“They say nothing lasts forever; dreams change, trends come and go. But friendships never go out of style.” - Carrie Bradshaw in HBO series Sex and the City
Any effort on screen to portray female friendships subconsciously aspires to emulate the crux of the SATC (1998-2004). The television series, based on Candace Bushnell’s book by the same name, had redefined the post-feminist discourse on pop culture at the beginning of this century.
Although Hollywood makes sincere efforts in movies, with varying efforts of success, (from Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) to Bride Wars (2009)) Indian cinema has rarely treaded the territory. It’s only the last decade that the male-dominated world of Bollywood has dared to venture into this genre – with a decent level of success.
Moving away from the Damini (1993) and Lajja (2001)–like narratives, a few filmmakers have created memorable cinema focused on the new generation of women, respecting their emotional complexities and unconventional lifestyles. As we speak of women empowerment every day, MAKERSIndia looks at how female bonding has made sense on the silver screen and the heterogenous audience it caters to.
Rani and Vijayalakshmi are the opposites who attracted each other, and stayed strong.
In Vikas Bahl’s Kangna Ranaut-starrer Queen, protagonist Rani is ditched at the altar and leaves on her honeymoon to Europe by herself for a change of scene. The female-centric film, for which Kangna Ranaut won the National Award for Best Actress, shows Rani’s growth from the submissive, demure girl-next-door to a woman aware of who she is and confident about it. The raunchy, energetic Vijayalakshmi (played by Lisa Haydon) is partly to thank here. She is Rani’s only friend and confidante in Paris, where they meet while Rani stays alone as a tourist. When a drunk Rani reflects on her life and how her fiancé (who is also named Vijay) ruined it, Vijayalakshmi does not console her, or tell her that life will go on; but she cheers Rani up like nobody else could. She lends an ear to Rani despite the two women being from two different worlds, and holds her hand through the family drama and makes her laugh at it. From shopping to burping, the two enjoy the short time they have together – although they have almost nothing in common. Rani loves Banaras for the lassi, Vijayalakshmi loves it for the hash!
As the latter puts it, Rani lost a Vijay, but gained a Vijayalakshmi. It’s a fair bargain.
Angry Indian Goddesses (2015)
Freida, Madhurita, Pamela, Suranjana, Nargis, and Joanna – you get it, this girls’ gang is urban, English-speaking, well-educated, and, well, complex. Freida is getting married to her girlfriend Nargis, an activist fighting against the company run by Suranjana, whose life is stuck somewhere between her busy job and absent home. Madhurita’s singing career is fading, while Pamela is an unhappily married homemaker, and Joanna is trying (and failing) to make it in Bollywood as an actor. Together, they are angry Indian goddesses, debating social issues while living through them all.
They are bros while fighting harassers and ogling at the half-naked handsome man next door. Even the domestic help Lakshmi is cool enough to dance with them in the rain. But what the film lacks in originality, it makes up in focusing on a cause. Although the first half of the film often feels superficial, the last 20 minutes turn the girls into the angry goddesses they were meant to be. The climax is too good to be true/realistic, but the bond between these goddesses gives hope for a world where women have each other’s back.
No Bollywood movie in recent memory has had the impact that Aniruddha Roy’s Bollywood directorial debut had. Despite its name, there is nothing colourful about the movie which thrusts the protagonist trio - Meenal, Falak, and Andrea – into the midst of a life-changing event right at the beginning itself. You don’t see them in a happier prequel to the event, singing, dancing, or even just laughing. These young independent women, staying together at a rented apartment, are facing what most Indian women have faced: fighting a society and mindset that can’t take a no as a NO.
To the filmmaker’s credit, their bond is subtle and strong at the same time – they don’t talk their relationship; they live it. They stand up for each other although staying quiet may be the safe option for each individual. Falak (Kirti Kulhari) defending Meenal (Taapsee Pannu) in court may tempt you into chest-thumping for their comradeship. As the trio shares the screen with Amitabh Bachchan in a pivotal role, Pink became the movie that drove feminist discourse for a generation, of which the most important point was for women to stand together.
Lipstick Under my Burkha (2016)
With powerhouse actors and realistic storyline, Alankrita Shrivastava’s directorial effort draws out the real-life flavours from Bhopal’s lower-middle class. The four women – Usha/Bua ji (Ratna Pathak Shah), Shireen (Konkana Sen Sharma), Leela (Aahana Kumra), and Rehana (Plabita Borthakur) who run the show - come from different backgrounds in age, religion, and culture. Yet, their camaraderie surpasses their differences and keeps them going.
The film, which created controversy for sexually explicit scenes that irked the Censor Board, is all about rebellion. In their own way, these four women are fighting the patriarchy that rules their lives: Rehana steals modern clothes that she wears under her burkha, Leela is self-sufficient and unapologetic about her sexual independence, and Shireen is a working woman without the knowledge of her husband who demeans her in every way. But the best is Bua ji¸ who does not let her age or appearance limit her sexual cravings. In the end, all four of them are defeated in life, and cruelly so. But misery loves company; all they have is each other and they have to fight for their dreams, talents, even sex. The last scene where they gather together and smoke, while reading soft porn, leaves the audience in a pensive, doleful mood.
Veere Di Wedding (2018)
Out of all efforts for an Indian version of Sex and the City, this ensemble comedy got the closest. Starring Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhasker, and Shiksha Talsania, the film has four women from the quintessential South Delhi background. But despite the post-feminist undertones, Sonam Kapoor’s overacting, and some jokes being forced rather than situational, the movie strikes a chord about girlfriends. In fact, for the wedding of Kareena’s character, Kalindi, the other three are supportive yet cautious. They may not be Carrie Bradshaw-like pop culture philosophers, but they are sexually assertive and are frank about their lifestyle choices. In one of the better moments of an otherwise-superficial film, they call out each other’s BS too, although in a moment of fragility. However, after a typical Bollywood-holiday sequence in Thailand, they hold each other’s hand through relationships, divorce, weddings, and more family drama. Sonam’s character, Avni, evolves from Charlotte York to Miranda Hobbes, while Sakshi, played by Swara, decides to get real with her parents and social circle. Along with Kalindi, Shiksha’s Meera also walks into a happily ever after by patching up with her estranged father. When the four dance together at the end of the movie, you are reminded that high school friendships can survive and thrive, if you really got each other’s back.