Monday, August 25, 2008

moments in filmi feminism (the first installment in an occasional series): the restaurant brawl in Chak De! India

When I saw it in the theater a year ago, Chak De! India absolutely blew me away. It was moving, inspiring, funny, and simply fantastic. And feminist. Wowee! This weekend, I rewatched it for the first time, dancing around the living room, yelling at the screen, hooting and hollering...and then during the restaurant scene BAM my joy came to a screeching halt. In the theater, at just about this point in the film, I had somehow sensed intermission was coming, stepped out to the lobby to beat the bathroom rush, and completely missed the girls' brawl with the harassing hooligans. I'd never seen it until Saturday, and it really bothered me. It didn't sit well with my own definition of feminism or with the ethics of the rest of the film.

Here it is, briefly. The girls have just told coach Kabir Khan that they want him out. On his last day of work, he invites them to join him and the staff for lunch. Everyone sits silently at McDonald's, dejected and contemplative. Molly and Mary, the two girls from the northeastern states (Manipur and Mizoram, if I read the official website correctly), go up to the counter, and on their return to their table are again harassed by male onlookers (they've already been leered at outside the training center).

Balbir has had enough

and physically attacks one of the guys.

He shoves back, Mary and Molly join in, and the fight grows to involve all the girls and many boys who were either in the restaurant already or rush in from outside once they see the scale of the fight.


Kabir stops staff Krishnaji and Sukhlal from quieting things down

and only interrupts the fight to caution a boy that to attack from behind is cowardly (and takes another jab at cricket, a running joke in the movie).

A car window is broken, the seating area is trashed,

and Sukhlal is stunned.

Khan says "I told you, Sukhlal. It is spirit, not strength, that makes a team."

The girls gather round and try to stammer out an apology and an invitation to Khan to stay on as coach. He doesn't wait for their formal request and tells them to be on the field early tomorrow morning. Cut to the team walking out of the restaurant and Sukhvinder Singh singing "Chak de! Chak de India!"


Here's what's bugging me. Apart from this scene, Chak De! India is for me a feminist film, unapologetically, boldly, with heart and humor. But women taking on the worst behavior of men and/or male-established/dominated society is not what feminism about. You don't get to attack people because they mistreat you. Of course these jackasses deserved to be punished. Their behavior was harmful and hurtful and unacceptable. I was totally with Balbir when she yelled at them, and I absolutely do not think females must be quiet and just bear whatever sh*t is dished out at them. But vigilante violence isn't really the answer here - in my mind, it's not even an answer (which is one reason I don't always love the 1970s Angry Young Man acrhetype). In a story that highlights personal and professional success by playing by the rules and behaving ethically and with concern for others, it doesn't fit. I'm so disappointed that not only does the movie have the girls engage in this behavior, it also has this outburst of short tempers and violence serve as the bonding moment, the experience that enables the very existence of the team continue. What's the message here? The enemy of my enemy is my friend? We will rise when we beat down others? The people who mistreated us behave like this, so we should too? Violence demonstrates our potential for greatness?

Two other problems. It was a cheap tactic to have the big, angry Punjabi girl lead the physical fight - the writers just let her be a stereotype. (When she lashes out physically again later, on the field against the already violent Argentian team, it makes a lot more sense. It falls within the behaviors established for that set of interactions. I have no problem with that.) Additionally, we aren't shown any consequences for this behavior except the team's sudden show of "spirit" and their subsequent realization that they can work together effectively with Khan leading them. No one from the restaurant calls the police, the team doesn't apologize to the restaurant workers, and no one who caused the mess helps clean up. Kabir, you want a team that beats the crap out of people in broad daylight and then shows no responsibility for what they've done? Great. I don't understand why the coach sees this as the moment that demonstrates the girls cohering into a working team.

Overall, the film shows the girls maturing and learning in wonderful ways throughout the rest of the film. They learn to be colleagues and the best possible versions of their individual selves. They try, they give, they share. It's glorious. But to me this scene falls far short of the nobility in the rest of the movie. When the girls lose control of their brains and give in to physical expression of anger and confusion - no matter how legitimate their anger and confusion may be (very!) - and are then only rewarded for their "team spirit," the film shows human beings benefiting by behaving badly. Boooo. Let's bench that baloney.

What do you think?

Update (August 26, 2008): Indie Quill and 24 Frames Per Second have responded to this question at length on their sites, so don't miss the great ideas and conversations there too.

33 comments:

littletortoise said...

I loved this film, and I have to say, that scene did not bother me in the same way. I guess, having gone through this sort of non-stop leering/eve-teasing when I lived in India, and finding that not responding, looking away, putting my belongings as barriers between my body and searching fingers, none of it seemed to stop the men. What did work was loud comments back or pushing back or stamping down on their feet/shins, using a pin to poke their hands...we did what it took. Believe me, when I saw this scene I was exhilarated. I know, in the western culture, this is jaw-dropping, but then you aren't subjected to the level of denigration that women in India are. I have seen, more and more, this type of feminine vigilantism being praised and rewarded in Indian news media. There is a group of women who dress in pink saris who go around and defend women being harrassed in the same manner (not exactly sure where in India, I read about it a couple months ago). I wonder if it has become a last resort response as nothing else seems to have worked (against eve-teasing, as we call it), and the govt doesn't/can't seem to stop it. Women have to take matters into their own hands.

celluloidrant said...

Beth,

The scene didn't affect me the way it did you. But you make a valid point, I think. It had already been established that the team put up something of a unified front under adversity. That adverse situation Kabir driving them to exhaustion during practice, leading them to demand his exit.

My guess is, Shimit Amin had to work himself out of that corner and picked the most obvious ploy he could think of. I did like some of the specific touches the scene had, such as that the flashpoint was the eve-teasing of the girls from the North East. People from that region are often treated not so well by mainstream Indian society, I can vouch for that.

Nice series, by the way. I wrote on a different feminsist moment a while ago in my post on Nagesh Kukunoor's Dor -- you can read it here.

~r

eliza bennet said...

Violence is never the solution but in the film the characters' common point was that they have been subjected to similar kinds of abuse from men all their lives. Their ganging up on them to fight back (and their current state of mind was not exactly peaceful no?) is not that suprising. And acts a good plot point in the story.

Again of course violence is never the solution but films not always there to give us messages and sometimes they act as an outlet. Why not in this film? Also as far as I'm concerned, women being violent in the film doesn't write the feminist parts off.

As for the caricaturisation of the character from Punjab as understood from that scene, I don't agree. Her introduction was very clear that this is a person with a hot temper and will act without thinking the consequences. That scene wasn't a U turn from the initial clues that were given about her.


This discussion aside, what made me curious is what you have written in the beginning. The fact that you didn't mind skipping a part of a film you liked so far just to avoid a bathroom rush was very interesting to me since it is the first time I hear something like this.

rossywar said...

You make a very good point, but I also didn't react in quite the same way to that scene. I did feel a cathartic joy out of these girls banding together to kick the crap out of these guys, maybe this makes me a bad person, I don't know. "Eve-teasing" is not as bad in the UK as I think it is in India, but even so, getting hollered at (with sometimes very dirty comments) almost constantly in the summer winds me up to a pitch where I would enjoy seeing these guys get a smackdown. Even though normally I abhor and avoid violence. And I can imagine that looking "Asian" (as in East Asian rather than South-east Asian) would make it worse what with the seemingly widespread fetishization of Asian women as submissive sex dolls. (I believe this was set up in the beginning with the introductions to the girls and the harrassment that those two get.)

I always interpret the scene as showing that the girls care about each other and are willing to fight for each other and that this is the kind of "team spirit" Kabir Khan was looking for. I think that the scene where they ask him to resign is more of an "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" type of banding together.

Thinking about the scene you wrote about: the violence is excessive, but I'm afraid that I put it down to filmi indulgence (much like a hero beating up 6 guys at once). Yes, feminism isn't about that and nor is it a particularly helpful representation of empowered women, but at the same time, none of us are saints and I don't think it's necessarily helpful to portray "perfect" women who behave as they should. It's not always a noble fight, the one for equality, and people's behaviours frequently fall far short of nobility.

Anarchivist said...

The only example I can think of offhand is "The Replacements," with Keanu Reeves, but when I saw this, I thought the team-bonds-by-beating-up-others scene was a familiar sports movie trope. In retrospect, you're right, it doesn't fit "Chak De" so well, and your points are well taken. But at the time, I just thought, well, at least here it's got a motivation I can understand...

Banno said...

This is a completely 'seeti-bajao' moment i.e. one designed to get whistles from the audience. The most male chauvinistic men seem to get pleasure out of watching women fight, and get down to their level of bad behaviour. Witness films like 'Khoon Bhari Maang' or 'Pratighaat'.

I personally can't see this as an empowering moment for the girls, but I do agree with rossywar when she says we don't always act nobly all the time. Though I guess your crib is not about the girls losing their temper, but Kabir condoning it, and it being used within the film as a positive moment.

Beth said...

eliza's pragmatic question first: it was one of those moments where you knew getting into a ten-minute line (and the cinema I saw this in has only two bathrooms) was a bad idea. Had I known I was going to miss such an interesting scene, though, I wouldn't have done it. I had figured it was going to be team bonding moment handled in a predictable way. I was wrong.

Also, let me say in plain words in case it's not clear from what I say above: I love this movie dearly. It's one of the most satisfying and uplifting films I've ever seen. My experience with this particular scene lessens my opinion of it a little bit, but overall the film is highly praiseworthy and totally fun.

In response to several people who talk about the Indian context of "eve teasing" - I'm glad you brought this up. I hadn't said anything because my experience in India is so limited, and the experience I do have there is probably mostly quite unrepresentative of what the women in this film experience. At an emotional level, or even a survival level, I can understand wanting to lash out physically at the people who torment you. Rationally, I think rising above that is the best option, but I also know it's not always an option, or does not always seem to be an option, especially if your tormentors do not respond to any other method or message.

This movie, like all good movies, relates to the world it creates and to the society and/or culture(s) from which it comes and for which it is intended. I will try carefully to keep my comments to the former, since in lots of ways I'm not a part of the latter. I'm really grateful to everyone who is commenting about this scene as it resonates with their own experiences in contemporary India!

Also, please feel free to suggest other ideas for this series. Next up are a great article I found in Tehelka and Kajol's tomboy to lady transformation in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.

littletortoise - I'm nodding as I read this. As you say, I really can't imagine what this must be like. I've read about the "gulabi gang" - here's an article http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7068875.stm - and was a little horrified by them too. It's a complicated reaction - part of me shouts HURRAH!, part of me is afraid of any armed gang, part of me wishes there were another way but realizes that sometimes there isn't.

celluloidrant - I loved your piece on Dor and am surprised I didn't comment at the time. Your series that looks at individual moments in film is very interesting and tempts me to revisit those moments in the films I have seen or head specifically towards them in the films I haven't.

I agree with you that the team's reaction against the coach already showed "spirit," whatever that means. Basically I felt that the fight didn't accomplish anything that wasn't already working in the movie - and that it veered off in a direction not in keeping with everything else.

eliza bennet (GREAT name!) - You're right that the girls entered this scene already feeling emotional and maybe even turbulent. And I also agree that this does not write off the feminist message of the rest of the film - it just let it down, in my opinion.

Balbir probably was the most "logical" person to start the fight. I just...wish it had been somebody else (given that it was going to happen). I think it would have been more interesting if, say, one of the quieter or smaller girls had done it.

rossywar - I think you've hit on the most important motivation for including this scene - catharsis. Not only for viewers but also for the team as a whole, sharing in an experience of letting loose the frustrations they've experienced in their lives, both on and off the hockey field, until this point. If it had been up to me, maybe I would have had them dance instead (not in a big picturization - just go out dancing or turn the music on in their locker room or something, like they do later).

I do like your interpretation, that the scene shows the girls caring about each other, and I do think it's effective at that. Finally the girls step outside of themselves a bit and take care of each other, which is really cool.

And yeah, you're right, it is a movie. :)

Anarchivist - Ugh Keanu. Heehee. I tend not to watch sports movies, so I can't comment on the idea of the trope, but I can easily believe it. The thing with sports stories is that there is a built-in context for "beating people up" - THE ATHLETIC COMPETITION. Why bring out into the streets? But on the other hand, it would have been cheesy and highly unrealistic for the women's team to have beaten the men's team, given how many disadvantages they have, and I'm glad the movie didn't indulge in that. Productivity and respect as a team was more important than defeating men at that point (and throughout the film, thankfully).

Banno - Aha! Now I understand! :) I agree with you totally on this one when I think about how women fighting is portrayed in US movies and tv.

And yes, my complaint about this scene is mostly about how the movie condones and rewards the behavior, not that the girls loose their cool. We've all lost our cool, but usually we have to face the consequences.

Aspi said...

I kind of agree with some of the commenters. I wasn't too bothered by it - in fact I found its unsophisticated message a little refreshing. But every kid I've talked to loved this scene so it bears a closer look.

I can't see any other way it could have been played differently though. It was important for the movie to address the jibes women suffer at the hands of men (its a recurring theme in womens sports in India and a notable one). But having them humiliate the men back instead of beating them up would have perpetrated more stereotypes about how women are good at verbal humiliation.

And having the women walk away was not a good option either for more reasons that I can list here.

I think the few regional stereotypes bothered me more than this scene. And that little gay bashing that just had to be thrown in there. (The "coward" in one of SRK's screen cap is better translated as "queer")

Beth said...

Aspi - Ha, unsophisticated. That's one way to put it. You really don't think there are other ways to address men's treatment of women? I see what you're saying about the stereotype of women being adept with verbal torment, but off the top of my head I guess I don't see why that's as bad as (or worse than) violent behavior (of course bearing in mind that words can be terribly hurtful and damaging).

And yes definitely, the regional stereotypes are troubling. I didn't catch "queer" in the subtitles - that's vile too. The way popular Hindi films treat homosexuality is really troubling.

Si said...

I've seen this movie only three times now (once in India, once at home, once in class), and truthfully, that's one of the few scenes in the movie I really enjoy. Of course, I'm the one who almost clocked a guy at the railway station for his inappropriate behavior. In addition, just a couple of weeks before I saw this movie in the theatre, I had been grabbed by a group of boys while I was out walking with friends, and no one but me took it seriously or understood why I was upset. And I ABSOLUTELY regret not shoving the kid who once ran me down with his bicycle because he was too busy making kissing noises at me to steer. So, I could really understand the desire, so often forbidden to women in India, to really reclaim one's space physically. I can see how pent up anger would lead to beating the crap out of a bunch of boys who think they can be sexually aggressive and socially rude without having to face any consequences.

That said, the way the men over-enjoyed this scene in the theatre really bothered me. Much like all the excessive coverage of women's beach volleyball in the Olympics bothered me--it's just an excuse for men to enjoy a little women-on-women action.

Ah, well, we've already discussed my lack of love for this film. Just can't get beyond the stereotypes and cliches.

Nicki said...

I loooove this movie. I agree with you about how you reacted about that scene. I was in the middle. I was stuck between rooting for the girls to why the violence? However, later I learn that it happens a lot in India. I know many Indian women who loved that scene and loved the fact that the guys.

Bollyviewer said...

Agree with littletortoise on what it takes to combat daily harassment [of women] in India. There have been times when I wished I could bash up some of these "teasers" too! Having said that, I agree with you that violence is not the answer since this kind of behaviour is symptomatic of Indian society and reflects the place of women in Indian culture. It can only be changed with education and enlightenment and in any real-life situation I wouldnt condone violence. In a movie though, its truly cathartic and I can identify with the girls' anger and their outburst! Its soooooo good to see the girls bashing up the baddies and coming out on top while their coach supports them. :-)

Chevalier said...

Beth

I came here to this post via IndieQuill. As it does for all the commenters, this scene specially worked for me, and here's why:

You're saying, if I hear you right, that the 'underclass' should not adopt the same means of achieving freedom as the ‘overclass’ has used as a tool of oppression against them. That's right, and valid. However, often when we want to overcome barriers of privilege, which is what feminism is mostly about, the rules are not the same for both classes to begin with, and therefore the rules during the transition to equality will be different. It’s not a level playing field, and in order to make it level, some amount of forcible power distribution is necessary. This is, to use a crude analogy, akin to taxing wealthier people at a higher rate, simply because the implications of withholding power from the overclass are not the same as when you withhold power from an underclass. I think the point that was being made was ‘no one of these 10-20 men will ever messes with any girl again’ – and so they’ve achieved peace of mind for all women w.r.t these men, as opposed to the point being ‘no man ever messes with these 16 girls again’ – which would’ve then been a small pseudo-victory.

Secondly, most straight Indian men exist in a culture where violence is ‘their domain’, their medium of expression, their territory. As Aspi said earlier, these women did not take the traditional ‘approved for women’ medium of expression – verbal abuse, screaming, disengaging, etc. Throughout the movie, these girls were actually co-opting ‘exclusive male domains’ – whether it was sports, or supporting their families, or being publicly feted for achievements, for their individuality, or even, as in this case, a physical, angry reaction to harassment. I found that refreshing – that allowance by a Hindi movie that anger was available to me, a woman, as a legitimate form of expression. I did not have to cower in shame, or use non-physical anger release mechanisms. I could publicly, physically, immediately, level the playing field.

And that was satisfying.

Filmi Girl said...

Such an interesting post! I love the comments, too. So many different takes on a single scene show the different places we watch films from.

It's been a while since I've seen this, but I think my reaction at the time was similar to Bollyviewer's. Because the violence was "filmi" I didn't read it as real violence. Maybe that was a mistake on my part...

Beth said...

Si - As you and others continue to write in on this question, I'm getting more and more comfortable with part of my initial hunch, which was that one's personal experience with harassment would be a pretty big factor in how one interprets and/or reacts to this scene.

I wish I'd seen it in the theater - not only do I think the momentum of the movie and the crowd experience would shape how I saw it, I'm really curious what the crowd reaction was here in Chambana. I have little doubt I would've been disgusted by men getting too into it.

Nicki - I had a really brief flash of rooting for them too - that second Balbir yells at the horrid guys. I think seeing in the theater with a lively audience might have carried me along a little further.

Bollyviewer - As I read your comment, it occurred to me that for whatever reason, part of my issue with this scene is the group violence - it felt like mob mentality. And then that got me wondering what other group bonding experience the writers might have chosen instead, and I don't have an answer for that yet.

Anyway...yeah, it's just a movie, but the rest of it worked for me so well, it was hard to face the part that didn't :)

Chevalier - Thanks for coming by!

I think you hear me right :) I'm really glad you wrote this all out. I had been thinking about this point before I wrote. I think my basic dilemma is that I do not think the rules during transition to equality, as you rightfully call this fight, should be the same - but I'm not comfortable with them being different. Where does that leave things? Yeah. No idea. In that mythical, uttelry perfect world (which I don't think the movie entirely indulges in), the playing field is leveled instantly and at birth, so that right away every child born has a different world than the one we have and the time to make the changes is minimal. I know that can't happen.

To be honest, your second point had not occurred to me at all, and I'm glad you and others are making it. I am absolutely in favor of women taking forms of expression, jobs, physical spaces, etc., that they have been denied access to - but I guess for me the stipulation is that the taking is done with thought and does not violate basic civil rights.

Heh, we should get Munnabhai in Gandhigiri mode to talk with the Chak De team and see what they come up with. I'd love to hear that debate.

Filmi Girl - Isn't that cool? I'm hoping some people from places other than India, Canada, and the US pipe up too (if they haven't already - I think those 3 countries are home to the people whose handles I recognize), so we can add some more experiences into the mix.

As for the "filmi" context, I think I had chucked that out by the time this scene rolled around because the rest of the movie felt pretty un-filmi to me, despite its idealistic finish for the team and for the individuals in it.

Chevalier said...

Ooooh, I like the idea of Munnabhai in Gandhigiri mode talking to the Chak de team. In fact, I always thought Chak De warranted a sequel for sure.

Maybe like an Aliens vs Predators, they could do a Munnabhai 3 + Chak De 2.

Title suggestions? :-)

SpyGirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SpyGirl said...

I agree with Chevalier's first comment on this one. Boys who have a disagreement with other boys will more often than not get into a fistfight with each other and get it over with. Because they can. Because that is accepted, if not condoned. And the only comment is "boys will be boys."

Generally girls don't have the cultural green light to show overt physical agression like boys do. So when girls have a disagreement with other girls, they are much more likely to snipe at each other indirectly and undermine the other
girl by verbal means or by wearing her down mentally. Girls have to be subtle about it. (See Mean Girls, of course. Also, I'm trying to think of several books about this sort of topic which I read a few years ago: I can't remember all of the titles, but one was Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. I also remember one called Good Girl Messages: How Young Women Were Misled by Their Favorite Books, about "good girls" in literature who were always "obeying, enduring, sacrificing", including some big names like Nancy Drew and Jo March. Anyhoo, back to my actual comment.)

So for these Chak De! girls to take on the McDonald's boys physically, allows them to use a power which they already have, but which may have been denied to them by the unwritten rules in society, or which they
themselves may have previously smothered. I don't know that there was necessarily a message to be passed along from the movie to the viewer other than showing the girls' use of that type of power (i.e. the ability to allow themselves to be agressive and physical).

I think probably the only way in the movie to show they had that option was to show them using it. It also emphasizes that these girls have a physical presence, and are physical beings, in a different way even than you see when they are playing hockey. I think my favorite part of the scene is when it's all over and they survey the area, and the camera pans over the girls and they are breathing hard because they have just exerted themselves
by fighting and winning against the boys; you can see and feel their physical exertion, and you can see they've just been using their whole
selves without having to hold anything in or hold anything back.


Also, and I don't know where else to put this comment--all this doesn't make it any more right for them to fight the boys and to leave a big mess*, but just because the fight scene is in the movie, I don't think that people
will necessarily take away from the film (even unconsciously) the message that that is how people should be acting in real life. I think the scene is just there as a record of how something went down in this particular instance.

*Not to mention, to leave a big pile of bruised and injured boys, but let's not forget, the boys didn't run away from the fight. They jumped right in there. And the fight did seem a bit filmi, which made me think they weren't hurt too badly on the whole, so it didn't really bother me that the boys got beaten up.

This is a great discussion, Beth and everyone! I loved this movie, fight scene and all.

Beth said...

Chevalier - Absolutely! Shall we write it? :) Color me hypocritical, but the idea of teenage girls hitting Sanjay Dutt with hockey sticks is totally funny (like in Teesri Manzil!).

There must be a Chak De sequel!

Spy Girl - I dig what you're saying, but I feel like this particular scene, because of its lack of consequences for the team other than that they get their really awesome and helpful coach back AND realize their inner strength AND cohere as a unite, is that it give the girls the same green light to behave the way we criticize boys for doing. "Boys will we boys" - agreed, a totally vile idea and one that has caused a lot of problems in my own culture, for sure - "and now girls will too."

That said, the way girls tend to treat each other, particularly as teenagers, is equally damaging. My own life has more (figurative) scars from my female friends and acquaintances than from males.

As for messages, for me this movie was chock full of messages, so for this scene - and judging by the reactions here, it's a powerful one, and in the story it's certainly an important one in the team's trajectory - to be message-free seems inconsistent (and thus another gripe from me for the filmmakers).

I do agree with you that some of the details in the scene are pretty powerful - as you say, the exertion, the un-girly movements and noises. I just wish the film had had them demonstrate their anger and voices and power in some other way. But even after thinking about this a lot for a few days, I haven't come up with a better way to do that that would have been as generally appealing to the audiences.

Vatsala said...

Very interesting! This could keep us busy for a while.

Just want to clarify the 'queer' part. The coach uses the word 'Chhakka', which means 'Sixer'. Sixers are a kind of score in Cricket. Hence the comment 'There are no sixers in Hockey'. But chhakka also means 'Hijda', often called the 'third gender' in India. Calling a man a Hijda is mocking at his masculinity, hence the meaning 'There are no cowards in Hockey'.
As you might already know, the word Hijda or Chhakka does not directly translate to homosexual. You could google it :)
This doesn't mean that I disagree with you about how popular Hindi films treat homosexuality. And even if this jibe is not about homosexuality, it is about another huge issue, 'Hijdas' and how they are viewed and treated in India and in Indian films.


About the scene itself: I don't know if the writer intended to send out any message by this, he probably just wanted to show how the girls care for each other enough to fight for each other.
But, like everything else in the movie it does send out a message, intended or not. It tells Indian women to unite and fight back. In a country where women are expected to bow their heads and walk away from such situations, dress more modestly to avoid such situations and blamed for being bold and confident, which people believe attract such behaviour from men, it is a great enough message. For the same reason, it would have been difficult to show negative consequences to this fight, don't you think that would send out a wrong message?

In a country like USA, where such harrassment of women is considered inappropriate by the society, there might be other ways to handle it. In India, though most individuals might consider it wrong, the society in general turns a blind eye to it. Some men in particular think this is expected of them and perfectly proper masculine behaviour. Men of every strata of Indian society 'eve-tease' women, the extent they go to might vary depending on their background. It is also not possible to get action taken against every man in your city!

Every Indian woman will have some suppressed rage regarding this issue, as you can see in all the comments here. The want to lash out is so high that I am sure it is quite gratifying to see it on screen. In fact, I have personally seen women reacting like this. In that respect, the movie just shows a filmi version of what happens in reality, not what should happen. I don't think reacting violently is only masculine, I think every living thing reacts physically when posed with threat. So, beating up the men is not taking up their behaviour, but rather, a very basic human reaction to continual humiliation and harrassment.

In the real world, the solution to this is probably education of men and empowerment of women. But until that happens, as scary as it may seem, we are sure to see a continuation and growth of such incidents in India and as a result in the films.

Side note: Have any men left comments on this topic at all? Would be nice to know what they think.

It took me nearly an hour to type the above. I now have a new admiration for you Beth!

Beth said...

This comment came in via email from Bitterlemons (to whom I apologize for the technical difficulties).

I've posted a similar comment on Indiequill as well...to me, that scene is one of the best in the movie...it showed such an effective way to combat the omnipresent street harassment in India. IME, vigilante justice works just fine when other forms of justice do not exist or are not enforced. I feel, feminism in India is in a very initial state now - the state where women have to behave like men to be heard. This stage is somewhat in the past in the U.S. and there are other avenues of expression open to women, but that is not the situation in India, for teh vast majority of women.
You bring up the lack of consequences for the team in terms of not having to pay for the damages or help clean up - to me, that was part of what was empowering! To explain what I mean: the situation could have been controlled at so many levels: the owner of the McD and the workers could have stopped (or tried to stop) the perpetrators of the harassment. The other patrons could have called out the perps. The other patrons could have stopped the fight after Balbir got into it...none of that happenned. The team's violence then, wasn't just against the actual perps, but also against the environment that stood back and let this happen.
To then have them clean up or apologise for their actions makes no sense to me, and I suspect, to most women who feel positively about this scene.
To have Balbir start the fight also made perfect sense in the context of the movie and in the context of the kind of women they were. Most Indian women, including me, are so conditioned to not make a scene, that it would have been very jarring to have anyone else suddenly develop a voice here. Actually, thinking about it, it *might* have worked if Vidya had done so, I think...but I can't really place any of the other girls in that role. As for the violence being too much, or as a seeti-bajao moment (As Banno succintly puts it!) - didn't think so then, but yeah, maybe it was - interestingly, the theatre I saw it in, in Dallas, (Long after it released - the theatre kept it running for a while) noone whistled - there was an approving cheer from most women in the audience :-)
As for "better ways to express their anger" - IMO, there simply isn't one. Not in the Indian context, and not without a major shift in culture and understanding - that sounds pessimistic, but that's what I feel, from experience. That is one reason I REALLY think popular films could make a difference...by modelling appropriate forms of male-female interaction, for example...but that's another topic, and will save it for another time.
Regards,
Bitterlemons

Kanan said...

Hi Beth, awesome topic and loved the post and the comments too.

I loved that scene and actually ended up creating a post on it on my blog.

And now that I think of it, the other messages conveyed by this scene as you mentioned are important but take much lower priority than the issue at hand. This reminds me of those church priests we read about in papers and hear about on the news that get fired for harassment of kids. Now imagine them being beaten up! Who wouldn't like that? That reminds me of the scene from Monsoon Wedding where Shefali Shah's character confronts Rajat Kapoor's character. What a marvelous scene! Such powerful woman she portrays.

Rum said...

I completely agree here beth, what bugged me the most was that balbir was the only punjabi girl there that had to somehow show the punjabi power by lashing out!I nearly felt like throwing a pie at the screen(i love pie) whhyyyyy is it always the punjabis that have to be angry and stereotypically feisty and full of angriness! We aren't all like that but the argentina game freakout was reasonable, But the fact that she was an angry punjabi also with a unibrow, made that scene just ire-inducing from an also angry but unibrow-free punjabi girl like me! ahhhh

mayank said...

The girls beating men part was funny ..But i agree with you..
i don't whether you know about anti-feminists or masculists..these are people who earlier claimed to be feminists but now they are thrown out of their own feminist group..reason is feminism in some places like US/UK and legally in India has crossed its goal of equality..they have went further to declare that women are more superior then men and are working hard to establish that..some of the instances
1>women have acquired what was earlier considered as personality traits of a man yet they remain a real women..but when men has personality traits of women(sensitivity ) he is irrational,beta male,weak and is an object to made fun of.
2>women are considered to be more innocent types and more morally correct every time.
3>wrong portrayal of men as sex crazed simpletons and hence fools..
4>dual standards:when men resort to violence its abuse,but when women do it,its justified and in fact treated as humor..
5>more men die of prostate cancer but you will see awareness ads only for breast cancer..
6> for the same salary women will be taxed less..
7>if a girl accuses me of eve teasing i can't do anything ..i will be dead in urban areas of india..media will bash me even before the judgment me being guilty is given
8>reservations : in school and colleges because you belong to "fairer" sex.

I am not a misogynist..but i believe we are humans and we all have manly and feminine traits within ourselves..people use the expression "the recent feminisation of men" but they never used "the recent masculisation of women"...
we all are drones deep inside and its the social conditioning thats makes us what we are..if am just waiting for a world where men be liberated too ..liberated of what is expected from them..I am just waiting for an era when this gender war will end and we will find ourselves men or women only because of our chromosomes

mayank said...

Indian people have bipolar tendencies you will see extreme here..either the women are abusing women rights or either they themselves getting abused..feminism in India is in initial stages in some places and some societies while on the other hand its extreme in some other places..
indian guys are still mama guys..in most of homes its the women who are running homes actually..while in many others its the opposite..well i can't explain you exactly..Indian men both best(to the extent of placing their woman on pedestal) and worst(to the extent of beating their women for dowry/sex) to women..but indian media is indeed tilted towards women ..because its seems more morally correct..but ask an urban woman and she will tell you indian men are not always bad as the media is always portraying them :D..
peace!

thechasingiamb said...

the problems that you discuss are real of course. Having said that, what I wish I had on film is the audience reaction when I was watching it in a small-ish cinema in East Delhi. All the women in the audience were screaming and yelling and hooting and laughing. Ah how we love to see our fellow men in Delhi get beaten.

Pessimisissimo said...

Beth, I'm coming somewhat late to a great discussion. I don't have much to add, except Chak De! India--a remarkable film in many respects--faithfully follows many of the conventions of established by other sports films: the montages of grueling workouts, the disgraced coach seeking redemption, the underdogs facing the heavy favorites in the Big Game, etc. etc.

From this perspective, the brawl in the fast-food place is another conventional scene. Usually in these kinds of films the taunting is done by rivals, and the team finds itself having to unite to defend its members. As a result of this trial by fire, the fractious individuals coalesce into a team.

I liked the scene, not because I enjoy seeing women fight, but because a) those obnoxious guys were asking for it, b) there's plenty of provocation--doesn't the main mouthpiece shove one of the women?--and c) because in a sports film a brawl is a necessary rite of passage for the creation of a team. It was another way of showing how strong, tough, and resilient these women were.

Beth said...

Ack got lost in some other stuff and have been slow to respond lately. Here we go!

Kanan - Thank you, and I'm glad you shared your thoughts too. I should do a post like this about this movie - it'd be hard to keep it to ten.

Interesting Monsoon Wedding parallel. I'll have to go watch that again. As I recall, what I found most satisfying about that plot line is that she gets other people to believe her by exposing the perpetrator - and he ends up being his own punishment.

Rum - Yeah, that's pretty stinko. I'm not always very attuned to regional stereotypes in US movies and literature; the most common one I notice is how southerners are often depicted as (or assumed to be) racist and/or stupid. Not cool.

Mayank - I'm not sure I quite follow all of what you're saying, but if I understand you correctly, I find the idea of man-bashing pretty harmful (tempting as it may be from time to time). As many commenters have said, and I agree, the playing field for women and men is very, very different, and there are a lot of behaviors and ideas that I don't think quite fall under "double standard" because they're not in fact equal or equitable. Your point #4 is especially applicable here, I think, and that's a bit of what troubles me about this scene.

In a perfect world - which none of us lives in - we could all just be humanists and let go of gender as a basis for making decisions, judging situations, evaluating behavior or speech, etc. I doubt it will ever happen.

And I agree with you that men suffer from stereotypes too - showing emotion makes them weak, expectations of being physically or emotionally tough, etc.

thechasinglamb - I wish you had it on film too, so I could see! :)

Pessimissimo - You're right about the conventions, I have no doubt. I haven't seen a ton of sports movies (that I remember, anyway), and I can see how this scene fits into those. I just wanted something different, I guess, and maybe that was unreasonable/unlikely.

One thing I've just realized that I don't think anyone has brought up yet is whether women acting in ways that could be interpreted as "irrational" or "overly emotional" can just serve as "evidence" to those who think women don't have mental faculties to equal men's. That is, women acting like hooligans - lashing out - "proves" that women cannot be trusted to think and behave calmly, rationally, reasonably. I'm delighted the movie didn't have anyone voice this, of course; I'm wondering if anyone saw it that way. I have sneaking suspicions that this interpretation would be voiced by the bad/mean/villain characters if this were an American movie with American girls beating up a bunch of guys. And male onlookers would wolf-whistle (in the film and in the theater).

Sorry for all the finger-quotes. There's a lot of so-called and might-be-interpreted in this kind of discussion.

Pessimisissimo said...

Beth, be thankful you haven't seen many sports films! I definitely didn't see the fight scene as "women acting irrational." In a male sports film, such a scene wouldn't be given a second thought.

Chak De! India shows athletes who sweat, swear, fight, argue, break up with their selfish partners, and finally band together as a team. That the athletes involved are women is both the point, and something handled in a matter-of fact way. And for me, that's the most remarkable thing about the movie.

fromindiamike.com said...

I agree with you Beth. I think a lot of very good Indian films are ruined by unneccesary throwing in of violence into it. Like Rang De Basanti which was a wonderful film in the first half, lost it in the second half but ending was just awful. Remember DDLJ and shahrukh being beaten up by Kajol's relatives. Good thing, however, that i notice is violence is gradually decreasing quite a bit in to hindi cinema over the years and hopefully will be lot less in coming years.

I also didnt like taking constant jibes at cricket which was silly and not necessary.

Anonymous said...

Hi Beth!

Little late, but here's my two cents:

I have spent three years in Delhi and am sick of the countless times I have been molested, groped or catcalled in public.

And the thing is, whenever I called for help, NO ONE did. Not even other women around.

I guess thats why I loved the scene, the fact that they support each other.

Totally agree with some of the other points, regarding suppressed rage, etc.

Anonymous said...

I also am often dismayed by how violence is the "resolution" in Indian movies. I haven't watched most of the Angry Young Man movies for that reason, and have thought a fair amount about what it is that seems to make it psychologically impossible for characters to be angry, contain it, and struggle something out in some other way.

But: I am one more person who responded entirely positively to this scene in this movie - as I wrote somewhere else, it's the only time in my life, in fact, that I can remember when I was entirely exhilarated by a movie fight.

Something that is clear as day to me is this, you do not deal with real abuse, by reason or talk - it has no effect. Abuse comes from a power stance, not an interactive stance. And the abuse of women in the way shown here, commonplace in India and only recently not commonplace in the US (I am old enough to remember it), is unquestionably force-backed: putting aside the reasons why they (or anybody) want to do so, the men who behave this way do so because they are in general bigger and stronger than women, and when they are doing this they are exploiting exactly that fact - they know that you know that they can kill you if they want to.

That I think is a main reason why the women banding together to beat them up is so "positive." Because it dramatizes the fact that a group of women - women who are strong intentionally, too -- can at least sometimes be strong enough to contain [in the military sense] a man or men: it dramatizes the potential force, and as many have commented it dramatizes the power of women joining together.

And Bitterlemons noted something I was thinking about too - we don't need to be sentimental about the environment getting damaged, because the environment did not provide any protection at all. It's like feeling sorry for poor Mom who looked out the window while Dad beat you up.

And - I was also aware when I saw it that I have almost never seen women in Hindi movies do anything at all to help each other.

VIRGINIA
.

dolphin said...

i think this makes sense. these things aren't new in India and happen every other day in any city!