For some time now, Kareena Kapoor Khan has been hosting a YouTube/radio show called What Women Want. The show has an arguably essential premise and a leading Bollywood star to catch eyeballs. So what could possibly go wrong?
Well, almost everything.
Let us, for a moment, leave aside the argument whether Kareena is the best person to host such a show. We’ll work with the assumption that she is — all hail our new feminist icon.
To give some credit to the show, it does have some watchable and moderately woke content. The 10-minute episodes featuring Rega Jha, Kalki Kochelin and Swara Bhasker make for some decent viewing. Not that Kareena has some really enlightening questions for them, but they all are invited on episodes that are themed around topics they know well enough: Kochelin speaks of her pregnancy and motherhood, Jha of online communities and Bhasker talks about how patriarchy affects women.
In another recent okay-ish episode on women’s safety, Taapsee Pannu, who is extremely articulate otherwise, comes across as a little lost. Her candid responses don’t quite save the ship from sinking, but helps make it a slightly tolerable episode. The episode, at no point, reveals why an A-list actress has been invited to talk about safety instead of someone more well versed in the subject matter.
Now, lets come to the bad. A lot of guests come to the show to simply promote their films, or themselves. In a particularly terrible episode, on Kareena’s request, Kartik Aaryan enacts his famous monologue from Pyar Ka Punchnama which frustratingly ends with “a happy woman is a myth”.
Before she asks him to do this, she casually addresses the misogyny around it. She mentions the backlash it got and politely asks him what his ‘reaction’ to that was. Kartik’s response is full of classic disregard for the criticism. He claims that he knows a lot of women who loved the monologue.
(On another day, when I’m in a better mood, I’d like to ask Mr. Aaryan to introduce me to some of these women just to check if they really exist. But that’s not the point.)
What bothered me most was the way the question was asked. You don’t ask a male actor, who is on his way to superstardom, to merely ‘react’ to very relevant criticism. You ask him if stands by such statements. You ask him if he agrees with such drivel. Most importantly, you ask him if he would happily perpetuate such statements again. Unfortunately, none of this is asked or even faintly mentioned.
(I may have been a happy woman before, but watching this episode certainly made my happiness feel like a myth.)
That is not all, the show gets worse.
In another gem of an episode, Sara Ali Khan comes to promote her film Love Aaj Kal and to discuss modern-day relationships. She is asked what she looks for in a man, and when the young actor responds saying she doesn’t really care if her partner is good looking, Kareena loses it. “Really?” she asks, truly surprised to the very core of her being. Again, this wasn’t all that surprising, considering that in the same episode, she asks if Sara gets more male attention now that she’s lost “all that weight”.
Essentially, on a show called What Women Want, we must, of course discuss what men want and like about women. This is after the thousands of years where men have gotten to exactly that and also physically curate a world that actually revolves around them.
We must, in 2020, of course, now discuss it some more on a slick set with great lighting. For a radio show.
In one of the latest episodes, we see Kareena talking to her husband Saif Ali Khan about marriage. The conversation is as redundant as it gets – they could have just chatted in their living room with a glass of wine. Why must it go on radio and YouTube?
What Women Want may have started off as a show with its heart in the right place (hopefully), but somewhere down the line, it just forgets its own purpose. Feminism is no joke, it has taken decades of sustained resistance from women to get the right to vote, for autonomy over our own bodies, for our voices to be heard, for our freedom and much more. And these are ongoing battles, where we are trying to consistently undo and unlearn ages of conditioning.
What is dangerous is that a show like this commercialises the movement, allowing people to make money off women’s resistance. What Women Want is not the only show that does it, but this one specifically hurts because of how offensive and self-involved it gets from time to time.
Maybe, in what could be a saving grace of sorts for the show, in a future episode, Kareena should take a break from being herself and host the show as Poo from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. If not enlightenment, we might at least get some entertainment out of it.
Anjali Menon is studying at Srishti Institute of Art Design and Technology. I like to write, draw, and read. Previously published with Feminism in India and a regular writer for The Ladies Compartment.
Featured image credit: YouTube screengrab