Phata Film Nikhla Sexism

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I apparently have a thing for really mediocre Shahid Kapoor films, because for me Phata Poster Nikhla Hero was the best thing to happen since Teri Meri Kahaani. (Okay I lied! English Vinglish and Go Goa Gone were better. But I still really liked these two Shahid films that no one else seems to like.) Shahid was at his best acting yet, showing across one movie that he can not only be the goofy lovable Shahid we’re used to, but also purposefully overact, shed legitimate tears, and even scare the shit out of his enemies when necessary. The themes were also really perfect – the film touched on police corruption without overdoing it, dealt with the “modern-day Indian youth” conflict of following your own dreams vs following those of your parents in a way that didn’t even put one above the other, and ended with a typical but beautiful message about giving back to the people who have cared for you (and specifically not to people with whom you only share a “khoon ka rishta (blood tie)”). Plus, this movie included my favorite Bollywood necessities: a plethora of references to other movies/actors and plot twists every thirty seconds.

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This is clearly just to show a diversity in acting ability and not just an excuse to add more pictures of Shahid to my post

This combination of photos is essential to show a diversity in acting ability and is not in any way an excuse to add more pictures of Shahid to my post

Ileana’s acting was sub-par, but she looked beautiful, and really her character wasn’t essential anyway. I could complain about how she was clearly just there for eye candy/to fulfill the obligatory role of a romantic interest for the hero, but I actually appreciated the lack of emphasis on the love story, especially since this was disregarded in favor of actual character development. Plus, even though her character wasn’t strong or as fully developed as Shahid’s, the character of Shahid’s maa was all of the above – a female rickshawala who openly argued against her husband’s amoral decisions. (I should also mention that I LOVED the way her backstory was revealed – we didn’t know everything from the beginning, but only learned it when it became relevant. It was reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, another film I absolutely loved despite everyone else’s consensus that it sucked.) Both women also fulfilled the role of “a woman with a strong sense of right and wrong who keeps the hero grounded in his own morals” (aka Kali). When the bad guys were holding a bunch of girls hostage in implied sex slavery/trafficking, they were swiftly rescued by both Shahid AND Ileana. The girl wasn’t just standing to the side in any of their missions; in fact, she was normally at the forefront and was just using Shahid for his body (by that I mean his muscles and fighting ability) – which was pretty badass.

Still, as much as I love the trope of women being necessary for a man’s survival*, I am going to have to advocate for the elimination of the obligatory romance plot line [in this scenario], just because literally every problem I had with this film centered around there being an obligatory love interest. Seriously, within a few seconds of meeting Ileana’s character, Shahid is literally following her around like an animal (like, literally, the choreography is that he’s acting like a dog) and saying, literally, “tera peechha karoon to rokne ka nahin” (I’m going to follow you and you aren’t gonna stop me). This is literally the most rapey song ever and deserves a whole post to itself where I will translate the full lyrics to the delight/fear of non-Hindi speakers, but beware: It is so much worse than Blurred Lines ever was; you will be stunned.

If you thought that was bad, just wait until Shahid walks into a strip club: His jaw drops to the floor and he literally says that the strippers are not girls; they are food (“ye ladkiyon nahin hai ye to vanilla ice cream hai”) – delicious, white, fair-skinned, creamy food. I would have never thought this was necessary to say, but I literally think some people in India/the film industry don’t understand this concept: Just because a person is light-skinned, even if she is working in a strip club, it doesn’t mean she transforms into an object for your male consumption! That’s not how it works!

I don’t understand how a film can be simultaneously so good and so terrible all at once. Most people don’t like it when there are so many plot twists that two minutes on a timer takes longer to reach zero than in a game of American football, but I really love football! And also really loved most things about this movie. It’s really too bad they had to make the main character (who has an entire film plot built around how honest and upright he is!) objectify, harass, and stalk women using lines I’ve literally been followed around India with (okay fine, I don’t mean literally this time; none of my harassers were ever clever enough to call me “vanilla ice cream”), because if that one [major] problem was fixed this film could have been so great.

*Yes, this trope sounds incredibly anti-LGBT. I like to think of it as not as black and white as it normally is portrayed in the films; that everyone has a little Kali and a little Shiva in them, and what is important is finding a balance within yourself. If your partner/friends/whatever help with that, then awesome! But it doesn’t actually have to be as male/female as it normally is portrayed. If Bollywood would portray it in a way that wasn’t so male/female dichotomous, then it would obviously be even better.

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12 responses to “Phata Film Nikhla Sexism

  1. I enjoyed this post even though I haven’t seen the movie yet simply because your writing was excellent! Good job on the prose.

    However, I did pause a little bit at your comment of, “I love the trope of women being necessary for a man’s survival.” It doesn’t bother me because of the perceived anti-LGBT conotations you mentioned (I don’t think it’s anti-LGBT, for the record, I feel that’s being way too sensitive), but rather, I was surprised that you would like a plot device that implies one gender inherently “needs” another. While it is certainly true that women are far too frequently portrayed as “needing a man” in cinema, I don’t think that the reverse is any better, however much rarer it is.

    • I don’t think it’s ideal, but I do like to see the more common trope turned on its head every once in a while. If/when the number of movies that showed men needing women is even near as high as the number that show women needing men, I’ll complain just as much about both tropes. But for now, it’s just nice to see a change.

    • Also, thanks so much for the compliment on my writing and for always commenting and starting such great conversations!! You’re incredible.

  2. Love your writing style Katherine–it’s honest and so completely you, bitingly funny with a sardonic wit as you deliver the truth about sexism in otherwise enjoyable Hindi films. I’m tempted to check out Phata Poster Nikhla Hero to see if it’s it as bad as you say it is (in terms of the sexually demeaning lines). Congrats on the Blog Awards! I’m definitely going to be following your blog on a more regular basis now! I may retweet/reblog your post–hope that’s okay 🙂

    • Thanks Tara 🙂 and of course it’s okay for you to share anything I write on here; I put this stuff out there on the Internet for a reason! It’s really great to hear that my writing comes across as honest and completely me, also, because those are the only two things I ever try to be. Love you!

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