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.

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