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?