he wanted to make lot of money in his life. i told him we need to balance life. he told once that we hav a kid there would be lot of expenses and i got mad and said whta are we earning for.. and mostly even insurance covers for any health expenses.
he was avoiding from long time. he never communicates and hard to know whts going on his mind.
last yr he said we have everything and we shud have a kid and once he goes India to his place he is always a totally different person. this is 3rd time he goes as a loving husband and when comes back frm india he is totally a diff. person does not even touch me are get close to me for atleast a month or two and we never get chance to together to India. whenever he goes to India its a big stress for me..
I really appreciate your time and your advice
Thanks

Overheard at a Beauty Parlour…

They obviously knew each other well. One was around 50, the other a little younger. First they dissected TV Serials, they knew their favorite characters and scenes. Their passion reminded me of Football and Cricket being discussed at home.

Then it was decided that the correct age for boys to get married was 22 years. “Not too young and not too old.” The biggest reason why this age was so acceptable was to ensure they do not go ‘out of hand’.

Meaning they should not grow wings or start having opinions of their own?

Then I lost track of their conversation, until I heard them talk of a man who was beating his wife the evening before.

I saw him beating her, and her brother came out and stood in the balcony, I asked him what was going on, he said his jeeju was beating his sister.”

He had wrapped a bandage on his own wrist! He tries to show that he hurts himself too…”

Arre if he is angry he should shout, where is the need to beat her? Atleast not when she is pregnant!”

Yes, he should think of her state! You know, the way he hurts himself…, I think X has some psychological problem!”

I didn’t tell my husband! He is very short tempered, he would have gone and given him two…”

X! The name was familiar.

I said, I couldn’t help overhearing you, did you say X? What is the wife’s name?

Y

You should ring their door bell, and let him know this is not a normal family matter…”

I told them about X and Y. They heard but did not seem convinced about interfering,

He is violent; he can say and do anything.”

A man who beats his wife with the knowledge that her family will not support her, is a coward. I have met him. He needs to know this is totally unacceptable…”

I knew they would never understand or accept any talk of her leaving him.

Of how the first time you are a victim, after that you are just a volunteer.

One of them had just said, “…But I think every family should have a daughter. At least one daughter to chahiye (is needed),  otherwise a family is not like a family, these boys never stay at home, at least girls are caring…!

What bothered me was that the generous statement implied that having or not having daughters was a choice.

And having children of a particular gender should have some convenient reasons, like completing a family, or making a house a home.

And that boys go out, they don’t ‘care’. So girls don’t go out? They are made to stay at home and be ‘caring’? Meaning girl-children must repay by being kind, while boys are accepted so long as they agree to marry when and to whom the parents deem appropriate.

Isn’t all this interlinked? And doesn’t our thinking need some overhauling? This is the real India.

And about X and Y… I wish there was something I could do. Most organizations found on the net have phone numbers that are not picked up. And the girl had refused to blame her husband

I have lost her number but she has mine. And our Society’s Secretary’s. We had asked her to call anytime, but she never called.