Notably, three recent women-centric films from Bombay, which created quite a stir, reject marriage and even men, and carve out for the female protagonists a world of their own, free from the dictates of patriarchy. And I am talking about Abhishek Chaubey’s Dedh Ishqiya, Imtiaz Ali’s Highway and the latest blockbuster, Vikas Bahl’s Queen. Even Vinil Mathew’s Hasee toh Phasee gives a remarkable makeover to the conventional Bombay Cinema heroine, and pleasantly surprises by not appropriating her into the hetero-patriarchal structures of family and coupledom, even after marriage. The shrew, in other words, isn’t tamed! Is Bombay Cinema eventually changing for good? Gone are the days of Hum Apke Hain Kaun…! or, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, when brazenly extravagant weddings and uncritical assumption and reinstatement of patriarchy were the norm?
The big fat Indian wedding is still the starting point of all four films I mentioned above (in case of Begum Para, in Dedh Ishqiya, it even begins with a swayambhar), but none of the weddings end in the conventional ‘happily ever after’ mode. All four films unrig the template of marriage-video films which had become a rage in the second half of the 1990s and for a considerable part of the last decade too. Queen takes it a step further, celebrating singlehood over marriage, and the ‘happy ending’ is arrived when Rani (Kangana Ranaut in a disarmingly vivacious role) learns to count the blessings of being single, and plants a symbolic slap on the face of marriage and illusions of happiness promised by it. Queen also comes down hard on the West Delhi bourgeoisie and their way of life: the kitty parties and the parlours, the afternoon naps and shopping, the meaningless lives the women have embraced! Queen is all about freedom, of being a part of the larger world, of embracing everyone, away from the constrictions of a secure home and a normative life. It’s not without reason, therefore, that on the title card the word QUEEN appears in rainbow hues, perhaps underscoring Rani’s ‘queerness’− queerness in the sense that she would finally be able to break free of established structures within which life is usually lived.
Rani could have become suicidal, could have gone into eternal depression, could have become a psycho, could have become a ‘man’-hater; in olden days any of these would have been her fate, had the groom walked out of the marriage only two days before the scheduled date. Typically old-world, coy, docile, and protective of her chastity, Rani surprises everyone by announcing that she would in any case, go for her honeymoon in Paris, a city she had always wanted to visit. Fiercely dependent on a much younger brother, Rani for the first time learns to live life on her own, and on the streets, bars, and hotels of Paris and Amsterdam, she finally discovers her potential to be on her own. Interestingly, she gets to know widely ‘different’ people, from different cultures, with different interests – people she had never imagined existed. As Rani’s worldview widens, she gradually understands that what she had been lamenting for, would have severed her wings of forever. The terribly introvert Rani, who does not let go of her old cardigan even in bridal finery, steps out in a flowing summer dress, and rejects an apparently repentant fiancé in favour of a rock-music concert! Rani arrives, finally. The old cocoa-brown cardigan gone, the winter of her life comes to a symbolic end.
Kangana Ranaut in a near no-makeup look in the first half makes Rani come alive as if she was born to essay this role. In the second half, as she gradually sheds her inhibitions, she gives up on her unfashionable, home-girl image, and emerges bright, sunny and sparkling with energy. Rajkumar Rao does complete justice to the role, bringing to it a giddy mix of the nonchalance of a ruthless fiancé and the caprice of a typical roadside Romeo! Lisa Haydon as Vijay Laxmi goes totally off the cuff, as a carefree room service in a posh Paris hotel, and a siren who takes the dance floor by the storms. As Rani’s roommates, the funky trio of Mish Boyko, Jeffery Chee Eng Ho, and Guithob Joesph, the denizens of the world, up the mercurial fun metre in the second half. And the disarmingly handsome Marco Canadea lends himself to the female gaze! The ensemble cast comprising Rani’s family is devastatingly funny. The Skype chat-scenes are highly recommended.
Humorous and frothy, but slow in parts, Vikas Bahl’s Queen is worth a watch; even after the film ends, the fun continues as the end credits roll alongside Rani’s Facebook timeline that charts out her odyssey, with the relationship status “Single” blinking as if it is an achievement. Actually, Queen is perhaps one of the first Bombay films to celebrate singlehood with such gusto! It’s almost inspirational!
Watch the Trailer, here: