queen (2014) and a little bit of highway (2014)

Thoughts on ‘Queen’:

I have always thought that it is easier to combat rape, domestic violence, or dowry deaths, than it is to get over the protectiveness that an average Indian girl grows up with, and its results. Violence is such a gross violation of humanity that even the most conservative can feel outrage and shame at the perpetuation of these acts. But the sweetness of a caring family, how does one overrule that?

My mother has many faults, she is cranky, moody, undemonstrative, insecure, but she is also independent, tolerant, wise, and a great believer in freedom. My sister and I grew up unafraid of going anywhere, talking to anyone, unaware that there were things we could do as girls, and things we could not. We had friends of the opposite sex, who came home, called us, and whom we went out with, which sounds matter-of-course right now, but was not something a lot of our girlfriends were allowed to have at the time, in the town we grew up in, and which I guess, a lot of girls are still not allowed to have, in the smaller towns in India today.

But more important than the freedom we grew up with, the relationship between my mother and my father was so equal, that it gave us a blueprint to our own relationships with the opposite sex later. It never occurred to us that we had to pamper our partners simply because they were men.

There is a difference in caring for the other person because you care for them, and giving them special treatment because the other person happens to be male. One sees this, as a matter of course, in most Indian homes, where the men are not only given special treatment, but all the important decisions are taken by them.

This is why I think ‘Queen’ is such an important film. Rani’s parents are not tyrants; they are caring, loving, but over-protective. Rani grows up with all the rules intact, girls do this, girls don’t do that, she has a younger brother who chaperones her everywhere the parents think she cannot or should not go alone, she never does anything that would displease them or be contrary to their wishes. Everything is decided for her, the length of her skirts, to her studies, predictably Home Science.

‘Queen’ handles Rani’s growth through her honeymoon-alone journey in a foreign land with a lot of ease. It works not only because Rani’s characterization is true, but also because it remains non-judgmental of other ways of living, which in fact, provide pointers to Rani’s growing awareness that the world is more than her home, and the culture, she grew up in.

Rani too leaves so many decisions to her father, and then to her boyfriend, Vijay – whether she can drive, take a job, dance at a party, go for a holiday alone, that she has to learn from scratch, how to cross the road, make friends, even to burp.

She learns that people can have different values, morals, and still be friends, and that other people too have problems which could or could not be bigger than her own, but are as important as hers.

Rani is not a gifted girl (like Meera in ‘Hansee toh Phansee’) or naïve (like Veera in ‘Highway’) or manipulative (like the two con women in ‘Dedh Ishquiya’) but an ordinary girl, brought up in average circumstances, and therefore her journey to awareness is all the more empowering. She does not fight her parents, or show Vijay down, but it is clear that she is not going to subvert her opinions or decisions to anyone any more, and that she is not going to be ashamed of her cleavage, or her arms, or her ability to negotiate the world, her friends, or her opinions.

I think that if we bring up our girls to be independent and not subservient to the men in their lives, and if we bring up our boys to not feel entitled just because they are boys, at the cost of the women in their lives, even the more hostile crimes against women would come down.

Yes, ‘Queen’ could have been shorter in length, making it a better film, and it could have been better technically, but as with all good books or films, it enticed us into Rani’s world so completely, that I was reluctant to leave it, to have it come to an end.

And then further thoughts:

In the last few days, after seeing ‘Queen’ the second time, I have been wondering about what happens to her after the film is over. While Veera’s journey in ‘Highway’ made me queasy on several grounds, the kidnapping, falling in love with her kidnapper, the underlying masochism of many scenes, and her extreme naiveté, I liked the end. Veera makes a life for herself. Her dream of living in the hills may be a little romanticized, and she may probably learn soon enough that the hills too are alive with the sound of violence, abuse and female exploitation, but it is a dream that she has carved out, at the cost of cutting herself from her family and the life that she hates.

On the other hand, nothing in Rani’s journey is out of the ordinary, it is nothing that could not happen to anyone, male or female. Even a 20-year-old Indian boy, overprotected and pampered, could go for a journey to Europe alone and discover new things, different ways of living, and learn something about himself. So, in that sense, while the journey and Rani’s growth, resonates with all of us, on some level or the other, what worries me is what happens next to her?

Presumably, the next time, she will choose a man who respects her as an individual. But is she really going to make choices that defy her family and the society that she lives in, which still stands where it is? How happy is her father going to be giving her the freedom which she now assumes as her right, and what are the boundaries of that freedom, and how far will she push them?

As a lot of us know, carving out independent lives in India, even if they don’t always carry the threat of violence and death, usually come at a great cost of rebelling against one’s parents and family, sometimes alienating them to the point of no return, loneliness, uprootedness, scandal, malice, rumor-mongering.

I know many, many strong women who live lives of compromise, accept certain conditions in their lives as status quo, because they are afraid, more than anything else, of disapproval, of hurting the people around them, of conflict, of fight, of not being nice.

So I am back to the question, how does one combat the sweetness of a caring Indian family?


25 thoughts on “queen (2014) and a little bit of highway (2014)

  1. One occasionally fights back, earning oneself disappointed looks and much resignation. It’s not easy. I grew up with a father who expected me to think for myself but also to switch to sarees when I turned twelve just because I was a girl. We still fight but they respect my choices today,which is precious to me.

    Interesting post, Banno. Made me think.

    1. Sue, yes, it’s never easy, and there are many contradictions in the most well-meaning families, even in oneself. There are just so many layers of conditioning, that one catches oneself too at odds. 🙂

  2. Another friend of mine commented, too, that he wondered whether all her adventures make a difference in Rani’s life down the road. He wanted to see her really break away, decide to stay in Europe for example. I wondered (as a non-Indian myself with a totally distinct set of family baggage) would not have undermined the message a little, by suggesting that the only way out of the bondage of the sweet family is the same as Veera’s way out of her stifling, abusive family: fleeing. Queen leaves room for change happening from within, for young women being open to the world’s possibilities without casting aside what is good about their own culture and environment. I hope it isn’t presumptuous of me to read it that way. My friend did have the excellent suggestion that the Facebook montage at the closing credits could have looked into Rani’s future, rather than reliving her recent past, so that we could have learned a bit about how transformative her experiences really were for her.

    1. Carla, yes, you are right, that change is more empowering when it happens from within. That is an excellent idea, the FB montage into her future would have added so much to the film.

  3. Wonderful Article Batul!! I loved the movie quite well as i could see the transformation similar to that of mine and a lot of girls around even today. So Well written!

    1. Thank you, Anjum. Yes, I think basically, each one of us can identify with it on some level or the other, and most of us have fought our own little battles with others, and ourselves, to get where we are today.

  4. Banno, oh, so easy to relate to your post. (Read Carla’s excellent review, and now yours, and am looking forward to catching the film tomorrow. Keeping fingers crossed that I can make it.)

      1. Banno, saw the film yesterday. I was so thrilled the way they ended the film. And Kangna was a revelation. I’d always thought she was a good actress – the only other films of her’s that I have seen are Gangster and Life in a Metro – but the angsty, neurotic characters she played in between and after, didn’t appeal to me in the least. I was beginning to think that she was being typecast.

        This was such a charming film, and I’d like to think she will continue to be independent and self-sufficient, even if her parents are sweet and protective. Besides, she tells her pals in Amsterdam that her father doesn’t take a single step in his business without talking it over with her. I loved that with all their fears, they (the parents) were willing to let her take her own decisions. Especially the part where her mother tells her that Vijay has come back, but it is *Rani’s* decision to make – “You tell us what we should say,” she says. I think she will be fine, and I hope other Ranis in India will take a leaf out of her book. At her core, she remains who she is, and to me, *that* was the strength of the movie.

        Thank you for the review. 🙂

  5. I don’t quite understand what you mean by technically the film could have been better? Care to elaborate on that. Would you suggest some different kind of lighting, lenses, composition or DI, in order to achieve a better result? Really eager to know, how you feel the film could have been better technically.

    Also if you were relcutant about the film coming to an end, how come you felt that the film could have been shorter in length… contradictory!??

    Other than that I like parallel you have drawn of an over-protective family being as much of a nuisance to an individual’s growth as any of the other tragedies that could befall upon a human being. As they say nothing grows under a Banyan tree!

    1. Tanmay, sometimes a party goes on too long, everyone is tired and maybe hungover at the end of it, but that does not mean you didn’t enjoy the party. 🙂

      As for the technical aspects, every film can be better in the eyes of a critic, but the choice of lighting, lens, composition is the filmmaker’s. By editing away 20-25 minutes, the film could have been crisper, less repetitive in the second half, the sound design relies too heavily on music, rather than effects. But these are small quibbles.

  6. This. I felt the burden of my sweet parents weigh on me like a ton of bricks when I was seeking a divorce and trying to come out to them. I often wished they would threaten to abandon me instead of crying about what they saw as my ruined life.

  7. Very well written post. The core struggle for each one of us is to find ourself while maintaining our relationships. Our solutions often emphasize one or the other. For instance, fleeing or silencing ourself. But we only find ourself in the context of relationships and becoming us allows us to develop healthy relationships. Thanks for your post.

    1. Shweta, yes, true, though fleeing is inevitable sometimes, it is not the best of solutions. But what is worse, is silencing ourselves. So, tough one.

  8. I liked that Queen remains single at the end of the movie. There is no falling into one romantic fire after another.

    She does say that she has ideas about how to improve her father’s business. I thought she would act upon it.

    I liked Queen a lot and think it is important for the same reasons that you say. I kind of LIKED that not too much happens. There was no wild plot swings. Rani does not turn into Vijaylaxmi. She is still an urban girl who is slightly more clued in about the world and a little more self assured.

    The audience showed its reaction with gusto to each scene. I have not seen this in a theater in a long long time. There were claps and whistles and loud laughter. I liked that too. It showed how much the audience identified with what was going on.

  9. Very well said. I loved Queen. I would have almost died if she would have gone back. I especially love the way she kicks the guy, without putting him down. I believe I have got lovely parents who let me be, but yes, it is sometimes at the cost of hurting them. It is very, very hard to deal with disapproval of a caring, sweet family.

  10. Very nice perspective. I read elsewhere about how English Vinglish has started a woman-coming-of-age trend in Bollywood movies. I had some issues with the premise of E-V, though that situation was also very believable. Queen worked far better for me, primarily because she is not trying to seek redemption from someone else – her fiance who abandons her, or even her loving family. Her journey of self-discovery was entirely about herself.

    1. Yes, Satish, I agree. I also found ‘Queen’ more satisfying, and like Filmi Geek mentioned, I also liked the idea that Rani did not have to pay years of dues, before she finally realized herself.

  11. I don’t know what you mean by the sweetness of the Indian family…I have grown up in one and didn’t find the misogyny or oppressiveness at all sweet. In any form. Hated my mother for trying to make me confirm and then cold shouldering me totally when I didn’t . Hated my father for having to be looked after like a child after she died, even though he is an adult man (he can’t even buy his own underwear. Was told all my life I was capable of nothing…even after getting top grades in everything. And am never asked my opinion because I remain unmarried. I suppose you meant it ironically – but I cannot stand the Indian family and resist any romanticising of it. It’s the most regressive place to find yourself in. There was no care in my environment. Only disregard and neglect.

    1. Anna, I meant that when there is neglect and disregard, when the family environment is obviously regressive, it is comparatively easier to rebel. But when it is sweet and caring, the conditioning for girls can be ingrained even stronger, because rebellion means hurting people who care for you.

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