Sunday, November 17, 2013

Why I think Ram Leela is a dangerous film

There is an extended scene in the bloated Sanjay Leela Bhansali film, Ram-Leela, which features a woman running. She's wearing a gorgeous lehenga that fills the frames as it sways. Her dupatta is flying behind her. The picturisation is beautiful. The music swells. It's a treat to watch. The problem? The woman is running for her life. She is being chased down by men who want to rape her. If you had walked in to watch the movie at that second, you would have easily mistaken it for a romantic number from the 80s. Therein lies my problem with this bummer.

Watching this woman running in slow motion, looking so beautiful made me sick. Someone told me that the film (yet another adaptation of Romeo and Juliet...yawn), is a celebration of women. They look pretty and they are empowered because they curse and they carry weapons. And that got me thinking about how women are portrayed in this movie.

There is the female lead, Leela. When you meet her you think she is a beautiful girl who speaks her mind. She falls in lust within seconds after meeting the man (you never understand why Deepika Padukone will lust after Ranveer Singh after watching him in an extended song-dance number where I think he was probably talking about dandruff...). She decides she will marry him knowing fully well that their families are sworn enemies (she met him a day ago, maybe she does not want to risk the lives of her clan for a guy who is constantly checking for dandruff????). They exchange godawful messages on their cellphones. And he kills her brother. You know...standard young love. I think I was fine till the duo got married. The man instantly becomes an abusive tool. She makes moon eyes at him, he pushes her away. He nearly hits her. Screams at her and forces her to stay at home. Drags her (physically) across the town and she just wants to please him by dancing for him. He then goes on to abandon her the night they get married and gets drunk and passes out. When she is taken back to her home, she refuses to eat because she is "married" and she wants to be with her "husband". Her monstrous mother cuts her ring finger off and this girl never thinks of placing a simple call to any number of women's groups that would come to her rescue. Why? Because Sanjay Leela Bhansali lives in a world where there are no decent human beings. He either hates mankind or women or his audience. Padukone's Leela might wield a revolver with ease, but she seems to actually have no gumption or gravitas. She's a woman who's been defined by the man she loves although he has shown nearly no amount of compassion for her.

Then there's this girl's mother. I am fan of Supriya Pathak. Her character however is one of the most despicable characters I have ever seen on screen. She orders the rape of another woman in the enemy clan because tit for tat is perfectly allowed in the world where Sanjay Leela Bhansali lives. She never sees repercussions. No one ever says - "hey raping women is not a way to fight a war. Even battlefields come with their own set of morals and rules...and are a woman yourself!" This monster then goes on to forcing her own daughter into marriage against her will. Somehow this makes this so-called mother a "strong female antagonist"? It's alright for a filmmaker to create such characters. But you need to give them some dimensions. And towards the end because this woman is shot and nearly killed, she finds redemption. She becomes the "good guy." She is GIVEN that redemption by the filmmaker. And yes sir, I think you are the real  monster in the film.

There is a scene in Shyam Benegal's Nishanth where Shabana Azmi's character is dragged from her home. It's painful. It's scary and bold. You get a real sense of how harrowing rape is. How claustrophobic and utterly invasive. The female characters in that movie are flawed, selfish, helpless and angry all at the same time. They are trapped by their circumstances and sometimes even their vanity. But the movie itself is a brilliant commentary on society. A woman who answers the door could be abducted and raped. It's just a fact and dealt just that way. I wonder how Benegal would have treated Ram Leela. Would he have acknowledged the the loved up duo were selfish and in lust and not really in love? I do know that he would not have added two extended rape scenes just to add plot twists. He was and will always will be a far superior filmmaker than Bhansali.

I saw two movies this past month where the women took the center stage. One was the Sandra Bullock starrer - Gravity and the other was Ram Leela.  Both films put their female protagonists through the ringer both physically and emotionally. Sandra Bullock is not pretending to be a space cowboy. She openly acknowledges that she's scared. But is she crafty and truly powerful! She's in a terrible situation lost in space and uses her mind and body to survive. She respects life enough to try and do everything in her power to live. Sanjay Leela Bhansali's characters seem to think a trigger is the true meaning of life. That a woman is instantly empowered when she lovingly fingers her gun. Gravity empowers the woman. Ram Leela exploits her. I shall watch Gravity again. I shall hope Ram Leela never exists. 

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