Whores, aka Tough Femmes — Bollywood Version


Auruba Raki


Girls are not strong enough.

Girls are not physically structured to fight men.

Girlfriends are there for the pleasure of their boyfriends. I mean, you’re his girlfriend. If you won’t satisfy him sexually, who will? How can you blame him if he cheats?

She’s not wearing orna. She’s a whore.

Her bra strap is showing. She’s a whore.

I had a crush on her and she ignored me. What a whore. 

She clearly said she didn’t want a relationship, but so what? I did. Whore.

How dare she go for the other guy instead? Whore. 

Whore, whore, whore. Isn’t it about time these people found a different expletive? 

When I first got into a mess for smacking boys who whistled at me or touched me, for the life of me, I could not figure out why I was the one detained. I was younger then, of course, still oblivious to the unfair ways of the world. Always a troublemaker. The problem child. Having to report to adults, I got whacked instead. Why can’t you just stay silent? Why can’t you be a good girl? Boys will be boys. 

And the underlying message beneath it all: Why are you such a whore?

Well, at this point in my life, with a stain on my record for being explosive and going off like a time-bomb, I am the wiser to know that things don’t work that way. If a whore is a female who dares to voice her opinion, if a whore is a female who leaves eve-teasers bleeding in the alley with a broken nose and a swollen lip, if a whore is a female who dares to step out of her house without an orna, if a whore is basically any female who grapples tooth and nail to make herself a place in society, go ahead. Call me a whore. Not just me. Albeit very few, there are some masterpieces of Bollywood that proudly portray such tough badass women. Oh right, you’re not familiar with that phrase, since you have been using “whore” as a substitute all this time anyway. 

 

Mardaani/ Mardaani 2

Mardaana stands for masculinity — manliness, robustness, and toughness. Even now, if you Google masculinity, you will find these to be synonyms. Does that imply a man isn’t man enough if he isn’t inclined to be rugged? But that is a topic for another day. Mardaani is basically “masculinity” in a woman. Rani Mukherji plays the gritty role of Senior Inspector Shivani Shivaji Roy. The film(s) in their rawness and brutality are bound to send chills down your spine, as they include graphic sexual abuse, rape, murder, violence, etc. As explicit as the content may be, it is absolutely unadulterated from reality. While those who choose to ignore the woes of rape victims in society pretend rape doesn’t exist and isn’t happening right now as you’re reading this, if anyone wants to be knocked out of their daydreams, this is the film. 

Mardaani deals with Shivani pursuing a child trafficking cartel, those who kidnap helpless girls from the streets and sell them to the highest bidders — often paedophiles. The film depicts just how shamelessly these girls are stripped of their dignity and respect, quite literally. 

Mardaani 2 is on a different level from its predecessor. It deals with one perpetrator, who is more of a sadist than a rapist, but I’m not one to talk. The violence exposed in this film, as gory as it is, is something I find particularly essential, because people simply don’t give a damn unless something makes them uncomfortable. 

The role of Shivani is unparalleled, as Rani Mukherji locks horns with men profiting from the trade of girls. Human trafficking is literally modern-day slavery, and it is absolutely deplorable how barely any person talks about it. As such, I find the existence of this film incumbent. Its sequel discusses rape at its worst, if men can even set a standard for the worst rape. (Given the other incidents I have read of, and I assure you they were not fiction, I can’t even call Mardaani 2’s rapes the vilest.) There’s a certain ecstasy as Shivani, now an SP, drags the sadist pig by his collar and lashes him while dragging him to the street. But it does not fill the looming question ever-present in my head. What of the victims? Sure, the rapist gets penalised and whatnot (not even in every case). But the sheer indescribable trauma the girls were put through, what can ever undo it?

 

Dangal

Geeta and Babita are your typical village girls —  small dreams, ribbons tied to their braids. Their father, Mahavir Singh Phogat, a former wrestler, always dreamt of having a son who would win a medal for the country since he couldn’t. But when his oldest two daughters, Geeta and Babita, come home after beating up two boys in response to derogatory comments, their potential to become wrestlers doesn’t escape his eyes, and he begins coaching them. Primarily met by chagrin and exasperation on the daughters’ parts, they have no choice but to give in to Mahavir’s whimsical wishes. Their mother and the villagers look on in disbelief and criticise severely as two girls are trained harshly for a rugged sport that is widely considered masculine, but Mahavir is not one to budge. Babita and Geeta get mocked by their classmates as well as neighbours and just about everyone. At first, despising their father for such absurdity, Geeta, the older daughter, goes on to win her first competition, against a muscular boy. That was the beginning. Geeta and Babita’s fame rises like wildfire, as they continue winning wrestling competitions across the country. Both of them defeat their opponents at a national level and qualify for the National Sports Academy to prepare for the Commonwealth Games. 

While the two young wrestlers’ success can be accredited for the most part to Amir Khan’s paternal role of Mahavir Singh, the movie shows a middle finger to every person who thought wrestling is a men’s sport.

What makes the plot that much more breath-taking is the fact that it’s based on the real-life story of the Haryanavi wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat, who trained all his daughters as well as nieces to become world-class wrestlers.

 

Neerja

Neerja is the biographical thriller film based on the valiant woman Neerja Bhanot, a flight attendant who gave her life to save the lives of the passengers during a hijacked flight. She posthumously became the youngest recipient of the Ashoka Chakra, India’s highest military decoration awarded for peacetime valour, courageous action or self-sacrifice, as well as several other awards from USA and Pakistan. 

Neerja is a spine-chilling thriller of the incident of the 1986 Pan Am flight 73. Sonam Kapoor delivers one of her best performances ever, if not the best, in the lead role as Neerja. Adored by her parents, abused by her husband, she is a typical Indian young woman who started her career as a small-time model. She leaves her husband Naresh, and gets herself a job as a flight attendant at Pan Am Airways. 

As Neerja boards Pan Am 73, it is meanwhile revealed that the Abu Nidal organisation, a Libyan-sponsored Palestinian terrorist group, plans to hijack the plane in Karachi. The terrorists hijack the plane when it lands at Karachi after taking off from Mumbai. 

At every point during the entire time the plane was hijacked, Neerja displays quick wits despite the threat to her own life. The biopic ends with Neerja escorting out all the passengers, lastly three children, and being shot in the process of protecting the children from the gunfire as she slides down the emergency slide dying. 

Even as I write this down, I kid you not, I’m getting goosebumps, and listening to indie rock to divert every other thought. Neerja is that film that will instil you with a previously unknown sort of awe and veneration. It’s easy to ask hypothetical questions in a round of Truth and Dare —  “What would you do if you were in a plane that was hijacked by terrorists who will not hesitate to kill you?” But you’ll never know unless you’ve been there yourself, like Neerja was. She could’ve been the first to escape if she wished to, but she stayed back to ensure all the passengers, especially the children, could make it out. 

I might be a writer, but it is ironic how I can’t put into words the film that is Neerja. Every once in a while, there comes a film like Neerja that fills me with a feeling a stoic person like me is not used to and can’t put her finger on. Because, really, what would you do if you were in Neerja’s place? 

 

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi

Jhansi was a Maratha ruled princely state under the British suzerainty from 1804 to 1853. The historical biopic Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi centres on the feats of Lakshmi Bai, the queen, and the downfall of Jhansi despite her perseverance, valiance and heroism.

Manikarnika impresses a minister of Jhansi when he spots her slaying a tiger all by herself. A marriage is proposed by the minister between her and the Maharaja Gangadhar Rao. She stood out as an exceptional wife, refusing to be bound to the palace grounds, and recces her kingdom and subjects. While the sheer ferocity in her eyes can make your knees tremble, the affection she has for her people would make your heart melt.

Of course, there is always a traitor working in the downfall of just about any historical story. The Mir Zafar of Jhansi is Sadashiv Rao, conniving with the British Company in the hopes of an estate of his own. Sadashiv is behind the poisoning that kills the newborn son and heir of Jhansi the very day the child is born, and sends the Maharaja to his deathbed. Gangadhar, heirless and seeing the potential of his wife, trains fencing with her for he believes she is the only one who has the chance to redeem Jhansi and liberate it from the British’s salivating mouths. Gangadhar and Manikarnika adopt a minister’s son as their own, naming him after their dead child, Damodar Rao.

Queen Lakshmi, bereft and torn apart by the death of her child and husband, adamantly refuses to perform the traditional duties of a widow, and grips Jhansi with an iron fist. Realising her army is awfully outnumbered by the British, she begins teaching the women how to fight. Jewellery from all over the kingdom is deposited to forge weapons.

The British government appoints Sir Hugh Rose after the Sepahi mutineers kill the previous General Gordon. Sir Hugh, fearless and determined, has his eyes dead-set to slay the queen.

The Queen fiercely steps into the battlefield, when the British siege Jhansi, to destroy the British cannons strategically placed in front of a temple. The strong castle walls keep the queen and her army safe until Sadashiv Rao divulges secrets about the castle to the British who finally break the siege and manage to storm inside. Lakshmi Bai escapes alone in a horse with Damodar Rao on her back by the length of a hair due to a distraction and sacrifice of a friend. Her castle in ruins, and fire blazing over her lands, she escapes to Kalpi for allies, and recaptures Gwalior to lead the Maratha and convince them to join the Indian Revolution of 1857.

She leaves Damodar at the care of an attendant and sets out to battle with the British once more, but she meets a tragic end as a bullet pierces her flesh. Dying, she looks at Hugh and immolates herself so the British cannot capture and humiliate her.

Jhansi inevitably collapses, as Kashibai surrenders and Damodar lives a life of sickness. In his autobiography Sir Hugh Rose and the Central Indian Campaign of 1858, General Hugh Rose wrote about Rani Lakshmi’s bravery as follows, “She was the most dangerous of all rebel leaders, best and bravest of all, the only man among mutineers.

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi does justice to the agonising life that Manikarnika lived and fought with nothing but her love for her country. She fought till her literal last breath to see her kingdom independent of the wolves’ clutches. Alas, things might have turned out differently had a certain traitor not been involved. But history is history, unalterable and long gone. Best we can do is be a mouthpiece of the tales, which the movie did veritably for this particular tale through its cinematography, dialogue, plotline and of course, Kangana Ranaut’s excellent performance as Lakhsmi Bai.

 

As critically acclaimed and successful these films were, I’m sure that these female characters faced severe criticism from society that they wouldn’t have if they were men. A typical brown girl’s parents would disown her before seeing her boxing, wrestling, or as a soldier of the army. What’s sad is that these are very rare cases of women rising up despite all the feet kicking them down. Reality doesn’t always work out that way for each female, but the aforementioned movies still instil in us a certain kind of hope, a dare to dream. 

Of course, the list of tough badass femmes of Bollywood doesn’t end here. As much as I hate Bollywood for its regular supply of cringe material and promotion of horrible traits and tropes, I consider it a boon when it delivers films like these. 

Still want to call us whores?

 


The writer, a cynic, is a part of the TDA Editorial Team.

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