Friday, March 14, 2014
In a scene nearing the end of ‘Queen’, the camera homes in on Rani (Kangana Ranaut) as she says goodbye (probably forever) to friends she’s made on a life-altering European ‘honeymoon’. As viewers we’ve accompanied her on this journey of self-discovery and we’ve come to invest in her friendships – short and sweet as they’ve been. It’s as difficult for us to say goodbye to them as it might be for her. For a second, one hopes they’ll return because we worry for Rani, you know? But they don’t. Rani looks shaky for a moment and we hold our breath - Please be ok, Rani.
And then her face changes. Lightens. Something has shifted in her, not for a bit, not for a fleeting moment, but indelibly. She won’t just be okay, she will fly. The euphoria that comes from having made contact with her own power extends beyond her, permeating through the screen to reach us. We feel euphoric too because we know that with this film, something has shifted for mainstream Hindi cinema too.
Some reviews of the movie have called Rajkummar Rao’s character, Vijay, a ‘villain’, which is the saddest thing I’ve read in a while because this superbly-crafted obnoxious man is so bloody…normal. Who amongst us doesn’t know a Vijay? Some of us are dating him; some of us have him as a brother, a father, friend or boss. The guy, who needs to feel superior to you in order to feel good about himself. The guy, who really doesn’t care who you are as long as you serve his agenda. The guy, who struts around with such a sense of entitlement about his ‘property’ (and yes, you are his property, whether you like it or not) that he can’t fathom you’re an equal stakeholder in the relationship. The guy, who feels so small that he needs to make you feel smaller. The guy, who will fall apart, either grovelling or losing his shit if you ever realize your power. Vijay is not the villain. He struggles as much as Rani does – but unlike her, he hasn’t lost enough to put up a fight. In Vijay, I see the tragedy of so many men I’ve known and loved – men, who are as confused by their privilege as women are trapped by the lack of it.
‘Queen’ is extraordinary because of the male-female & female-female relationships it showcases. In Paris, Rani meets the free-spirited Vijaylakshmi, whose name shortens delightfully to Vijay, same as Rani’s ditching fiancé. This Vijay, unlike the other, likes Rani just the way she is. She helps her loosen up but doesn’t inspire Rani to change overnight (nor does Rani convert her or show her the ‘error of her ways’ like in that other horrendous movie on female friendship: Cocktail) but teaches her that women can be all kinds of different shades. In Amsterdam, Rani’s character begins to understand how fun and liberating it can be to get to know men. Men are humans. And some of them think women are humans too! Ergo, men can be friends with women! These are touching friendships, based on affection and mutual respect (and yes, even a twinge of sexual tension).
In spite of this, I’m ashamed to admit that till the very end I kept expecting Rani to find a man. As though the thrill of self-discovery would be incomplete unless witnessed & validated by a man (like that other film about an Indian woman losing & finding her self in the Western world: ‘English Vinglish’). In that light, what a masterstroke by the writers/ director to leave Rani walking away in the last frame, alone & more joyful than any Hindi movie heroine’s ever looked at the end of a film (even Konkona Sen in ‘Luck By Chance’ looked underwhelmed about her future, as the film ended on her charting her path alone). Rani may find a man, she may not. Whatever the outcome, she now has the skills to create value for herself (like that other recently released film ‘Highway’ that ends on a mid shot of the lone & unexpectedly not-tragic heroine, clutching a copy of ‘Women Who Run With The Wolves’, looking hopefully into the horizon).
I don’t know if this happens to other Indian women who’ve travelled – particularly to the West. A pall of gloom descends on me whenever I have to return home. Even if the trip hasn’t been long enough to grow attached to the foreign country, even if my entire life is culturally rooted and thriving in India and even if love waits for me at home. It feels like I have to put back into a box, this version of ‘me’ that had momentarily roamed free – going where she wanted, at whichever time of night or day, in whichever mode of transport was convenient, talking to pretty much anyone she wished to, learning to smile at strangers and not spending an unnatural amount of time worrying if her shirt’s neckline is ‘too low’. And even though coming back to India means coming back home, it also feels like the loss of a person I really, really enjoy being.
‘Queen’ allowed me to relive the thrill of being free in ways I didn’t even realize I craved and the sweet relief of not having to constantly be ‘proper’ or 'careful' or 'watchful' (or 'disappointing', 'unsafe' or ‘stupid’ if you choose to act differently). Like Rani, I too have had catalytic adventures (some of which terrified me, forcing me to recognize my strengths). Like her, travel helped me relax into myself, without apologies. Like her, I carried this transformative new energy back to India with me.
The biggest gift ‘Queen’ has given its viewers, is a story about an Indian woman on an adventure alone. Of course, travel changes everyone. But Rani & ‘Queen’ show us how a fearless journey to foreign shores can lead the Indian woman back to herself.
POINT IS: GO WATCH THIS FILM