There has been a lot of debate about whether Veere di Wedding is a feminist film or not. IT IS NOT. Honestly, I don’t even think that this declaration requires any justification but since I’ve made such a bold claim, I will offer one. I will preface my justification with this – I was actually really hopeful for this film. After seeing the trailer I thought, “Finally!” Unfortunately, I was left thinking the same when the movie ended.
All four of the characters, Kalindi (Kareena Kapoor), Avni (Sonam Kapoor), Sakshi (Swara Bhaskar) and Meera (Shikha Talsania) are shallow and caricature-esque. Kalindi fears the prospect of marriage because of her parents’ broken relationship, but this conflict is developed in mere seconds and gives us no insight in the real reason for Kalindi’s confusion, making her fears seem vague and forced. Kalindi overcomes this fear when her father reassures her that regardless of how bad his marriage was, he and his wife loved Kalindi very much. Such a resolution is akin to telling a woman in a bad marriage, ‘Bachcha karlo saab theek ho jayega’ (Have a kid and everything will be fine).
Avni initially seems promising – driven, independent and outspoken. However, we eventually arrive at her ultimate desire – to have it all, the husband-and-child packaged deal. I was hoping the film would provide some commentary on how Indian women often internalise socially enforced desires of marriage and childbirth and seek out the same, but the film does not care to be so progressive. Instead, she sleeps with one of Rishab’s (Kalinidi’s fiance) friend, who at the end of the film becomes her potential partner. So the sleazy guy at the wedding trying to get the bride’s friends drunk to sleep with them is actually just a lovable goofball? Great! I’ll change my flirting strategies right now.
Sakshi is the foul-mouthed, cigarette smoking libertine who is going through a bad divorce. Her character would be realistic and compelling were her liberty not thrust upon the audience in an extremely cringe-worthy manner. The way her cigarette dangles from the side of her mouth to showcase her careless demeanor just comes off as awkward. There’s actually a scene in the film where she purses an unlit cigarette in her mouth while inside a shopping mall.
Finally we arrive at Meera who is, to me, the most realistic and grounded character. But she is often reduced to a comedic crutch, and her storyline fails to get much attention – it is resolved as easily as it was developed. But I am happy that she gets laid, and that too of her own volition.
Worse than the content is the way the film has been posed to the public. While the actors of the film have distanced themselves from the label ‘feminist’, they and most of the media have nonetheless hailed the film as ’empowering’. On some level, I agree with this. I agree that it is empowering to see women on screen curse, drink, smoke and pursue sexual gratification. We’ve seen men do the same (and a lot worse) on camera for decades without anyone batting an eyelid. Frankly, it’s exciting to see such representation on screen as it not only represents what many women in our society already do, but also validates their right to do so, while also bolstering those who have these desires but can’t act on them.
However, the film very conveniently picks and chooses where to be empowering and where to be regressive. The poor and depraved are often the butt of the jokes in Veere. One particular dialogue about a potential husband for Avni went along the lines of “Arre yeh dekh ye toh below poverty line hai.” (This one is below the poverty line). I mean, really guys? Avni is also referred to as the gareeb (poor) of the group simply because she lives in an apartment, while the others live in palatial houses. I truly feel bad for common folks that spent Rs 250 of their earnings only to find out that living in a stylish apartment in Delhi is considered poor by some. The argument of depicting realism does not hold well here. It is very possible to depict the Delhi nouveau riche without writing obnoxiously elitist dialogues. Look to Dil Dhadakne Do as a good example.
Furthermore, the film’s direction is just as economically conservative as its writing. Veere is riddled with shots of credit cards and product placements. I can see the producer-director in my head – ‘Just saying Uber a bunch of times is not enough. Let’s put it in bold letters on the side of the car too.”’ I suppose it must be nice rolling around in that Uber mulah. I don’t know if the director of the film, Shashanka Ghosh, went to film school or not, but if he did I suggest he go back. It seems the only filmmaking tool he picked up there was the dolly in and dolly out. His obsession with symmetric framing and blocking makes most of his scenes look ridiculously artificial and staged – and not in a good Wes Anderson sort of way.
In presenting itself as an entertaining film, Veere attempts to free itself from the reins of ideology. But the very act of making this film is ideological. By centering the film around the uber rich, the film can hold love, marriage and sex as the primary objectives of the main characters, and not work or personal ambitions. This primacy only furthers the Karan Johar brand of filmmaking that is inherently ideological and regressive, and has taken the industry back a good 20-30 years.
In an interview with ‘Rishtey Cineplex’ Swara Bhaskar described feminism as “a movement to correct the fact that women have historically been oppressed in an institutional manner… It’s a movement to fight for equality for women in an institutional manner, and in law.” If this film does claim to do this, why centre the film around marriage in the first place? That same institution that has been used as a tool of oppression against women for millennia. It’s almost as if the film is an overbearing, traditional, conservative uncle stating, “Beta jitna bhi liberal hona hai ho jao, end me toh shadi hi karni hai na.” (Kid, be as liberal as you want, eventually you’ll have to get married.)
Finally, as the credits roll we see the main actresses dance around semi-naked men as Badshah spits horrifyingly misogynistic lyrics – kiniyan tareefen chahidyan tainu (how many compliments do you want?) Just this song perfectly exemplifies Veere’s terribly regressive, patriarchal and toxic understanding of empowerment and equality. Feminism – 0, irony – 1. Oh and of course, the song would be incomplete without a shot featuring an HSBC credit card. Gandhiji fashion me nahi hai aaj kal. (Gandhiji is not in fashion these days.)
Perhaps Veere’s greatest achievement is simply that it was made. Even though India is much too late to the party, it is truly groundbreaking to see mainstream Bollywood actors cursing, women pursuing and actualising their sexual desires and ***gasp*** a dildo on screen.
But Veere di Wedding does not treat any of its themes or characters with the respect they deserve. What is does offer is the possibility of truly feminist films in mainstream Bollywood. If feminism and equal rights are to become a possibility, it will not be achieved by making ’empowering’ films that are written and directed from a male lens and just reinforce the patriarchal institutions of the society they’re made in.
People are not going to move over and give you space simply because you think you deserve it. You have to take it. It will take some real radicalness to undo a history of oppression. Just as democracy was not randomly achieved during the French revolution, many had to die in the reign of terror, equal rights cannot be won by films such as Veere di Wedding, but truly radical feminist ones. And I say this as a man. I say this as part of the problem. I await the guillotine.
Vishnu Gupta is a recent Swarthmore College graduate and an aspiring filmmaker.
Featured image credit: Rhea Kapoor/Instagram