Free Press Journal

Outer, inner, sexual conflict of a modern woman


A friend, who calls herself a senior citizen, was surprised, annoyed and somewhat amused to find that she could not get an apartment of her choice to rent, because of the building society’s ‘No Single Women’ regulation. She was hardly likely to party all night, she protested, but was told a rule is a rule.

Realising that single women have problems renting apartments in supposedly modern and liberal Mumbai, another friend instructed her broker to give out her flat to a single woman or women. The broker refused, saying these women were trouble, “They have boyfriend problems and hang themselves…then you and I will get into trouble.”

The city is full of hard-working young women, staying away from their families, trying to be independent, and battling such ridiculous biases. Shikha Makan’s documentary, Bachelor Girls (the term used for single women by brokers, which is marginally better than the derogatory ‘spinster’), has interviews with dozens of women who have to struggle to find homes in Mumbai because random people have made judgments on their character or the lack of it. The women in the film — including well-known actress Kalki Koechlin — talk about how flat owners and society committee try to control their lives if they actually let them into the building. Booze and boys, are of course, strictly forbidden, but even visiting family members are looked upon with suspicion. This image of single women as a danger to morality is baffling, particularly in a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai, where several offices are overflowing with women, many of whom are single. If at all, they do have romantic (or sexual) relationships, it is nobody’s business but their own, as long as they pay rent and keep their flats clean. But anybody can form and air an opinion about them, without even knowing them.

If this is the state of Mumbai, then one shudders to imagine what women must be going through in non-metro towns; villages do not even bear thinking about. This is just one reason why a film like Veere Di Wedding (directed by Shashanka Ghosh) seems to exist in a rarified Delhi upper class bubble, where people live in palatial mansions, and women (or men for that matter) do not have to worry about exam percentages, getting into coveted career courses, or even having careers. Their concerns are where to shop and where to go on vacation. Smoking, drinking and sex are not a problem, nobody is judging them for their behaviour, maybe because they don’t have to rent a flat.

Only one of the four friends in the film, Avni (Sonam K Ahuja) works as a divorce lawyer, and in the one scene where she is actually seen in court, her designer togs covered with black robes, she is fighting to deprive a woman of alimony, because “she never worked a day in her life.”

Of the other three, Kalindi (Kareena Kapoor Khan) has problems committing to her live-in boyfriend, because her parents had an unhappy marriage, full of screaming fights; Sakshi (Swara Bhaskar), on the verge of a divorce, is always seen with a cigarette and liquor glass (or bottle) in her hand, because, the poor little rich girl can’t think of anything else to do, except flash daddy’s credit card. Meera (Shikha Talsania) is happily married to a white man, and has a kid — which means she has done it all, even if it meant a rift with her own family.

The four get together for Kalindi’s wedding, which goes from a garish engagement party, and would have had the trappings of an even more gaudy wedding, if she had not decided to break it off. To get over it, the four go off on a holiday to Phuket, where they drink and dance in strip joints, as if it is the most natural thing to do.

Sex And The City had done this sort of thing two decades ago, Bollywood is just waking up to the idea of young women talking of sex and using cuss words. Amazingly, Sakshi’s marriage is on the rocks because her husband caught her in bed pleasuring herself (her oh-so-sassy friends call it “jerking off”) and she is ashamed of it; perhaps if there had been a man in her bed instead, it would not have been so scandalous.

The film is being labelled by the flaky set as ‘feminist’ when most of its humour comes from making fun of older women; the ‘aunties’ portrayed as gossiping harpies. And, horrors! No woman can be left unhitched, and no wedding can be a simple, dignified affair. A film that has a proposal somewhere in the beginning has to end with a wedding, because who wants bachelor girls spoiling social symmetry and wrecking the lucrative wedding industry.

Veere Di Wedding is the movie equivalent of a fashion catalogue; nobody in their right mind would label it as intellectual watch, so no depth should be attributed to a shallow film about women who undoubtedly do brilliantly in the style department. The film is a success probably because young women are watching it (and dragging bored boyfriends along) to see the outfits and feel good about the fact that even rich girls have breakable hearts, fickle minds and drunken sex with Mr Wrong. At least, chastity is labelled outmoded and chucked out like last season’s dress.

Deepa Gahlot is a Mumbai based columnist, critic and author.