Mon. Jul 15th, 2024
Laapataa Ladies Review: Non-Judgemental Feminism!

What a pleasant happy movie! Just lovely. Thank you all who recommended it to me, and told me not to worry it wasn’t as dark as Kiran Rao’s other films.

There’s an issue within feminism, or rather, an issue that OUTSIDERS put on feminism, which is pretty universal globally. If feminists want to change things, what does that mean for women who are generally happy as they are? The answer is “nothing”. All feminism wants to do is give women choices, and if you choose to keep on keeping on, more power to you! But of course misogynists purposefully miss-interpret the feminist message and spread the misinterpretation, trying to set woman against woman, saying that “feminists” are “feminazis” who want to make all women into one angry single childless career oriented blob.

And that’s what this film, very gently and sweetly, pushes against. We have two brides from small villages, both dressed in traditional full bridal outfits with their veils over their faces. Two grooms make a mistake and the brides get mixed up. Knowing this was made by Kiran Rao, and seeing the way the film sets the idea of these brides being interchangeably young and pretty and modest, I made the easy assumption that both brides would choose to NOT be brides at the end of the film, would discover their individuality, and blah blah blah.

But it is so much better than that! This mix-up gives the women the luxury of choice. And one chooses to go to college, and one chooses to be a wife to her husband. It’s not our place to judge their choices, it is just our place to support them in their right to MAKE those choices.

The film builds up this concept very slowly and carefully. Bride 1 Nitanshi Goel is left at a train station. She quickly makes friends with the people there and starts working at the tea stall for an independent self-employed older woman Chhaya Kadam. Chhaya models a possible future for her, explains that she chose to kick out the men of her family when she realized they drank up her money and beat her for it, and she is now happy and free and alone. Nitanshi is never in danger at the train station, she is treated kindly by Chhaya, the beggars there, and the train station inspector. She earns her own money and is proud of earning her own money.

Bride 2 Pratibha Ranta is taken back to a village. Her mistaken groom’s family treats her kindly, embraces her and befriends her. She shares her farming knowledge with them and impresses them. And the groom’s friend, slightly more educated than the other villagers (owns the print shop) sparks with her, they enjoy each other.

I enjoyed the ride as we saw these two women navigate their strange situation, but as the film neared it’s end I was more and more stressed about how it would end. What is the point of Nitanshi working and earning money if she is just going to go back and be a village bride? What is the point of Pratibha scheming and lying a little bit if she is just going to end up learning the happiness of a bridal house and marrying the print shop owner? And then we got to the end and it fell into place. The point is CHOICE.

Both women were married without having a choice in it. Not cruelly, both families tried to pick good grooms for them, both families honestly thought this was the best option. But it was just the assumed option, their whole lives this is what everyone knew would be the thing that happened to them. And now, post-marriage, suddenly they have time to breath, to grow, to be on their own. Whatever they do from this point onwards is done by their own choice.

I am so happy that Nitanshi went back with her husband. I’m sad for her train station friends, but by the end of the film we had seen that although the families chose the marriage and the couple barely knew each other, there was the beginnings of love there. He certainly chose her even if she was not able to choose him. His family was kind and supportive of their daughters-in-law, his house was pleasant, his friends were excited about the marriage, everything was in place for a successful married life. And Nitanshi, after experiencing a little taste of the world, chose for herself to go back to that married life and be part of the fabric of a traditional family. That is the most feminist statement of the film, I think, showing Nitanshi choosing this, showing her new train station friends respecting her choice, all of that.

Bride 2, Pratibha, is the more classical feminist story. She excelled in school and had a place at a university, but her mother emotionally blackmailed her into marriage. Her husband wasn’t just clueless, but actively evil (rumors of him murdering his previous wife). She used this wife confusion to hide out, sell her wedding jewelry for travel money, prepare to go to school. And in the end (awesome moment!!!) the local cop who was suspicious of her all this time, stands up for her and threatens her husband with arrest if he does not let her go forever. That is all the outward facing public feminism, educating women and blah blah. That’s the easy feminism, we don’t want women married to abusive husbands, we don’t want women kept out of universities, we want police office to enforce the laws protecting them, and so on.

If it had been only that in Pratibha’s story, I would have rolled my eyes a little and not cared very much. But it is the private feminism that is so much more important for her. She comes into this household angry at the world, angry that her father died, angry that her mother married her off, angry that she couldn’t go to school, angry at her horrible husband and mother-in-law. But as she is enfolded into the female realm of this kindly family, her perspective shifts. She sees that not all women want what she wants, not all families are like hers, not all marriages are like her marriage. She encourages her faux sister-in-law to share her artistic talent, not as a career or with a particular goal, but just to add a little joy to her life. She inspires her faux mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law to laugh together and acknowledge how important their bond is with each other. And ultimately, in the surprise reveal, she secretly comes up with a plan to find Nitanshi and bring her home. Because Nitanshi should have this choice as well, she shouldn’t be abandoned just so that Pratibha can succeed. Both women are of equal value, both dreams, both lives.

And that’s what makes this female special. Two 18 year olds rushed into marriages, both of them are full unique people, you can’t just exchange them on a train and have it work out, Nitanshi is Nitanshi and Pratibha is Pratibha and what one would do the other would not, and that is Okay.

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