There’s something fun about watching Bollywood movies in a foreign land. Last week, I saw two movies which in very different ways, focused on women and feminism. And in many ways, they both gave me tremendous food for thought.
The first, Padmavat, based on historical folklore. Of how one king lusts for another king’s queen. A desire so deep that it makes him go to war in hopes of conquering the lady in question. Though he manages to emerge victorious, the queen foils his desire by performing Jauhar, the supposed act of self-immolation, taking a decision to die and save her honor rather than let herself be touched by the enemy.
The other, Padman, based on the story of a real-life visionary, who, pained by the sight of the dirty rags his wife uses during her period, takes it upon himself to master the technology that allows him to produce economical sanitary napkins. Of course in a country like India where sanitary napkins are wrapped in newspaper and smirked at before they’re handed to you by your neighborhood pharmacist, and women while menstruating are considered ‘impure’, this is no easy task. But our hero, a.k.a. Padman, perseveres, encountering the wrath of society, his own family to eventually succeed in his mission.
Other than the fact that they were came from the Bollywood film camp, they were worlds apart. Set in different times, circumstances and with completely different storylines. Yet, I found it fascinating how in strange ways, the two were connected. And how, in completely different ways, they propagated similar themes, which stood out as key takeaways for the proponents of feminism.
- All men’s issue are women’s issues. All women’s issues are men’s issues
We may be two separate sexes, but we’re not islands. What men do impacts women. A man desires another’s women. The two fight. And the woman decides that she’d rather protect her dead husband’s honor than walk into the other’s arms. A man sees his wife falling prey to unhygienic menstrual practice, which he realizes that if not tackled immediately, could lead to his wife dying. And he decides to take matters into his own hands.
As a society geared towards inclusion, it takes everybody to stand up for everybody.
2. It takes one woman to start a revolution
Rani Padmavati decides to defend the honor of her Rajput clan (one which according the movie, is known for valuing their ideals and self-respect above everything else). A bold move (which I’m not labelling as either right or wrong), which went down in the pages of history.
In Padman, our hero is alone until one woman driven out of desperation to escape a drunk husband, decides to be his first ad-hoc sales rep, sparking a chain reaction in the process.
3. But other women must follow
One women can take a stand, but to make a movement, it takes all the others. Women need to stand up for women, not the other way around.
4. No issue is big or small
From a big war involving kings and queens and forts and horses, to the war that millions of women fight against safe periods, no issue is too small or menial to be not talked about, or fought for/against.
5. Tradition should ground, not bind. And nothing is ever set in stone.
While the scene where an entire village of women rush to jump into the flames of fire is indeed a visual treat, it did make me sad. I wonder if it in way, almost glorified the practice of self-immolation. Why a woman was punished was no fault of hers, except that she was beautiful enough to elicit another man’s attention. Some might argue that it’s not relevant since it was set in the Stone Age, yet to this date, I continue to hear stories of honor killing, women having to undergo ‘virginity’ tests, and even being ostracized from society when they are raped. The Rani might have chosen to burn to death out of her own wish, but I do hope that she was the last one to do so.
Similarly, I’ve listened to old wives’ tales about women almost taking a 5 day break from life when they’re on their period. And other women seeing nothing wrong with a woman having to eat and sleep separately from rest of the household when she’s menstruating. But the same men label the man who’s trying to help womankind, a pervert, when he tries to ‘interfere’ in ‘womanly matters’. Only because something has been practiced since time immemorial doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be questioned, or changed if the need arises.
In conclusion, I’d say both movies are definitely a must watch, yet they must be taken with a pinch of salt. One because it narrates a story of lust, honor and pride which ended with everyone losing in the end. And one that depicts a harsh reality of the times we live in, where women say that they would much rather die of shame than let their so-called personal matters out in the open.