Monday, September 25, 2017

Not feminist enough?

As I went out on the town declaring my love for Lipstick Under My Burkha, quite unsurprisingly I met people on social media who seemed underwhelmed by this story of four women living out their forbidden fantasies in the heart of India. The most baffling criticism I came across was someone on Twitter saying the film isn't feminist.

I wanted to look past my bias and understand this comment. What about LUMB wasn't feminist, or not feminist enough for this Internet person? What does a film about four women, directed by a woman, dealing with desires of women have to do to be considered feminist?

The answer came to me today while browsing some old reviews by one of my favorite film critics, Baradwaj Rangan. In an adulatory article about Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas, he mentioned the word "feminist" in context of SLB's Chandramukhi and Paro. Yes, the same Chandramukhi and Paro, divided by social status, united by hopeless affection for an undeserving asshole.

Now Baradwaj Rangan is not the same person as the LUMB-denier, but something about calling LUMB not-feminist and Devdas feminist reeks of a similar logic - that's equating triumphalism with feminism.

Bollywood has a time-honoured tradition of excusing all kinds of crimes under the name of triumphalism. The common man that our great and learned stars make movies for, they say, comes to the theatre to escape the drudgery of reality. They come to see the superstar play the common man play a hero, punch the baddies, obliterate smuggling and terrorism and corruption with one song in the villain's lair and one big fight. It's a good way to deal with the fact that these evils in real life are far more overbearing and far more complex to be dealt with a few punches.

Somewhere along the measly history of films about women, we have come to expect the same kind of triumphalism in the name of feminism. From super Bahus slaying domestic abuse with some sharp dialogue to fighter girls manning up to take revenge/justice in their own hands, our feminism has always been an impractical fantasy that exists in the cinematic universe only.

Indian films of a certain vintage are quite adept at putting the right words in the character's mouth. An honest policeman encountering official level corruption for the first time (it's always the first and only time) knows exactly how to shame his superiors with the right words. They feel the shame alright, just before drilling some bullets into his righteous head.

SLB's Chandramukhi and Paro belong to this vintage in a certain sense. Chandramukhi the courtesan smartly ticks off a rude patron. Paro the housewife confidently confronts her husband, a zamindar, about his double standard in being still attached to his deceased wife, while he judges Paro for harbouring feelings for her childhood sweet heart. Because you know, that's just how 19th century Bengali housewives roll.

It can be very cathartic to watch such confrontations in film. We all fantasize about confronting the villains in our life with some saucy lines, to hold up a mirror to them, to put them to shame. We don't, because unlike film, you don't cut right after the saucy dialogue. You're still in the same room with your corrupt boss, chauvinist husband, testy client. You know you'll have to meet them again tomorrow and the day after, and even if you choose not to be pliant or a pushover, you can't also afford to tick off all the people all the time.

I don't resent SLB his articulate heroines, but sometimes you wish for a film that would address that empty, helpless feeling of NOT saying out loud the things you want to say to people around you. Besides, in Devdas and many films that pay some lip service to feminism, those lines of dialogue exist for their own sake, as side notes that don't add to the narrative. Remove those lines, and the fates of those characters would still be the same.

Not so with Lipstick. It is that rare film that celebrates a spot of rebellion, even as it makes you confront its full cost. It is full of unspoken words, confrontations that will never happen. Its women want the very things that men are celebrated for pursuing - money, respect, freedom, and some good old sex. Consider the case of Lila. A man in her place would be appreciated and encouraged for having a business idea, and his mother would egg him on towards his dreams, instead of trying to sell him into a marriage alliance. In their internal lives, these women are in every way a man's equal, having the same desires and the same drive to go after them - isn't that the very definition of feminism? Yet in the real world that they inhabit, they are punished for those pursuits, because they are women.

I don't know if this makes LUMB feminist enough to everybody's satisfaction, but I was almost waiting for a feminist narrative that takes a hard look at the yawning gap between aspirations and reality. I would love to live in an India where someone like Shirin could simply step out of her house and go to work because that's what she wants to do. But in the meanwhile, Shirin Aslam is the India we have. My feminism cannot deny her reality.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Spring cleaning and some thoughts on the forgotten women

While cleaning out old boxes, I came across some handwritten notes that I must have scribbled down sometime after the Delhi gang rape survivor succumbed to her injuries. Sharing with slight editing - new notes are in italics.

My acquaintance to the Star Trek universe has been brief and recent, but one episode from the original series sticks to my memory. Captain Kirk and his crew visit a planet that has been at war with another planet for hundreds of years, but it is a peculiar sort of war. Instead of actually fighting, the warring sides have come to an agreement: each side will occasionally declare a casualty - a random citizen of the other side, picked for slaughter as a token to the ongoing war. The citizen thus picked has to accept their fate and walk into some sort of death chamber. I'm hazy on the details, but the geeks will know.

Women in this country seem to be living in a similar state of war The enemy has to just pick any of us as their casualty, and it is the end of the world for her. Society may scream for vengeance, but they won't put up a fight for this girl's right to a normal life. For a people obsessed with the sanctity of the vagina, this woman ceases to exist nearly as soon as this sanctum is violated. Think all the old movies glorifying and normalizing a rape victim's suicide. Once her narrative function is served, once a villain rapes a hero's sister, there is no point in keeping her character alive for the rest of the film, right? Even fans of Sansa Stark stopped watching GoT when she was raped. Her story, as far as some people are concerned, ended with that violation.

It doesn't matter that she may still have a functioning brain, a body capable of springing back to its former vitality, strength and beauty, and even - horror of horrors - experiencing sexual pleasure after the wounds heal. No, rape is no mere injury - it is a violation, an irreversible alteration of a woman's sense of existence. You're declared a casualty the minute a set of nefarious eyes is cast on you, the moment a man decides to abuse you for his perverted pleasure or vengeance or whatever he considers it in his mind -  regardless of your personal choice, your will to live, you will be made to walk into the death chamber.

Just as we have taken this state of war for granted, so have we also accepted the war zones - certain spaces and places deemed unsafe at all times or at specific times of the day, certain modes of dressing that apparently invite enemy fire, certain behaviors, etc. You do this, you'll get raped, you're told. You go there, you wear that, you're asking for it. You're not even a legitimate casualty if you break The Code. This has always been a one-sided war.

So what has changed?

For the first time in my conscious memory, I have seen my side put up a fight. The protests in Delhi are not against the six pathetic men who committed the brutal crime that has triggered national outrage. This is a fight to reclaim our space, our movement, our choices. This is about questioning the boundaries unilaterally drawn around us. Somewhere in all this, is the fight to stay alive. It is about not letting her become another casualty. She did not pick this battle.

I heard about her passing away on the radio while driving to work. For a moment I could not see the road ahead clearly. I hadn't cried when I heard about the rape. She wasn't dead to me before she actually died.

That is more than could be said about a lot of other women, still alive but long forgotten, living a sub-human life, not because they re no longer capable of holding jobs or loving or gossiping or enjoying good food - but because the world around them has marked them as a casualty and moved on, leaving them frozen in the moment when that special someone cast eyes on them.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The baby elephant in the room

I watched Aisa Yeh Jahan at a special screening in Pune. The Lost Plot, a very unique film club that screens movies in a rooftop bar in Aundh - it is just as romantic as it sounds - has been my favorite haunt in Pune for a while. Besides regular screenings of popular and classic films, and periodic mini-festivals, they try to promote small, little-heard-of films that don't get much attention in mainstream cinemas.

For the screening of Aisa Yeh Jahan, the cast and crew of "India's first carbon neutral film" was present at the club. In the later Q&A session, the director Biswajeet Bohra was very graceful when I questioned the mild misogyny in the film's treatment of Ira Dubey's character. 

There was another question I wanted to ask, but refrained of politeness - and has bothered me more every time I now think about it. It was about the character Pakhi, the preteen domestic help living with the Saikias, an Assamese family based in Mumbai.

I was reminded of Pakhi again today as I read this stirring article by Alex Tizon, the Pulitzer winning American journalist and child of first generation immigrants from Manila. He describes the family's relationship with Lola, a Philippine woman who traveled with the family from Manila to the States, and spent the major part of her life serving them. "I had a family, a career, a house in the suburbs," writes Tizon, describing his American dream, "And then I had a slave."

How different is Pakhi from Lola? If anything, she is younger. Sepia-tinted flashback in the films establish how the girl is separated from her mother at a young age, and pressed into service of a rich family in the village. The son of this family, along with his wife and toddler daughter, acquire this "domestic help" for their Mumbai home. Now by Mumbai standards, this nuclear family is as middle class as they come. Mr Saikia goes to office with a lunchbox. His wife works as a receptionist. Most Mumbai families of this sort can loathe afford a nanny, let alone a full time servant.

Unless that servant is a child herself. And comes as part of the package of owning lands back home. It is nowhere explicitly stated in the film whether the girl is paid a salary. It is explicitly stated however that she is uneducated, and the kindhearted Saikias - who defensively call her a member of a family in front of their Mumbai friends - display no intention of ever sending the girl to school. That is an exclusive privilege of the highborn Kuhu.

More disturbingly, at one point Mr Saikia beats this girl... well not really, because he's such a cuddly teddy bear who could never beat anyone, but he pretends to beat her, to appease his wife. Even though that "beating" is really just him making slapping sounds from inside the room, the disturbing implication is that in this house, beating a thirteen year old girl is considered legitimate.

What do you call this arrangement, if not slavery? In a film concerning itself with Big Issues like environment and the alienation faced by North Eastern Indians in big cities, this blatantly casteist practice within a North Indian family is completely ignored.

Before starting to write this post, I went through some of the reviews of this film available online. The film has received low ratings across the board, and mainly panned for its amateurish execution of a well meaning theme, and a scattered plot. Kymsleen Kholie who plays Pakhi receives acclaim for her work, and deservedly so. None of the reviews however, point at her arrangement with the Saikia family, or seem much perturbed by it.

Lola was a real woman, while Pakhi is fiction. The thing about fiction however is that it is often an extraction of many facts. The fact that such a character is so comfortably slipped into a story about human values and culture is telling. How common is it for the people behind this film to have see full time domestic help in their house, plucked from their family and village at a young age, denied education, made to sleep on the floor and bound to serve for life?

The recent disclosure by a Mumbai-based entrepreneur about his experience lending domestic help to film industry households tells us this is nothing new.

By the end of this film, things change, as they do in movies. Lessons are learned, hugs are exchanged, trees are planted - and Pakhi continues to live and serve as before. As symbolism goes, the well-meaning people behind this film have no intention to change the lives of people like Pakhi. They're destined to sleep on the floor and serve for life.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

How women could have solved Baazigar

Chapter 1
Vishwanathan Sharma

Whom should I entrust with my business decisions?
My beautiful wife, who loves me dearly, mother of my children...

...giver of charity.

Or my son, who'll sign papers according to...

His mother's advice
Or this slimy character who has duped me before?

Tough Call.

Dad. That. Man. Duped. You.

Boss. I duped you.

You may have duped me, Madan Chopra. I had the pleasure of sending you to jail. You have a criminal record...

But at least you're not a woman!

You had it coming, dog.

I had it coming, dear. Now let me go out in pouring rain with a weak heart to search for medicine after all shops have closed.

Hang on, dear.

You didn't think of giving me power of attorney...

But I hope the fact that I'm a woman won't stop you...

From taking my last remaining piece of jewelry to help your useless ass.

Wsh.... Nice burn, mom!

Chapter 2
Madan Chopra

Hmm. And who do I trust? Let's see.

My only living off-spring, who I love more than anything in the world...

For whose sake I've humiliated myself and done slimy deeds to my benefactor...

And only last year I was naming factories after my daughters and buying them expensive cars

And she has studied something-or-the-other in Simla.

So should I entrust my business to my sweet, beloved, educated, living daughter?

Or the guy who entered our lives out of nowhere...

And has no family... and whose real eyes I've never seen?

And he has a penis! Did you for a moment think...

I'd entrust bizniss to a woman? Nah.

The End

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Baahubali - A Song of Navel and Eyes

As the nation throngs cinema halls to finally unravel the deep mystery of Baahubali's murder, I'm curbing my enthusiasm and thinking about the cinematic marvel that was the first movie. Or the one it wanted to be. You can call it groundbreaking, genre bending, the film that finally unites North and South (Hello! Roja, anyone?) and many more things. Deep in our hearts we all know what we were looking for in this story of muscular heroes saving the day. We were hoping against hope for India's answer to Game of Thrones.

For the last seven years since the gigantic TV drama captured our imagination, we have all been whispering that age old lament over cups of tea and plates of sabudana wadas. It's the same lament we cried when we walked out misty eyed from a screening of Jurassic Park, or Independence Day, or The Matrix. Why can't India come up with something like this? Why can't we whip up a sensual feast with larger than life set pieces, nail biting action and mind boggling stories that the world can look up to?

Let me tell you it's not for lack of trying.

By trying I mean our films have tried to emulate some of those pretty fight scenes, those tricky visual effects, those interminable car chases, in the hopes of earning the same kind of applause. The result, obviously, has been at best Shivaay and at worst Jaani Dushman.

Because in our rush to recreate what Hollywood does passably well, we forget some of the important ingredients that go into the making of a worldwide box office phenomenon.


Hollywood's greatest contribution to cinema is not churning out movies with monstrous budgets at a regular pace. It is the screenplay.

French filmmaker and wizard, Georges Milies is believed to have written the first screenplay for his film A Trip To The Moon. The early American film The Great Train Robbery had a screenplay that pretty much sets the format that is followed till date, except for dialogue. TGTR was a silent film.

It is said that Ashok Kumar and his colleagues studied the Hollywood style of scriptwriting for Achhut Kanya. Some of his best known films, including Howrah Bridge and Chalti Ka Naam Gadi, if you observe, follow a good coherent script.

Movies written by Salim-Javed are a study in structured screenplay. In recent years, many Indian filmmakers are building on strong scripts to come up with some fine multiplex-friendly movies.

But when it comes to more spectacularly mounted fares, the integrity of the screenplay is tossed off the window. Sanjay Leela Bhansali is among the worst offenders in this crime. Why, dear me why, would a medieval Indian Maharaja let his daughter entertain guests with song and dance, even if she is played by the gorgeous Deepika Padukone and the song is such a feast to the eyes? Such creative choices of course come not organically from the story, but from our filmmakers' assumption of what the audience wants to see.

And they are usually right. Warrior or queen, we like our heroines dancing. If they want more, they can go work elsewhere.

I don't think it is a coincidence that both Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone, who danced so sportingly to the strains of Pinga in Bajirao Mastani, have gone on to find work in Hollywood. Perhaps that's the only place where they'll be asked to act, even it means fighting in a sports bra. At least they're not dancing.

Shivaay has a long-drawn action sequence after the kidnapped kids at the centre of its story are rescued. Fan has three long chase scenes in the service of a movie star's bruised ego. In films of a certain scale, we lose all sense of perspective.


No matter how big the film, no matter how simplistic the narrative, Hollywood has a good grip on the values they espouse in their stories. They also keep improving on it. Even the biggest summer releases try to correct past sins of that industry by featuring a more diverse cast. Almost every big disaster movie has heroes who learn lessons in teamwork and being less of a douchebag. Even at the cost of belying some social realities and pissing off a few meninists, Hollywood movies keep portraying a rosier, fairer, less racist and gender balanced universe. Every once in a while, they address the social realities as well. There are films that portray historic and present day racism, critique American consumerism, and call out the still unequal treatment of women.

In India, misogyny is cool if the budget is right. Sultan can totally sideline his wife's aspirations, Baahubali can totally hijack a warrior lady's mission. And caste does not exist. The servants in Suraj Barjatya films just like being servants and marrying other servants.

This article talks about casteism in Baahubali. It also addresses the argument that the story is set in different times than ours. Right there is where the Game Of Thrones comparison stings most. The books and series are also set in an older, crueler world with different rules than ours. Yet through many different characters and subplots, the injustice and imperfections of that system are questioned, and the rules bent. Arya goes from a highborn girl to a nobody to a dangerous assassin. Brienne is mocked and harassed all her life, but she'll remain a warrior, thank you very much. The low-born Onion Knight is raised from pirate to King's Hand. The Brotherhood of the Wall treats all men as equal, and operates democratically. The Wildlings are humanized. I could go on and on.

Indian films are completely unable, unwilling, or entirely clumsy in questioning social hierarchies of any kind. Things are just the way they are. Hence our stories never rise above the banal plot and become about something bigger, because we don't want to touch the bigger issues.


Speaking of bigger issues, the most audacious quality of Hollywood blockbusters is their presumption of speaking for all of humanity. Aliens invade, America rescues. Virus erupts, America finds the cure. Americans solve hunger, AIDS, space and time travel, and it won't be long before they solve farmer suicides in Vidarbha, because India just cannot be bothered.

Our larger-than-life movies are about larger-than-life men (it's never a woman) and little else. Even a film with such noble intentions as Airlift has one Punjabi hero saving all the Indians in Kuwait with little help from anyone else. The real life incident that inspired the film was about the collaborative effort of a group of Malayalis.

Baahubali is about one man's struggle to win back his birth right. Shivaay is about one Indian man solving all of Bulgaria's problems. By contrast, Mad Max: Fury Road had an established hero assisting - not leading - a group of women on their quest to freedom.

In his book The Art Of Dramatic Writing, Lajos Egri states the case for building a dramatic story around a strong premise, a kind of central message or belief that lays the foundation of the narrative. Jurassic Park tells you not to fuck with nature. Mad Max celebrates the indomitable human spirit.

Take a look at most big budget Indian films, and the common premise you're likely to find is: the world bows to an awesome dude (again, never a woman).

PK: awesome alien dude
3 Idiots: awesome scientist dude
Rustom: awesome Navy dude
Sultan: awesome wrestler dude

See a trend?

Most of our big budget films are afraid to portray a flawed hero. Rancho cannot be wrong about anything. Sultan always wins. PK comes to Earth and solves all our problems. It wasn't always so. Sholay contained dollops of humour around Veeru's buffoonery. Deewar's Vijay was a deeply insecure man scared by a random incident from his childhood. Random, because he was attacked and tattooed by the villagers, not his brother. That set the two brothers on different paths for life.


It's not that our film directors, writers and producers are unaware of the integrity of the script, the importance of strong values, or the place for great vision that goes into making great cinema. For some reason, once big budgets get involved, all the awareness takes a backseat, and we panic into churning out yet another hyper masala monstrosity with dancing heroines and infallible heroes, and zero social awareness. On the last point, maybe the political realities of our country have a big role to play. Artistic freedom is worth zilch in our society and any asshole can tear down a cinema hall for any imagined offense. Still and all, a few efforts would be nice. Good films have been made in our country, and have done good business too.

Forget about making another Game Of Thrones or Jurassic Park. Let's make another Deewar.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Imtiaz Girl

I doubt anybody watching Vikramaditya Motwane's fabulously claustrophobic thriller Trapped will spare a thought about the woman in the story, but then that's the feminist's curse. We can't not notice. And I especially cannot miss an Imtiaz Girl hiding away in any corner of an otherwise impeccable tale.

Even though Geetanjali Thapa's character in the film was just a plot device to corner our protagonist into a bad decision that resulted in the film's main plot, couldn't they have come up with a better plot device than an Imtiaz Girl? Sorry, first the explanation...

An Imtiaz Girl is one of those modern day semi-liberated women you are most likely to find in an Imtiaz Ali movie. A badass away from home, but pragmatically goodie-two-shoes in front of family. Often engaged to be married to a man of the family's choosing, but game for some adventures before committing. The accidentally liberated girls - who set off from house looking only for a man's love, but end up doing something vaguely feministy.

Aditi, the orphan who must parade before a litany of would-be grooms for the benefit of her foster parents; but cannot resist a quick trip to Goa with total strangers for the fun of it.

Geet, whose only desire in life is to marry her college boyfriend, and runs off to be with him. He rejects her, and she takes up a job and leads a miserable lonely life in cold Simla. Until a Man comes to her rescue.

Heer, who is engaged to be married, and wants to live out a twisted Bachelorette fantasy with a guy clearly and easily smitten with her.

Veera, who runs out on her wedding, gets kidnapped and predictably develops Stockholm Syndrome.

In the spirit of all Imtiaz Girls, Thapa's Noorie is supposed to be the bolder half in the relationship. Rajkumar's Shaurya stutters as he tries to ask her out. She is so bold she teases him before going out with him. She even almost has sex with him - but alas! - she is already engaged, and must marry her intended, unless THE MAN DOES SOMETHING. That something he tries to do to rescue her from her marriage is what lands him in a ghost building, without roommates, without electricity or water, locked up on some 30+ floor with not a soul knowing his whereabouts. And while he struggles for his very existence, what does our girl do? She gets married, of course.

It used to puzzle me why so many Imtiaz Girls ended up eloping, or running out on impending weddings or engagements. But then, the Imtiaz Girl has little or no notion of standing up for herself, speaking out, earning her liberation bit by painful bit. She is the 21st Century manic pixie dreamgirl, helpless and manipulative in equal parts. A Man will always be her lifeboat to escape an unwanted marriage.

And the Imtiaz Girl is apparently becoming popular beyond Imtiaz Ali films as well. Tanu from Tanu Weds Manu was the classic Imtiaz Girl, fluttering her eyelids at prospective grooms to please her parents, then threatening them into calling off the engagement, because she has a boyfriend. It would never do to tell the parents herself.

A couple of years ago, four short films were afforded a mainstream release in the theatres under the title Chaar Cutting. Two of those films had female leads engaged to be married within a short deadline, UNLESS THE HERO DOES SOMETHING. And in both films, the hero fails to do that thing, and the heroine goes off to get married. One of them was a Mumbai girl who smokes and flirts with the guy in public places, and takes the initiative to get into a physical relationship. Yet when the guy goes into a coma, a day before her impending wedding to someone else, she promptly gets hitched, and sprouts a pregnant belly not a year from then. Smoking and flirting is the extent of her boldness.

And of course there are all the original Imtiaz Girls from Imtiaz films.

Are so many of our filmmakers so utterly convinced that women are these spineless, selfish, manipulative creatures, who will commit to a marriage if it pleases the family, and run out on that commitment as soon as a BETTER MAN shows up? Who, for the love of this Better Man, will elope, putting family and some poor guy through loads of pain, rather than blood speak up and tell people what she wants?

And it is no coincidence that none of these Imtiaz Girls are ever shown to have career aspirations. Unless the Imtiaz Girl is a guy.

Tamasha is to my knowledge the only Imtiaz film in which the girl does the honorable thing and breaks up with her boyfriend after she realizes she loves someone else. And she spends four years stewing in her feelings for this random guy she met on a vacation - four long years during which her parents patiently let her be, induct her in the family business, and reward her efforts with professional growth. The guy on the other hand is he manic pixie of this film. Away from parents and everything familiar, he lets himself free in faraway Corsica. He sings and dances and jumps and talks to mountains. Back in India and back to his job, he turns into a most boring version of himself. Four years later, the girl seeks him out, they start dating. But the girl was looking for her manic pixie. The guy cannot be the manic pixie anymore, or at least he thinks he can't. They break up, he goes on a search for his inner pixie, he rebels, he sets free, they reunite and all's well in pixie-land.

I might be one of the few people in the world who loved Tamasha. But the more I think about it, the more I feel that if Ved in the movie had been a girl, the story would have ended with the two young people reuniting after four years. All that searching-for-your-real-self stuff? That's for guys.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The curious case of Mehra's Sahiba

Timeless love stories are perhaps not the best subject for a feminist analysis, but heck, sue me. It's not as if non-feminists are ga ga over Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehta's modern retelling of the Mirza-Sahiba tragedy.

What is it about love stories that makes our best filmmakers so regressive that they forget to write a fleshed out female character?

In Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Bajirao Mastani, the titular Mastani started out as a badass warrior princess. Once smitten by the hero Bajirao, she's reduced to a simpering pouting mess.

ROMP has featured some strong female characters in his movies. His very first Aks had Raveena with her unapologetic sexuality and Nandita Das calling out marital rape for what it was, over a decade before the issue became fashionable. His Rang De Basanti, Delhi 6 were studded with willful, intelligent and ambitious women.

So why is it that Soochita, the modern incarnation of Sahiba, seems neither willful, nor intelligent and forget ambitious. The fault cannot entirely lie with the (missing) acting skills of the actress playing her. From the moment adult Soochi made her appearance, all I knew about her as a person was that she loves her father who taught her lines from Shakespeare, is engaged to a handsome Prince, and really knows how to condition those wild curls. I see her returning from some phoren land as young women in a certain kind of film often do, but I haven't the slightest clue what she was doing there. Or what she plans to do back in India other than drink champagne by the poolside and learn horse riding.

ROMP reminds us of the old legend by intercepting the modern narrative with scenes from the past. It is easier to identify with Sahiba in those ancient settings. It is conceivable that a young woman in that barbaric patriarchal tribe would have her life defined by the men around her. Her conflict when the man she loves must clash with her brothers is palpable. That makes get betrayal understandable, which is at the very core of the Mirza-Sahiba tragedy.

The very same things seem difficult to relate in the modern sections. Soochita is not exactly an oppressed female in the way Sahiba was. She is a (phoren) educated woman. She could have nicely and gently broken up the engagement. It can't be unheard of even in modern day royal families. She could have used words. Her father is not a tribal chief. He is a gentle, loving man who recites Shakespeare. Her fiancé is a sensitive, intelligent man. She does not offer him the courtesy of truth about her childhood love. By the end, I found myself sympathizing more with the Prince than the runaway couple.

And the Mirza of this story. What of the fact that he is a murderer? Does Soochita even know this, or did her loving father shield her from the truth somehow? What does that mean for this great eternal romance? How would she feel about her dear Munish of she knew? And what does it say about Soochita that she let these three men of her life become enemies? Or if she does know about the murder and still wants to marry that guy, what the hell is wrong with her?

The Sahiba of legend found her fate hanging in between a tug of war between the men she loved. Her great crime was that she did not remain a passive spectator.

Mehra's Sahiba, by refusing to use her words, led her men to a completely avoidable battle. Passivity is exactly her crime.