From a very young age, Bollywood films have always played a huge and pivotal role in my life. I have grown up watching them with my dad, mum, and other family members. I had the world’s largest cassette collection from almost every Bollywood film that was released in the 90’s. I know the lyrics and dance moves to pretty much every Bollywood song out there – new and old. I could never remember facts I needed to know for school exams, but ask me anything about any Bollywood film and I could give you a detailed answer. I have a self-awarded PhD in the subject. It’s something that will stay with me forever.
I would also describe myself as a feminist. I learn so much every day from the great women and men I am surrounded by, and I find myself questioning and challenging ideas more and more, whether that’s through conversations with people, or the women-bashing articles I read that never fail to infuriate me. So I find great joy when I can tie my love for Bollywood and my feminist values.
Last weekend I ventured out with two close friends to see Badrinath Ki Dulhania, a Bollywood film from Dharma Productions. As I expected, it was brilliant, but what I loved most (other than the love story – alas, what is a Bollywood film without one) was how it represents women.
Badrinath Ki Dulhania is a love story between our main lead characters – Vaidehi Trivedi (Alia Bhatt), a fiercely independent woman and Badrinath Bansal (Varun Dhawan), an endearing man who, until he meets Vaidehi, has never questioned the superiority and privilege men automatically are given in his culture.
The film explores the way boys and girls are seen in some societies in India and loosely touches on the act of giving dowry, which is prohibited in India under the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 but still occurs in parts of the country. It describes the boys as assets who can carry the family name forward, and traditionally the more dominating one of the two sexes. The girls are a liability who, in the end, will cost the family a lot of money when it comes to getting her married off with a dowry.
This practice is then challenged by Vaidehi, a modern Indian woman who, unlike her parents and Badri, doesn’t see marriage as an option straight after studying. She has her own dream to build a career and she chases it. Along the way she also helps Badri change his way of thinking and helps him grow. The film has been criticised as encouraging violence and harassment when Badri, after being left at the altar, follows his father’s instructions and tracks Vaidehi down. Whilst his reaction is somewhat aggressive, what is important is the character development and change in his views brought out by Vaidehi. Over the course of the movie, he comes to realise that his behaviour is unacceptable and take positive steps to change this.
One of the reasons I loved the film so much is because I saw myself in Vaidehi — the conversations she has with her parents and the goals and aspirations she has for herself.
The film beautifully encompasses the message that there is more to a woman than being a good wife. That there is more than just hitting a certain age and collating all your qualifications and achievements into a Wedding CV, with the hope of securing an eligible bachelor. It encourages the idea that a woman should have the right to find herself a job and become what she wants to be. That marriage can wait, if it happens at all. And more importantly, that men can and should support this.
I am 26 years old. My mother was already married and expecting me when she was 25, and the question of when I will find someone and settle down is often something that she attempts to inconspicuously slide into conversations. She once sent me a picture of the blue-eyed Pakistani Chaiwala who broke the internet not that long ago (do we remember him?) and asked me what I thought of him as a suitor.
Growing up, my aunt would often give me her version of a pep-talk. She would say I needed to work hard in life and that I shouldn’t get distracted by what my friends are doing or by boys in the playground. I should just keep my head in my books and study hard so that I can get into a good university, get a degree, graduate, find myself a good well-paid job, buy a house, find a good man, settle down and have children and a family of my own.
It sounds like such a lovely plan, doesn’t it? So well thought-out. I mean, it’s everything I ever wanted from life — studying, getting a job, and then getting married and just raising children. Delightful!
It’s funny how the plan would end at having children and starting a family. No post-baby steps like “After your child, you can eventually continue working and progress in your career”. What’s funnier is that I have two brothers and neither of them ever got this talk.
I do want to fall in love, find someone, and have children. Have I mentioned that I’m an avid fan of Bollywood? But I struggle to understand why there is this sudden panic every Asian parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, family friend, friend, friend’s mother, even neighbours seem to go through in unison when an Asian woman they know turns 25. I mean, do we have an expiry date that I am not aware of? Surely if the end goal is just to get married and have children, I can do that just as easily at 30 or later, right? Why can I not just focus on my career and progression right now?
Why is it so common in my culture for a woman to be married by the time she is 30? Is it right that my gender and culture become a barrier for me in this scenario?
No. It’s not.
My upbringing teaches us that the women of the house look after the men and raise children and this is something that is programmed into girls from a very young age. It is not something we can easily forget, as we continue to hear it growing up and see it played out as we watch the women in our lives. But why should culture and tradition become an obstacle for young Asian women? I am immensely proud of my culture and I never want it to hold me back in life.
Bollywood has been using its voice to address important issues such as women’s empowerment for a while now, but it’s encouraging to see it being given recognition at a faster speed. That says a lot about the changing views and opinions of its viewers. I for one will definitely be recommending this film to everyone I know.
Badrinath Ki Dulhania was released Friday 18 March 2017 and is out in cinemas now
Featured image credit: YouTube