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‘Queen’: Finding redemption through lovelessness

 

By Ratnakar Tripathy

Queen: the pre- wedding cheer

Queen: the pre- wedding cheer

I remember the first time my sense of Hindi film canon was violated. It was ‘Kabhi Han, Kabhi Na’ [1994] by Kundan Shah. As the film came to its close, it became clear that Suchitra Krishnamurthy’s character was too fickle and insufficiently reckless to wear the heroine’s mantle and the hero Shahrukh’s endless courtships were taking the story nowhere. A long series of serenades and frothy flirtatious sequences seemed more like many college picnics put together than the deadly serious filmy romance of the Sufi sort, where the souls of the hero and the heroine merge together in one condensed mass of love the Indian audience likes to take home. The supposed heroine found Shahrukh acceptable one day and the next day her heart flitted elsewhere – thus the title ‘Kabhi han, Kabhi Na’ [at times yes, at times no]. And then just as the film was closing, an adorable Juhi Chawala made a deux ex machina type of entry and landed in Shahrukh’s arms. The Hindi film heroine as a guest appearance was handled convincingly and satisfied the need of the story as well as the increasingly grumpy audience. Juhi probably got two minutes in the film, or may be five. But Shah had already broken a few critical vertebrae from the spine of Hindi film romance.

The next time, I saw the code of Hindi filmy romance seriously broken was in ‘Love Aaj kal’ [2009, Love These Days] by Imtiaz Ali. This was an update on Hindi film romance in the new millennium. After a prolonged live-in somewhere abroad, as live-ins can only happen abroad, Saif Ali tries to convince Deepika that they must break up for no particular reason. The story has a neurotic edge to it – Saif’s character then decides to have a ‘breakup’ party as a celebration of the disenchantment if that is possible, an idea that Deepika finds sickening. Saif on the other hand seems to believe it’s a very cool thing to do and invites loads of people, a bit like partying over a divorce. After several twists and turns, Saif finds he is unable to get Deepika out of his skin, and they of course reunite. But Saif’s cynical, even nihilistic zeal and the idea of celebrating a breakup seemed a subversive one with no example elsewhere, not Hollywood, not even the esteemed weirdo Woody Allen.

Queen: the breakup

Queen: the breakup

Watching ‘Queen’, directed by Vikas Bahl, a few days ago reopened the breeches that I experienced with the above two films. ‘Queen’ starts with a royal ditch as we Indians like to put it – suddenly on the eve of her wedding, the bridegroom Vijay calls off the marriage over a cup of coffee in the most casual fashion. He is just back from UK to the small town of Rajouri and perhaps finds the homely Kangana a bit too homely for his foreign-returned self. Kangana is of course the last word in homeliness. The daughter of a sweetshop owner, she is studying Home Science in a nondescript college and is tame to the point of utter self abnegation. Her universe would be made of kids, kitchen, kitty parties and gossip with maids but for the calamitous turn her life takes.  She recovers from the trauma of rejection by vowing to go it alone on a honeymoon to Paris and Amsterdam. The film is mostly about her travails, adventures and triumphs in Europe, far from the gaze of her parents. She absorbs the alien reality like a sponge without rejecting or judging the bizarre lifestyles she witnesses. Eventually she even ends up kissing a charming Italian man with all the ferocious hunger Hindi cinema has accumulated over the decades. The idea is to prove the proposition that the homely Indian woman is good at kissing and Sunny Leone can go to hell. Her friends include in the manner of the Benetton ads, a black, a Russian and a Japanese, a multi-racial gang of bohemian youth blessed by the a little girl goddess from Rajouri.  Her best friend turns out to be a waitress, a single mother reduced to prostitution in Paris. This is her honeymoon with the whole world of experiences she may never have had if married.

Queen: crying all over Paris

Queen: crying all over Paris

Then out of nowhere, the contrite bridegroom lands up in Amsterdam and starts pestering her all over again, in an irritating replay of the initial courtship. The suitor alternates between a bully and a Devdas type of teary rhetoric. Kangana’s character is again as bewildered as ever but soon finds enough reserves within her to return the engagement ring and put an end to what may have been an eternal ‘Kabhi Haan, Kabhi Na’, whether married or unmarried. Very unlike the black and white films of the 1960s, the last shots show a lone heroine rather than a united couple walk away to The End. Except Kangana doesn’t dissolve into the horizon and the film closes frontally with a smile of wisdom on her face.

Clearly, Hindi film romance has come a long way. ‘Queen’ is clearly the Hindi film heroine romancing her selfhood, her independence and freedom. The missing hero is never replaced, not even in the Juhi Chawla fashion. Another canon broken here is one related to closure or the ending of the story. This is not a story of what was but of what will be as Kangana, the li’l Indian girl walks towards her womanhood with a freedom she has gifted to herself. ‘Queen’ is thus a story of anticipations, not endings.

 

One Response

  1. Umesh Patil says:

    Very well written film review Ratnakar, liked it very much. Hope to watch the movie.

    As an Indian at heart but away from India, I keep teaching myself that today’s India is not what I left eons back. So I can visualize and gladly embarrass the portraits of young and brave Indian women this film depicts. Yes, that is the India where every women of any age and background can live with ‘her head held high'; we all desire. One is glad to see that that is where this Billion Plus country is heading.

    Cheers!

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