Laaga Chunari Mein Daag
Full disclosure: I watched Laaga Chunari Mein Daag for two reasons: the cast as a whole—full of people I love/like, and I didn't even remember Hema Malini actually dances in it!—and the specific romantic pairing of Rani Mukherji and Abhishek Bachchan, my favorite jodi ever.
I was originally going to say that it seems unfair to give a film the appositional subtitle Journey of A Woman but then handle one of the components of said journey with merely an extended cameo, especially one that seems significant to the woman herself, but then I realized that de-emphasizing her romantic life frees up resources to tell other parts of her story and, Helen above, isn't it amazing to see a mainstream Bollywood film that doesn't focus on a romantic story despite having young and beautiful protagonists? Everything that Rohan's love offers Vaibhavari, with one notable exception I'll get to in just a second, is also extended many times over by her family, most importantly her sister, who doubles as a best friend complement.
What is beautifully, if mind-bogglingly, not discussed is what marrying Rohan implies about Vaibhavari's not-so-secret life as high-price escort Natasha. Presumably Rohan's presence eliminates the financial necessity from which Natasha sprang; however, Rohan only expresses his hope to become a permanent part of her life, and she accepts him, when he is not needed. It amazes me that there is no sense of Rohan saving Vaihbhavari in any way: she has earned her own money, her family is back on its footing (thanks entirely to her), and she doesn't even seem to be the stereotypical "cold and dead inside" given to pop culture sex workers.
I won't argue that Vaibhavari is thrilled with her life or that she does not desire acceptance by the people she loves, but she takes a lot of joy in the happiness of others and in her own success, particularly proving to her #@&$*! father (Anupam Kher) that she has succeeded in all the functions that he's convinced only sons could perform (various versions of protecting and providing for the family) (and that he himself has failed to do). (Of course, since we all know where Y chromosomes come from, we also know that the family's only-daughter-having situation—Nahiiiiiin!—are also due to him, but never mind.)
That said, and I know it was a lot, I'm not going to pretend this is a perfect movie. About halfway through, I realized that it was so overrun with WTFs that I should have been keeping track. But, at least for me, its list of positives is as significant as its list of negatives. For every idiotic aspect of this film, it does something well...beautifully, thoughtfully, interestingly.
|Oh the irony.|
The title and songs belabor the concept that by choosing (and we could have some interesting discussions about choice and free will in this film) to trade sex for opportunity (not at first a direct exchange for money, interestingly), Vaibhavari is permanently dirtied and lessened—stained. Fortunately, the film doesn't actually act that way outside of those specific texts. And isn't it interesting how there is so much imagery about water and fabric, as though cleaning and purifying and mending are constant hopes? Her mother sews non-stop, obsessively, and both sisters take solace along ghats. In the transformation from Vaibhavari to Natasha, water is also significant, almost as though it's washing way the former and "good" in order to take on the new and "stained."
Kunal Kapoor's character is very unappealing, certainly when we and Shubhavari first meet him. He is gross, self-centered, and rude. Kunal Kapoor, however, is dreeeeamy.
The sisters, these "modern Indian women" (and how much did that slide show of "candids" of Konkona make you want to puke?) are apparently only attractive to high-quality men when they are in Europe. Both sisters get their love on (one the meet-cute and get-to-know-you, the other the final stumble from flirt into luuuuurve) in western locations. I have no idea what to make of that, but it sticks in my craw. But these sisters also navigate the modern world, working its pragmatic concerns and finding success without tearing anyone else down or even having sibling rivalries or that tiresome "girls can't stand each other's triumphs so get mean and cruel" routine (which to be fair I feel I see faaaaar more often in US tv than I do in Indian films). Other "modern Indian women" include the aunties talking about how hot Hrithik Roshan is and flying planes, whom Vivaan is shocked to discover, which is eye-roll-y, but at least the film is stating clearly that it is awesome that women have something approaching sex drives and can fly planes.
Look. Maybe I'm just so biased because of the people in this movie or by its remarkable, non-judgmental stance, but a film that has a heroine, played by my favorite actor, who enters her new life under the protective eye of her favorite movie star just satisfies me at a basic, personal, trivial level.
** My friend Ellie and I like to talk about the "sacrifice porn" aspect of some Bollywood dramas.