We pick so much up from our movies- attire, glamour, melodrama, you name it. Above all, we pick expectations. We expect to look like our favourites, walk like them, talk like them, roll our eyes like them.
For all their on-screen friendships, we even expect to have friends like them. As far as male friendships go, the Jais and Veerus of this country have enough points of reference. But what of Basanti? The only female friend she had was Dhanno.
These girls I have known for years now have become supporting characters in my life, without whom I will fall flat as a protagonist.
Thankfully, Bollywood has begun to come of age now. It is no more a feisty child turning things sour by starting small fires. It is maturing, learning how to accommodate many starry egos on one screen. Bollywood has been churning out girl gang after girl gang, in the last decade. And my own girl gang and I are totally here for it!
Sisterhood and Bollywood
Female friendships are precious things- based on sensitivity, and running on endurance. For as long as I can remember, I have never been without a tight circle of girlfriends. I understood the value of sisterhood to depend on, very early on. These girls I have known for years now have become supporting characters in my life, without whom I will fall flat as a protagonist. They play roles depending on the day, on my mood. From therapy to mothering, they have done it all for me, without certifications or expertise.
I first saw Angry Indian Goddesses with some of them when it released back in 2015. It wasn’t the best movie, plot-wise, yet every scene resonated loud and clear. A fresh buddy movie, its female friendships were more realistic than anything we had ever seen before. This relatability came during the scenes the women drank together or laughed together. But most of all, it came from how they looked and spoke. The cast included fierce names like Sandhya Mridul and Sarah Jane Dias offering a good mix. From gender and sexuality, skin-colour, to the way they spoke, they broke different stereotypes – but all fierce, feminist real women.
This sisterhood was also reflected in glitzier movies like Aisha and Veere Di Wedding. Here, flashy clothes complemented the flashy, but endearing friendships of make-up clad upper-urban women. Both these flicks didn’t have adequate meaning, but enough soul.
Patriarchy and Female Friendships
The common thread binding the foundation of all female friendships is their angst against patriarchy. In Pink, Minal (Taapsee Pannu) and her two roommates have only each others’ hands to hold when a sexual assault upends their world. An exclusive safe zone forms, that becomes the women’s only space for trust. And sure enough, all of us too, confide in our girlfriends when we have to deal with unpleasant experiences that come our way courtesy the dynamics created by patriarchy.
Your sisters: the keepers of your secrets
A sisterhood proves to be most conducive when the rest of the world is out of earshot. That’s when the laughter rings sweetest. Take Tanu Weds Manu for instance. Tanu, played by Kangna Ranaut, shares a camaraderie so easy with Payal, played by Swara Bhasker, that it even trumps whatever she has with Manu. They smoke doobs together and laugh at “inappropriate” jokes. They scold each other too sometimes, as we all do.
A sisterhood proves to be most conducive when the rest of the world is out of earshot.
Sometimes you just want to see that kind of relaxed nothingness on screen- the one you share with your girls on someone’s terrace, sprawled out on chairs, glass in hand, talking about nothing in particular and yet something so important. Lipstick Under My Burkha also has such a “bold” scene, where the women, all from different backgrounds, bond over shared patriarchal woes and smokes. That is anything but bold; in fact, those are vulnerable moments- soft and cathartic.
Another defining movie for sisterhoods everywhere is Queen. It gave my friends and me a new language of self-expression. We looked up to both Vijayalakshmi (Lisa Haydon) and Rani (Kangna Ranaut) despite them being women poles apart.
In Vijay, we found the cheerleaders we meet in bathrooms of nightclubs, whom we depend upon, if just for a minute, for boosting our confidence drowned in tequila. In Rani, we saw the ruffled, yet resolute women who refuse to bow down to society’s prescriptions of morality and build their own roads to freedom. Somewhat similar were Aditi (Kalki Koechlin) and Naina (Deepika Padukone) in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani– separated at the poles, conjoined at the equator. Both Queen and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani inspired my girls and me to plan a trip to both Paris and Manali from the respective films. Needless to say, those plans are still underway.
Gone are the days when the audience took pleasure in catfights on-screen and cold wars off it. The present is female, and we’re all for women supporting women now. Bollywood would do well to back more such films centered around female friendships. The box office and audiences, both seem to enjoy them.
The views expressed are the author’s own.
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