Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Tanu Weds Manu Returns (to 90's)

(It is going to be a rant. A rambling rant. Ye have been warned. Also spoilers.)

Straight up, let me admit, TWMR was fun. And hence it passed the necessary and sufficient criteria I have to like a film. The first half is a breeze in a manner that no matter how good the second half was, the film would have been said to be suffering from "post-interval" syndrome. The writing in the first 10 minutes including the opening credits is as good as any you will find in Hindi Cinema. And I am yet to come to terms with the fact that Tanuja Trivedi and Datto were played by the same actress.

Still, I had problems with the movie. It made me uncomfortable in the manner Ranjhana did. It reminded me of the relief that swept over me as Queen ended. If you haven't watched either, then for the want of better words, I found TWMR extremely regressive.

Look, films are not supposed to be the guardian angels of the society. That is the stick on which we pooh-pooh the no-smoking banners which can be found in many scenes these days, right? It is as much of a filmmaker's discretion to have a regressive character in his film as it is of Anurag Kashyap to have a character mouthing obscenities in every other scene with the perfect logic that, "Yaar mera character gaaliyaan deta hai to main kya karoon?". Also, there is a case that the director is actually staying true to the environment he has constructed. He is telling a story. He is not obligated to make Jai Santoshi Ma which, nevertheless was rather regressive too.

Also, a part of my problem is entirely personal. It is personal because, specially in the confines of comfort cinema like TWMR,  I am not yet enlightened enough to make a distinction between the lead actor and the "hero" of the film.  I invest my emotions in a character consistent with the manner they are being portrayed in. (Some parallels with A Song of Ice and Fire can be drawn here to which I will come later). For a moment consider Raj Kumar Yadav of Queen with Dhanush of Ranjhana or Tanu/Manu of TWMR. On a level, they are somewhat similar. They are all slaves to the society which propagates conformity.  But the portrayal was such that people clapped when Raani left Raj Kumar Yadav in Queen and people clapped when Kundan died in Ranjhana with that stalker-glorifying soliloquy. They were painted in such a manner to garner sympathy or hatred or disgust despite basically being the same character. Therein lies the dichotomy of being a "main lead" and being a "hero". If you can look beyond the portrayals, there are no heroes but only main leads. But I can't. When someone like me sees them as heroes and heroines, he viscerally prop himself onto them. You want them to make decisions which at least broadly match up to your ideology. Now, in TWMR, Madhavan was supposed to be a hero. So the first blow was that he turned out to be a wimp and nothing more. Second, more than Madhavan, the hero of the film was Datto. That you create as much anti-establishment a character as there can be and then burn her down because hey, conformity to the establishment you see, it is a bit of a downer to say the least. Imagine Raani going back to Raj Kumar Yadav in Queen. It would have ruined the movie, right? Tanuja Trivedi is the antithesis of Raani. In the scene where Datto puts down Tanu brilliantly, it could easily have been Raani speaking instead of Datto. But then, in a manner, something sort of "Raani goes back to Raj Kumar Yadav" happened.

To put it differently, if comfort cinema like TWMR is supposed to have a closure, then to me it was not a comfortable closure which, again, beats the point really.

If you are still with me, I think you are getting an impression that I am ranting that film meri marzi se kyun nahi banayai. Just to make you feel better, you are absolutely right. Nevertheless, my blog & my rules.

Now there are two parallels here I can draw with the current season of Game of Thornes series. First is the controversy regarding Sansa rape scene. For the uninitiated, she is a character which garners equal amount of sympathy and frustration from the viewers and in one of the episodes she was brutally raped. It triggered an outrage and led to The Mary Sue announcing that they will not be promoting the series any more.  The outrage was basically that "How could they do this" and that use of rape as a plot tool is regressive. I found the outrage stupid and immature and think that George R R Martin's response will be basically on the lines of "Mah show mah rules bitchezz." I won't mind a similar response from Anand L Rai for this rant of mine as well. But here is the thing- Game of Thrones is set in a regressive environment where if a girl is not a virgin, no noble family will accept her as a bride. To show a marital rape in such circumstance is as much a commentary on the milieu it is set in as much it is a plot device. It is again, basically, "Agar mera character gaali deta hai to main kya karoon?". How TWMR ended was, per se, just too out of character. Or maybe, given director's earlier works, I was too naive not to expect it.

Second parallel with Game of Thrones is that both have characters who are all prim and proper and popular but dig a little deeper and they are as rotten as the next Ram Gopal Verma release. If there is a Kundan and a Tanuja Trivedi/Manu Sharma in Anand L Rai films, there is a Daenerys and a Tyrion there. Now it takes a massive sleight of hand and skill to craft a deception like this. Or maybe there is the fact that one really believes that girls secretly love stalking, dying for one-sided love is the most glorious path to moksha and that a mature depiction of divorce is just too niche for Indian audience. Maybe somebody is still living in the 90’s.

To sum up, I loved Move on song of TWMR. The film just ended up betraying it.