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Feminist Film review: ‘Fashion’ and other Bhandarkar flicks

Madhur Bhandarkar makes films for the dummies. In the wake of the release of yet another cliched film for the dummies, Heroine, I am republishing my feminist film review of Fashion and other Bhandarkar Films. I have not seen Heroine yet, but I can predict what’s is it about.

Not only does he make films for dummies, and other people from the stone age or different planet, who know nothing of the world we live in and therefore a Bhandarkar script based on Google and Wikipedia search becomes an eye opener for them, Bhandarkar is also a dangerous enemy of feminism.

His women-centric films over and over again pits a good girl in the bad world and reiterates that the world is so bad for girls, they better stay inside the kitchens and bed rooms. Dare they come out and do something different than cooking cleaning and making babies, bad things happen to them.

When I was a toddler, I used to always extend my hands towards the pressure cooker while hopping around the kitchen with Mom. One day, mom took my fingers and made it slightly touch the hot cooker, just to put across the point that its dangerous to touch that thing when mom is cooking. I got scared, and got the point.

This is what Madhur Bhandarkar films does to an ambitious woman.

I will write a detailed review of Heroine after seeing it, below is the review from the past.

Fashion feminist film review of Madhur Bhandarkar filmsBefore I put on my feminist glasses let me briefly tell you how was Fashion for me. Well it was definitely below expectations, I won’t say it was all bad. Spending Rs.115 on a Saturday morning was worth  only for all the eye candy the film has to offer, both to hetro and homo eyes.

Kangana Ranaut stole my heart. Every time she walked the ramp I was being transported to a world of ecstasy. There was so much that she conveyed merely by the way she looked at the camera and the way she moved. You could see a super charged life which had so much in it, success, pride, arrogance, pain, loneliness, helplessness and a hidden innocence.

Then comes the wardrobe malfunction scene and I don’t have enough words in praise of her performance in that. A bare naked soul standing there on the ramp embarrassed and shattered, she can’t run, can’t hide, can’t even close her eyes when a zillion cameras are flashing at her. Respect to Kangana for this scene.

This was also Priyanka Chopra‘s best performance, she have sincerely worked hard for this role and that shows. I would give it to her just for the hard work. Kitu Gidwani gave another powerhouse performance. I love that woman so much but we never see enough of her in Bollywood. I am not sure if she is more active in the theater circle or any other film industry.

Amongst the powerhouse performances by the ladies one man stands out and he is Harsh Chaya playing a gay designer. His limp hands, lisp tongue was all so perfectly done even though they didn’t justice to the script or subject.

Besides a few good performances, the film fails on many count. It was too long and slow. There were so many scenes which didn’t fit in and I was like, “why did we need this scene in the plot“.  At one point I was literally crying out loud for the ‘The End’ board to show up.

A complex subject handled realistically making an eye opener film – That’s how Madhur Bhandarkar films are usually described. But ‘Fashion’ was neither so complex nor an eye opener.

The story is simple. Meghna (Priyanka Chopra) a small town girl from Chandigarh dreams to make it big in the modeling industry. She moves to Mumbai to try her luck. Success comes easily to her, after a few rounds of auditions and a photo shoot, she becomes a super model, then success gets on her head and she becomes everything she never thought she’d be. Because of her arrogance and unprofessionalism she falls off the ladder. Will she rise again?

It’s simple and predictable. There was nothing in the film that I didn’t already know or that came as a shock to me. In fact there were a lot of annoying cliches. And here is where I wear my feminist glasses.

Dude, you are making this movie in 2008. Over the last 10 years of fashion boom in India we have seen them all, the Milind Somans and the Madhu Sapres, the Arjun Rampals and the Meher Jessias, the Rohit Bals and Manish Malhotras. We know its a tough world, we read their interviews, we read their life stories. So please get real, any girl who wants to be a super model today wouldn’t be so shocked to know that there is a ‘no marriage and no pregnancy clause’ in her contract. I mean c’mon, we know that since the Nutan and Suraiya days (and that’s like 60 years) that pregnant and married woman are a big no no in the media or film industry.

In any case why would a smart professional be stupid enough to even get pregnant? Whatever happened to the condoms and the I-pills. Why would she do it to her career? “Main tumhaare bacche ki maa ban ne wali hun.” So cliched. Mr. Bhandarkar really needs to meet the true professional women who would never be so stupid, and even if it happened accidentally, she wouldn’t even bother to tell the man anything and would simply get it aborted. And why would the man pay the abortion bills? Aargh. It’s time for Mr. Bhandarkar to open up, get real and learn that a ‘Sonali Roy’ of ‘Aitraaz‘ is the kind of professionals that we have out there in plenty in the real industry and his Meghna was anything but real.

Looking through my feminist glasses, there is this one major problem with most Bhandarkar films. He breaks the stereo-type, but very cleverly remains within a framework that proclaims that such non-stereotypes are not the right thing to be. In ‘Fashion’ his‘Meghna’ is this ‘good’ girl in a bad world. So even if she is unconventional enough to have an one night stand with a random guy after getting drunk, her world comes crashing down when she gets sober. Oh c’mon, so she had a one night stand, big deal. Who doesn’t. What was the drama all about? But hey, she is supposed to be a ‘good’ girl and ‘good’ girls don’t have one night stands, and if they do, they must repent. Like I said, Mr. Bhandarkar has no idea.

Good girls always want to get pregnant because motherhood is the ultimate goal they have in life and they don’t give a damn about their career when its pitted against her eternal role as a mother. So, his ‘Meghna‘ like a good girl attempted to gain motherhood. But its a bad world, her man was a jerk and her contract didn’t allow her to get pregnant so she had to go for an abortion. Till this point it’s not stereotype. But the way she handles an abortion was so cliched. Like the abortion was the end of the world, like it was the best thing that could have ever happened to her and now it is lost. Sadly, Mr. Bhandarkar has no idea how easy it could be for some women to get a pregnancy terminated without any qualms because it didn’t suit their scheme of things. But good girls must not be ok with it. They must not feel right about abortion, they must feel having sinned, they must repent to the point of insanity. No, Mr. Bhandarkar, it isn’t like that, its my body, my choice and if my circumstances don’t suit me I would happily decide against it.

Feminist film review, Madhur Bhandarkar FilmsAgain in Corporate it was so cliched the way Nishigandha Dasgupta (aka Nishi played by Bipasha Basu) fell into a trap and rotted for the rest of her life. Did he mean to say she was that stupid? She thought she could make a mark in the corporate world by agreeing to take responsibility of a crime to save her husband and his family? I can’t believe Mr. Bhandarkar got away with falsely claiming Corporate to be a film on women’s liberation, because it so was NOT. It was just a corporatized version of a sati savitri who would take any shit in the world to save her husband and his honour because that’s what good wives should do. An ambitious woman wouldn’t jeopardize her whole life for the sake of family and honour but then she wouldn’t be known as a good wife.

Problem is he makes films behind its time. Today India has one of the top notch businesspersons, entrepreneurs, managers who are women. Gender biases are being done away with in most corporates, following the historic Vishakha Judgment today most respectable firms have a ‘prevention of sexual harassment’ cell in place. Today we have a Chanda Kocchar of ICICI Bank who came at No.37 in list of world’s most powerful businesswomen, we have Naina Lal Kidwai who has been listed among the World’s Top 50 Corporate Women from 2000 to 2003 by Fortune Magazine, we have Latika Thukral, CitiBank’s business head, we have Sulajja Firodia Motwani, Joint Managing Director of Kinetic Engineering Ltd. We have ICICI bank which built its business by hiring smart women managers and creating a female-friendly environment. The list is endless. Indian women have come so far and yet all Mr. Bhandarkar could think of was a dumb good girl succumbing to the bad world.

Fashion is largely dominated by female actors. The natural expectation was to see many more progressive and non-stereotype scenes from a feminist point of view. But there weren’t many. First of, there weren’t many female designers. All designers throughout the film were Gay. Ok, we know we have gay fashion designers but showing 8 of them in one film was a bit too much. You have all kind of gays in Fashion, the funny ones, the smart ones, the ones with limp hands, ones with no limp hands, the committed ones, the forever-eyeing-cute-guy ones.

You show a couple of strong gay characters with enough depth and complexity, and I would say you handled homosexuality with maturity and respect, you show too many of them, none leaving a significant impact on the audience and it feels like you are mocking them. Like I said, he’ll break the stereo types but not really break it. Also, there are no lesbians in Mr. Bhandarkar’s understanding of the Fashion world because that would have been too much of a risk taking with the moral police. And there are no strong willed gay ready to take the heterosexual norms head on.

Another thing that he gets away with every time is the claim to have made eye opening movies. In all his films he really shows things that we already knew. It’s like Bhandarkar telling us, “all you sorry people who live in Yash Chopras’ dream land and know nothing of the real world, come to me I will show you how things in real world are.” And then I go, “but dude this much I knew, I read papers you know, I know what goes around in the world.” and he is like, “Oh no you know but you don’t know how it happens, so now I show you how it happens.” But I know. Ok whatever.

Feminist film review madhur bhandarkar filmsI knew it when I was probably 15 that there are these cruel kidnappers who steal new born kids and put them in earthen pots and leave them like that so that they’d grow up to have a deformed body and then make them beggars. That begging is no less an organised business with a proper structure complete with agents and sub agents was shown in the film ‘Gardish’ some 15 years back. Time and again each one of us have been conned by a decent guy whose wallet got stolen and he had no money to go back home or an innocent mother who was going to medical shop for buying medicines for her ailing son and on the way she lost her purse. I have myself been conned like that, so what new did you see in Traffic Signal?

I was in my school final days when my parents told me, “my child, don’t dream of working in these big companies, those are not for middle class people like us, you need to be beautiful and smart to get a job there, for people like us, best is a Government job.” And so I was advised to prepare for IAS, SSC and UPSC exams. So how was Corporate offering anything new?

The same was told to me when I wanted to study ‘Film Direction and Scripting’. Film industry media industry are not places for good middle class girls. We know there is a casting couch, we know people do drugs, we know people have extra marital affairs: dude all that we know. Thanks to so many news channels and the page 3s we know exactly what shit is happening in these glamor industries. So what good are these so called “realistic thought provoking” films doing in order to make a change.

It would have made me much happy if the woman protagonist in Corporate did win in the end or if the gay couple in Fashion could finally assert their sexuality instead of succumbing to the constant pressure of a heterosexual marriage. Showing a change on reel might bring a change in real. Showing the already depressing shit and how it wins over dreams and ambition would further perpetuate the moral police telling us “corporates and fashion industry are not the places for us to be, its a bad place.”

Think responsibly Mr. Bhandarkar.

[Crossposted on Mutiny]

27 thoughts on “Feminist Film review: ‘Fashion’ and other Bhandarkar flicks

  1. Well written. I was also very dissapointed with his film this time. Same old cliches which has failed to work this time. It would have worked may be 10-15 years back but not anymore where taking up modelling as a career is not looked down upon. I agree MB should have shown some responsibility. Fashion world could be full of its insecurities where people are, may be, more prone to substance abuse but thats not what everyone does. Extra marital affairs, pre marital sex is very much a part of any society, any industry so showing that in this movie in a way as if it happens only there, is again evry passe. Its a one time watch. Priyanka was ok. Kanganna was better.

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  2. Good piece. But I’ve certain disagreements.

    “Mr. Bhandarkar really needs to meet the true professional women who would never be so stupid, and even if it happened accidentally, she wouldn’t even bother to tell the man anything and would simply get it aborted.”

    On what basis you are saying this? Aren’t you trying to restrict the character to your understanding and hence coming up with yet another cliché? How could you predict a woman’s response to her pregnancy, especially when it’s for the first time? Just because she is an aspiring model, should she have to behave the way you would love her to?

    “Sadly, Mr. Bhandarkar has no idea how easy it could be for some women to get a pregnancy terminated without any qualms because it didn’t suit their scheme of things.”

    Here you have provided the answer with this; ‘how easy it could be for some women’. Indeed for some women, not for all the women in the world. What if she belongs to the other camp, woman who doesn’t belong to the ‘some women’?

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  3. i have seen this flim and i thought it was great beacuse u see the other side of the fashion industry. I also liked priyanka role and her roomate is a new guy right?

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  4. While I completely agree with you on the point that Madhur seems to make movies and tell stories which probably could ve been better told before the media boom, and before Citizen Journalism brought issues like these to the TV channels.

    But then, my guess is that he s probably trying to make these movies more to educate the B and C Grade Centre masses about how bad the cities really are.

    Although people like you and me (who probably look for more realism in movies) end up noticing all the stupid wrong stereo-typing that film-makers end up portraying in movies like ‘Fashion’, trust me, you ll be really really surprised to see the no. of urban multiplex audiences that actually love the ‘realism’ with which he portrays situations.

    What do you do when people just believe what they want to believe rather than actually dig a little deeper? Or maybe these so called urban yuppie crowds do exist in a parallel universe of their own, where they truly are blissfully unaware of the real world around them, which Madhur ‘tries’ to portray in his movies.

    Cheers……Jam

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  5. Good post, but would like to disagree with some points that you have mentioned.
    It might be cool to terminate a preganncy and go on with their career for some women, but might not be for all. Many times I have seen that women with hard exterior yearn for this (I am from corporate world). It is hard for me to think that after an abortion a women will still be the same soul. (I am a mother of a one year old, who never took motherhood seriously before, but now it changed my world completely). My daughter in the last one year gave me the love which is more than the amount of love I got or experienced from all the other people I know in this world put together (may be cliched, but true).
    Motherhood is not something to be seen like outcasted, it should be the IN thing for real women.

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  6. I would beg to disagree with some of your points. I don’t think all women will be okay with one night stands.One night stands when the women is sober enough to know what she’s doing is one thing but when stone drunk is entirely a different thing altogether. I also agree with Ammu’s comment.Different things affect different people differently. I have seen self-proclaimed career oriented women giving it all up for motherhood when the biological clock starts ticking.

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  7. I would try to respond to all who differed with me…

    @Arun

    Of course she can belong to the other camp, there are all kinds of woman in the world…But I am not watching a film to see the same kind of woman who I see everyday around us, I expect to see something unique, something that makes me feel, “wow how much is this girl doing for her career” I don’t want to see yet another girl following the cliched age old customs and traditions. It’s a film not real story so why not show something differente.

    @Jairam

    I completely agree with you. Bhandarkar does make films for a different audience, that audience which only watches the lovey dovey feel good films and probably not only read the page 3s. If I take of my feminist glasses or stop being a critic then I would also appreciate this film and Bhandarkar. But for this blog I am pointing out the things that could have been better.

    @Ammu @FS

    My response to Arun above also applies to your thoughts. The film once again shows what we already know, or can think of, my question is why cant he show us something different.

    Motherhood is the greatest thing for all women. That’s like a universal statement for thousands of years. How about for once showing something different please… why can’t we be different.

    And just because you cannot think a woman would be the same after abortion doesn’t make your thinking true, I personally know where women have gone multiple abortions and are still as happy and contended as ever and I REALLY think all women should have an unquestionable right to abortion because its her body.

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  8. Mr.Bhandarkar cud have taken this movie to heights .. but certainly worth one watch — oh yeah .. Respect for Kangana Ranaut — AWESOME performance !! BTW, i would love to join the Blogaloreans club :)

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  9. Well said, Sanjukta.
    You have shown that stereo typing of womens’ predicament in love,sex, body,profession and all will have less takers among women.

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  10. Hi Sanjukta,

    Good critique of the movie.

    Fashion was ok and I dont blame Bhandarkar for trying to show as much as he could about the inner dealings in this industry in 2.5 hrs..its not very easy. I kinda liked the way he showed the lead star having a live in relation and an affair with her mentor which is so common..but less spoken about.

    But I do agree with some pertinent points that u have raised about the modern women and her choices..

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  11. Can’t get over this, “I knew it when I was probably 15 that there are these cruel kidnappers who steal new born kids and put them in earthen pots and leave them like that so that they’d grow up to have a deformed body and then make them beggars.”

    This is horrifying, I don’t want to believe this… is this true?

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  12. at the time of my first visit to ur blog i had a thought of reading this blog, but that time i didn’t see the movie. I saw the movie last night, & it reminds me to read ur blog. I found u as one of the best critiques. You picked very rights the loop holes of the movie. I think the film didn’t revealed the truth about fashion world. as u mention we have seen those “Realities” in film which we actually knew better. This is a mere story of a girl of a small town “chandigarh” (is it really small?) with Big ambitions. I should say What made this movie good is the is the performance of the actor/actress not the story line….

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  13. This film was baaaaaadddd and so bad I want the 3 hrs I wasted, thankfully watching it on my laptop, back! The direction, the plot, even the acting save a few scenes is pathetic. What a regressive view on a progressive industry!

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  14. bhandarkar’s great deception is his pretense to eye-opening cinema. ure right. but u’de be surprised at how many people find even his tepid horse-bollocks as salacious and scandalous.
    never underestimate the ability of a society to be in denial. even if the proof stares them in the face.
    it is for them, sanjukta, that madhur makes his movies. he is a sad soul, who will have to eternally be satisfied with bragging with the boys from the nearby high school, while his mates are snogging the village girls at the motel.
    good post. great reading.
    nirvana demon.

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  15. the only thing i liked in the movie was Kangna Ranaut. and i actually loved her… she couldnt have been more realistic.

    As for the movie, yes it was made for the yong middle class girls who wanna become a model and their parents can show them this movie and ask them to study B.A. corrospondence instead.

    Too Cliched. Boo!!!

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  16. i thought it was interesting to have a movie about a woman in the fashion industry that didn’t at all touch upon body image, and had the models merrily eating at five-star restaurants. no discussion of insecurities regarding weight, skin color, diameter of nostrils, size of lips — just things that would scandalize the middle class. and i thought it was hilarious that priyanka’s turning point was when she woke up next to a black man. and also that kangana was so traumatized with the wardrobe malfunction as if that’s the worst thing that could happen, more than say her boyfriend beating her up.

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  17. Thanks for a great, pointed and accurate critique of MB’s movies. I know your blog is to talk about feminism, but since you mentioned homosexuaity, I’d like to add a comment about racism also. So, it was sort of “OK” for the models to sleep with their mentor, but she “woke up” from her drug-induced, depressed, depraved state after sleeping with a black man? All of a sudden, she realized she had fallen so much that she not only slept with a stranger, but a black one at that! Like, nothing could have been worse, right? Wow! What about sleeping with someone with a sexually transmitted disease, or an ax murderer? The racism of Bollywood continues.

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  18. @RC

    Thanks for bringing this angle, I forgot to mention it. Your observation is 100% correct, the downfall was show to be at its worst because she woke up to a black man. Racism at its best.

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