They should just call it ‘Phantom Dread’

*Spoilers for the American film Phantom Thread from 2017*

In Phantom Thread, a raging misogynist buckles under the claustrophobia of the oppressive system meant to protect him. Like all men in power, he’d rather lose control over his life than give up his power; he’d rather suffer punishment than treat others equally than choose to bring down the hegemony that made him deserving of punishment.

The world of Reynolds Woodcock, a 19th-century master dressmaker, runs on the productivity and professionalism of women. The workers use a back entrance, are on time and deliver superior quality work every time. Reynolds’ sister Cyril serves as a manager/show runner of this factory/house. Reynolds is portrayed as the talent; he designs great dresses. And as we have seen with portrayals of great men, he needs a specific set of circumstances to unfold like clockwork around him to achieve this “genius.” He is cold, arrogant, and ignorant of the feelings of those around him.

While on a trip to the country, Reynolds falls for the first sprightly, soulful woman (Alma) he meets. With Alma reciprocating his feelings with intense curiosity and the hope of youth, they quickly become lovers. His routine is winded, but Alma’s youthful cheer and unflinching loyalty to his work make her irresistible to him. Eventually, they fall apart, but she is not done with him. She draws him out, and she reins him in. Completely given over, he is happy again, around the arms of a woman who knows to control him, but permits him to live in his hegemonic structure. She even fantasizes of him as a changed man with whom she has a happy future; but for now, she will settle for controlling him using his need for punishment.

Thanks to the attention to detail in the film’s plot and making,  Phantom Thread turns into a sublime inversion of the classic drama of the male hero’s will and his unattainable conquest. It is a cynical and satirical work overall, but it falls prey to conventional male-film making in the saddest of ways– throughout its narration, the film has a backdoor of sympathy to its misogynistic male protagonist.

Sympathetic portrayals of men show us more than they intend to. When done as exquisitely as this, they showcase the structure of the world around them that enables their menace. 

The women who work for Reynolds respect and treat him with undeserved kindness. He has abused this kindness for long, failing to make friends with them, despite their kindness. When he first meets Alma, he intrusive and oppressive; she flinches, but is more bemused than bothered by it.  He warms up to her quickly, telling her all his vulnerabilities on their first date. His face is filled with the joy of a younger man falling in love, or a weary, lonely man unbeknownst an ally. 

Alma and Cyril belong to different classes. Reynolds benefits of it, so unquestioningly enables it. Alma seamlessly forms allies with the workers at the house of Woodcock. Cyril jolts every time she realizes the increasing control Alma has over Reynolds. I cannot tell if Cyril is a caricature or not. She is, as many other reviews call her, Mrs Danvers-esque. Is this a male filmmakers nod to Hitchcock? Is it a misogynist’s need to show that women also cause problems for women?

The quest for liberation is supposed to act as a great leveler. One class of women cannot be liberated while others are not. And this vicious cycle is starkly exposed in Phantom Thread. We watch as Reynolds follows Cyril’s word with all his relationships in society. We learn that she enables his ignorance as long they can use his hegemony to maintain their status quo. We ignore the parts that show liberated women of the upper class using the hegemony of men to assert their superiority over the women of lower classes. We accept that women with class privilege are forever at the behest of men.

As such, Reynolds does not understand much of anything, let alone the intersectional nature of liberation. He gets confused and agitated over the contradicting claims of Alma and Cyril over him. All he knows is that only these women can protect him. And so, he follows them. 

Phantom Thread is yet another (unnecessary?) tale of the crippling effect oppression has on the oppressor. It attempts to tell us about how men hold on to misogyny, living with the trepidation of a swift and unforgiving reckoning. As things stand in the film, it is  slow and demanding. Is one worse than the other? I am not sure it matters.

Mard ka Sar: Getting Man Head

When I watched Kuch Kuch Hota Hai as a young, impressionable cis-female tween, I learned several things:

1. Girls can love boys and have their hearts broken.

Kajol sad

2. Girls can love boys and not have their hearts broken.

Rani Happy

3. The right man will love you when you finally stuff yourself with femininity and other gender attributes.

As with Anjali:

   

And with Tina:

4. Thoughtlessly leaving people at the altar is the best way to show how in love you are.

5. Even if you are 100% doucheface man, if you get a woman to love you, you will be 100% fine and societally accepted. Karmic romantic redemption is not a necessity for men.

 

Doucheface Man

 

6. College is basically wearing colourful clothes and hanging out everywhere, watching 2-3 people live their lives.

(No picture necessary)

7. “Pyaar dosti hai”: Love is friendship

Pyaar Dosti Hai

8. “Ek mard ka sir sirf teen auraton ke saamne jhukta hai. Ek apni ma ke saamne, ek durga ma ke saamne aur…”: A man bows his head only in front of three women – in front of his own mother, in front of Goddess Durga

 

But also:

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, tum nahin samjhoge. 

 

Pictures with text from: http://perilsofbeing.tumblr.com/post/19027506016/bollywood-recap-kuch-kuch-hota-hai

Ki and Ka: Missus and Mister, misses the point

by Uma Kaushik

In the 21st century, Director Balki, in the insufferable ‘Ki & Ka’, (how can you take a movie with a title like that seriously??!!) redefines the Indian Wife:

“She who sits at home, while her husband goes out to work, she who sweeps, mops and dusts, she who cooks and cleans, she who sticks out her hands and asks for money from the earning spouse, she who has no ambition or drive …
She is the Adarsh Biwi!”

So we meet Ki, (Kareena Kapoor, gorgeous, but trying too hard!) ambitious career woman. (please note that if you are a working girl, Director Balki believes that you can’t cook or keep a clean home – remember, only devoted housewives can do such stuff?!)

Enter Arjun Kapoor, IIM-B topper (because it’s very important for us to know that he is doing nothing with his life, despite being, ahem, a ‘topper’, out of choice!), flabby and cutely unfit (because Bollywood only expect its heroines to be unreasonably fit & fab – what double standards!) whose only ambition in life, is to be a housewife, like his mother!

What is left unanswered is, what the hell the dude, the son of one of the richest men in Delhi, has been doing till then??!!

After some ridiculous scenes, including Kabir’s Dad, asking his son to check inside his underwear, to confirm that he is a man, Ki & Ka (cringe, cringe!) get married.

The optimist in me hoped that now we could settle down to watch a decent, sensitive portrayal, of a stay-at-home-husband, who looks after the home front, while his capable spouse, earns their living.

But instead, this is when I had to remind myself that this was a phamily platform & that I could not cuss & use foul language …

Ki puts the mangalsutra around Ka’s neck, because the non-earning, dependent partner, becomes the wife, who wears the mangalsutra (our stud wears it bracelet ishtyle, on his wrist!) & he/she, who sports the mangalsutra, dons the kitchen apron …

So Ka begins his morning, sweeping the house, cleaning the living room, making coffee, churning out gourmet breakfasts & dinners, goes grocery shopping, attends kitty parties (because he is a ‘wife’ and apparently wives don’t have friends of their own!) & sticks out his hands to demand money for running the house!

Half-way through the movie, the realization dawns on me, that I am not a good wife. The only broom I would ever hold, is when my wish to become a witch is finally granted & I fly away on it!

I think gratefully of my ‘Ka’, who before starting a long day at work, gently closes the door, to allow me to sleep a little longer, puts on the kettle, gets coffee ready & sometimes, even loads the dishwasher, before quietly leaving for work. I hope Balki is not reading this, because he will have a heart attack!!!

The movie, through the kitty party circuit and ladies in apartments, make housewives look fat, frumpy & irrelevant!

Talk of lost opportunities. What could have been an uplifting story of changing roles and blurring those rigid lines, of the husband being the bread winner & the wife being the home maker, gets reduced to a parody, where the man, to assume responsibility of the house, while his wife goes to work, has to wear a mangalsutra, touch his mother-in-law’s feet, sweep & dust and hang out with only females!

My recommendation? Save yourself some money & time & avoid ‘K & K’. Instead, treat yourself to an outing with your spouse/partner/friend, because my dear friends, most of us are leading lives, with far more interesting stories & way more Kickass & Kooler ( ‘Ki & Ko’!!!) than ‘Ki & Ka’!

 

Uma Kaushik writes of movies and culture, smells of life and laughter. 

Six Tamil ‘Heroine-Introduction’ songs actually about the ‘Heroine’

It’s Women’s Day! Yay! Okay, that’s all the enthusiasm I can manage, without making this about me and my complex emotions.

 

Chinna Chinna Aasai

I am not saying this happens all the time, but many times, women are not singing about themselves, in cinema. Often, they are singing about men, or maybe about waiting for love, or romance, often used as props for the male protagonists in the film. So, to celebrate Women’s Day, we thought we’d put together a list of Tamil film heroines who just want to sing about themselves, à la En Peru Padaiyappa; Naan adicha thaangamaate;  My name is Billa ; Maari; Vethala pota shokile

Here’s a great, definitive sample, Thalaivar himself:

To make it into the list, we wanted the song to pass the following test: Does it, introduce the female protagonist, describe her character, her life, her dreams, her ideologies, the way many ‘hero-introduction songs’ describe male protagonists? Here’s what we have.

  1. Megam Karukuthu, Khushi 

This song gave me the idea, for this list. The director of Khushi, infamous SJ Suryah once said during a promotional interview for this movie, that he wanted his heroine to ‘dance like Amitabh Bachchan’ in a song, and that was what led to this song being what it is. Unabashed,  optimistic, the protagonist sings of herself, her beauty, her will, and her strength.

Excerpt:

Kaatrai Pol Enakkumkooda Sirahondrum Kidaiyaathu
Tharai Mela Sellumpothu Sirai Seiya Mudiyaathu

Loosely translates to: “Like the wind, I don’t really have wings, when you move on the ground, there is no prison”

2. Chinna Chinna Aasai, Roja

Roja takes about 2 or 3 minutes to tell you that the protagonist, Roja, is spirited, ambitious; light-hearted, but determined.

Excerpt:

Maegangalai Ellaam, Thottuvida Aasai
Sogangalai Ellaam, Vittuvida Aasai
Kaarkuzhalil Ulagai, Kattivida Aasai

Loosely translates to: “I want to touch the clouds, I want to leave my sorrows behind, I want to bind the world with my long black braid”

3. Maargazhi Poove, May Maadham

In one light A.R.Rahman-powered breeze, Maargazhi Poove tells us the story of Sandhya, the female protagonist of May Maadham. With a distinct theme of loneliness, the song speaks of Sandhya’s yearning for a sense of belonging, longing for a sense of adventure, and her unease at living a protected life.

Excerpt:

Vazhkayil Orupaathi Naan Endru Vasipaen
Vazhkayil Marupaathi Naan Endru Rasipaen
Katriloru Maegam Polae Naan Endrum Mithapaen

Loosely translates to “I will live as half of my life, and the other half, I will enjoy, as myself, I will float in the wind as a cloud”.

4. Konjum Mainaakale, Kandukonden Kandukonden

Meenakshi, one of two protagonists of Rajiv Menon’s Kandukonden Kandukonden, sings of herself and her dreams in Konjum Mainaakale, describing her strong, stubborn, generous self, her intrepid desire for life, her abundant optimism.

Excerpt:

Indrae Varavaendum En Deepaavali Pandigai
Naalai Verum Kanavu, Adhil Naan Yen Nambanum
Naam Nattadhum Roja Indrae Pookkanum

Loosely translates to: “My Deepavali should be celebrated today.  Why should I believe in tomorrow, it is just a dream. My roses should bloom as soon as I sow them.”

5. En jannal Vandha Kaatre, Theeradha Vilaiyaatu Pillai

The song, believe it or not, is from Theeradha Vilaiyaatu Pillai (link to plot summary), and it introduces the male protagonist, as well as the three female leads, describing each of their personalities. It is incredible to me that I found this song in this misogynist movie. Incredible, but interesting.

6. Paadariyen Padippariyen, Sindhu Bhairavi

Set to introduce Sindhu, one of the two female protagonists of Sindhu Bhairavi, Paadariyen describes Sindhu’s personality, her perspective, registers her as a strong-willed, intelligent, immersive, compulsive person. Sindhu sings of herself, of what she believes in; with wit, humour, and unmistakable chutzpah- an attribute the character displays throughout the film.

Excerpt:

Aettula ezhudhavilla ezhudhivechchup pazhakkamilla
elakkanam padikkavilla thalaganamum enakku illa

Loosely translates to “I didn’t write this down, I didn’t study grammar, I am not headstrong”.

If you think of other songs that fit our criteria, or would like to create a list of your own, with entirely different criteria, write in, on genderallycinema@gmail.com, or leave a comment here!