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Final Blog Post AB Troen: What happens when you have a female Bollywood Protagonist

AISHAIn looking for a film to write the final Blog post about, I was hoping to find two things. Firstly I wanted to watch a movie that would follow the main story-structure and aesthetic conventions of the films viewed this semester, so that I could apply what I had learned to the analysis. But at the same time I was curious to watch and analyze a contemporary Bollywood film that would break with the conventions I had learned about or reflect on them in a way that would show them in a new light. For although Dil Chahta Hai, Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om are ceniphillic pieces that make reference and pay homage to classic Bollywood – they do not make any dramatic alterations in the story’s development, point of view of the protagonist or the film’s message. When I saw the trailer for Aisha I knew I had found my film. 
For unlike all the films viewed this semester – this is a film told through a female protagonist’s point of view.

Aisha is based on Jane Austen’s “Emma” or a remake of the Hollywood film Clueless (or both – depending which review you read) – and it follows protagonist Aisha, an upper-class Delhi young woman who tries to fix her friends up as a matchmaker, fails, looses her friends – “…learns a thing or two about love…” – and wins them back in time for the entire cast to get married in a classic Bollywood concluding wedding scene.

The fact that Aisha tries to control her friend’s love life is significant since the role of matchmaking, or arranging marriages in Classic Bollywood is often the parent’s role – the parents’ consent to the engagement is crucial for the couple’s happiness. And although this notion has been challenged in some of the more contemporary films viewed this semester – for instance in Dil Chahta Hai where the main male characters fall in love (and do so all the time)– ultimately the parents have the final say in their children’s choice of partner: Sid is told off by his mother for loving an older woman and Akash needs Shalini’s godparents’ approval in order to marry her. Aisha redefines love in a more western way – breaking the notion of arranged marriages and even ridiculing it. This is spelled out blatantly when Aisha’s friend Shefali, who comes from a lower class and rural background, explains that she has come to Delhi from her hometown in order to find a husband. (12 minutes on the timeline) she explains that in her hometown everyone is pressing on her to marry – so she has come to the big city to be wed. Aisha raises her eyebrows at the rural friend’s approach and offers to take control – and be responsible for finding her a match. This is when the moral universe is disrupted – by Aisha’s hubris, her attempt to control love. Her attempts to control love only harm Shefali and push her away from finding a good match.  
Oddly enough for such a modern film, the only one who can help Aisha realize her mistake – is – her father. He explains to her that love is not something one can control. And when Aisha tells him she is in love with a man who may not love her – he explains that
(I hr 50 minutes on the timeline):
“It’s very important to express your feelings… Get up my brave girl – go and tell him!…”

Viewing other more recent Bollywood films shows that Aisha is not unique in scenes such as this, as the supportive father who believes in true love – exists even in films made 15 years ago, such as DDLJ.  The dialogue is almost the same word for word in the scene where Raj’s father tells his son not give up on Simrin. Only in Aisha – “My Brave Boy” has been transformed into “My Brave Girl.” So, while Aisha’s proactive approach to communicate her love at the end breaks away from the shackles of patriarchy, the fact that her mother is absent, and only her father could order her to be “brave” reaffirms these classic family structures and values.

Similarly, when Aisha conveys the film’s modern message in her final – female – voice over “Love cannot be controlled… You cannot assert it on anyone…” it is played over the visuals of a classic Bollywood wedding.

Even though we see an interesting portrayal of female agency in the social realm of India’s elite – (an element found absent in most Bollywood films) and even though the film celebrates westernization, modernity and female empowerment the ending remains conventional, reaffirming traditional structural values. So although I enjoyed viewing the way the film broke from conventions, at the same time I could see how many conventions and values were still upheld.



Filed by abtroen at May 9th, 2013 under Uncategorized

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