There’s a very strange reaction to the idea of individuality in India, specially for a woman. She isn’t really expected to have any, in fact it’s better if she fits in quietly. Individuality is often blamed for the decline of a marriage by the traditionalists who have seen marriages ‘work’ because the wife puts aside her wants pandering instead to her husband’s ideas and dreams. If there’s no visible friction and she seems to be serene then surely everything is going well through this is a time tested formula for a happy marriage? Its the ‘selfish’ women who can’t put their children and their families first but think about their careers or their artistic fulfilment.
Badrinath ki Dulhaniya ( a recent Hindi film) is all about a woman whose parents want to wind up their parental duties by marrying off their two daughters and ‘getting them settled’ which is a euphemism used in India for marrying off your children and thus having completed your work on earth. Their younger daughter has dreams of being an air hostess despite the emotional pressure exerted by parents threatening heart attacks and other dire consequences. The film is about how she eventually fulfils her dream – which is wonderful for an Indian film – but because it’s a romantic comedy she has to end up with the hero. The story doesn’t end with a short stint of her ‘working’ culminating in a grand wedding – which is how life goes for most individualistic young women in India. These ‘modern’ women with education and the capacity to work good jobs then sit around biting their nails hoping their in-laws will ‘allow’ them to go out to work. ‘Work’ being the way they can get out of the house, meet friends and colleagues, earn enough money to be independent and have a say in most matters and do what they love doing instead of ensuring the house is dusted and everyone’s clothes are washed immediately.
This film ends with the hero (I don’t think he’s the protagonist, I think the woman is even though the film is called Badrinath ki Dulhaniya – which means Badrinath’s Bride) taking a stand for his brother’s wife against his feudal family with their outdated customs. She’s being weighed in gold, to be given to the gods as a bribe to ensure her pregnant belly holds a boy. As he rants against his father and society at large, the woman the movie is about turns up. This spurs him on to greater heights. Despite a terrible offence she has subjected his family to he insists publicly that he will marry her and, (hold your breath) that she will continue to work.
That’s the kind of energy it takes to overturn old customs where the bride of the son is treated like a long term slave who needs to be available at the beck and call of everyone and who’d better have had her individuality ironed out of her by her parents before she enters slave status by marrying.
My marriage wasn’t like that and I could have gone out to work if I’d wanted to but I preferred to do freelance writing and I did have three children whom I couldn’t bear to be away from while they were growing up. Organic gardening and bringing up a herd of adopted dogs took was also a mission and added to the whole idyllic picture – children, dogs, garden, writing. Despite the lack of a ‘job’ there was plenty of individuality. Now that I’m divorced and in a job, I see that it’s a whole new world – some of it good and some of it bad because work place politics are incredibly bad. Despite this, I understand why most women would choose to go out and work to hold onto their individuality in a world that makes it difficult for them to be anything other than a good wife, a good daughter in law and a good mother.
Things have to change and I’m glad films like Badrinath ki Dulhaniya are being made.