Out of the three films in the “Transnationalism and Gender” section of the course, the one that connected with me most was Vikas Bahl’s 2014 film Queen. Besides the awkwardly comedic but likeable characters, upbeat nature and flashy Bollywood dance sequences, the film was at its heart a refreshing and endearing take on a modern feminist story. As a young female of Asian descent myself, Rani’s journey defying social norms and overcoming challenges to ultimately find self confidence is one that very much resonated with me.
The first thought I had upon watching Queen was how similar it was to Hollywood’s Eat Pray Love. Ironically, but perhaps poetically, Queen’s storyline of a young rural Indian woman finding herself in Europe after a failed engagement is a mirror opposite of Eat Pray Love, in which Julia Roberts’ character is the quintessential upper-middle class New York businesswoman who is at a crossroads after a messy divorce and sets on a journey of personal discovery in Asia. Balh’s focus on one personal journey, I felt, reminded me of a decidedly Western style exploration of feminist themes. Unlike the quietly fierce ensemble of female characters that exist as part of the bigger nationalistic picture in Hero, the narrative of Queen is solely targeted at the growth of protagonist Rani, focusing on her emotions and learnings.
In fact, there are many ways in which the film takes influence from Western feminist ideals, which as Anuran et al (2013) argues may be attributed to globalisation’s influence on Hindi filmmakers to include Westernized narratives and visuals in their films.
As Gupta (2015) points out, Bollywood’s depiction of its female characters tends to be regressive. Traditional patriarchal values dictate that women only exist in relation to men, seen exclusively as sexual objects or as symbols of family, patriarchy and nation. On the contrary, Gupta (2015) identifies tropes that distinguish progressive Bollywood films like Queen from traditional representations. First, there is “the element of surprise that forces the audience to confront their assumptions about women”; Rani begins as a passive and helpless damsel in distress, but throughout the film discovers her independent strength and capability. There is then the “absence of any connections between women and sensuality” and the “rejection of a direct correlation between the morality/purity of a woman and her fate”; the film features a promiscuous single mother and a sex worker, yet does not degrade them for their choices, instead presenting them both as multi-dimensional characters that are independent and empathetic. Through showing the comparatively reserved Rani forming bonds with both these characters, Bahl shows the power of strong female friendships, defies the negative connotations surrounding openly sexual women and rejects traditional values that demonise Western practices such as drinking and smoking. Finally, there is the “dis-attachment of the female character from traditional/patriarchal values”; the film is devoid of male driven storylines. Mocking the traditional belief of how a girl’s life is over if she is left at the altar, Rani finds true happiness outside of the confines of patriarchy. There was no need for her to fall in love with one of the male characters she meets such as Aleksander to adhere to the fairytale European romance storyline; nor the final reconciliation between Rani and Vijay that would be expected of a traditional film. Rani’s growth is not to please her fiancé, but ultimately for herself – she is the heroine but Vijay is not the hero.
Despite all the ways that Queen challenges the norms of traditional Bollywood cinema, the film’s overwhelmingly positive critical reception as well as successful box office numbers is a positive sign. It is exemplary of an emerging shift in the inclusive and multidimensional representation of women in Indian cinema, and I am hopeful that this trend continues to inspire and empower young women from all over the world.
Gupta, S. (2015). Kahaani, Gulaab Gangl and Queen: Remaking the queens of Bollywood. South Asian Popular Culture, 13(2), pp.107-123.
Anujan, D., Schaefer, D. and Karan, K. (2012). The changing face of Indian women in the era of global Bollywood. In Bollywood and Globalization: The Global Power of Popular Hindi Cinema. Taylor and Francis, pp. 110–126.
Kapoor, A. (2015). 11 Reasons Why Queen is the Most Feminist Film of Recent Years. [online] VagaBomb. Available at: http://www.vagabomb.com/10-reasons-why-Queen-is-the-most-feminist-film-of-Bollywood-yet/ [Accessed 4 Sep. 2017].