Why I Enjoyed Two Very Different Movies
August 09, 2023
Barbies

 

I wasn’t planning on Barbenheimer because I don’t blindly follow trending hastags or temporary fads. Plus watching two heavily hyped movies on the same day was not a dare that I wanted to attempt. Most often I watch movies recommended by people I trust or sometimes, because I have enjoyed the book on which it was based (e.g. A Man Called Ove). 

Believe me when I say that I was surprised to find myself taking this picture of myself dressed in pink and enclosed in a box right before entering the screening hall for the Barbie movie, three days after watching Rocky aur Rani ki Prem Kahani. Yet, I can’t deny that I truly enjoyed watching both these movies.

A love story with a twist

The over the top trailer of Rocky aur Rani piqued my interest and when the husband suggested an afternoon show on a slow weekend, I was game. Given my preference for simple romance over murder-thriller-action genres, I have often decided in favor of Korean dramas in the privacy of my living room instead of setting myself up for disappointment from big budget Bollywood musical melodramas. But Rani made good points and Rocky was just plain delightful.

With beautiful lead actors who effortlessly epitomise the characters, elaborate sets that Karan Johar dreams up and loads of hit songs that formed the backdrop of my childhood and youth, what’s not to like. While I still have trouble seeing Shabana Azmi and Jaya Bachhan play grandmothers on screen, it made the film’s messaging about how times have changed more believable.

Without throwing in spoilers, the fun really starts when Rocky and Rani begin to live in each others’ homes prior to their wedding in a bid to bring both families to agree to their union. From the educated elite Bengali household of the Chatterjee’s to the loud, crazy rich Punjabi household led by an astute business woman matriarch, the cast sets the right tone for a showdown between generations.

The best part was that most women do their own thing – Rani is a news anchor, her mother is an English professor and Rocky’s grandmother has single-handedly built the eponymous Dhanlakshmi sweets empire based on her secret recipe for laddoos. Yet, there is still work to be done when it comes to rousing Rocky’s mother and sister from the trappings of their gender and family hierarchy by Rani pointing out the obvious – “one-sided seva (service) is called slavery”. The more radical awakening is for Rocky who needs to see empowered women at close quarters including a more equitable distribution of household chores, and devotion to literature and art as being worthy pursuits regardless of gender.

Some of the gags were laugh-out-loud funny particularly those involving the clueless Ranvir Singh as Rocky, a role built especially for him. Alia Bhat looked amazing in her designer sarees and the bright color palette of the movie retained its glitter despite the seriousness of some of the themes that it tackled.

Should you watch this movie? Yes, that’s ‘obvio’ as Rocky would say.

She’s Barbie, he’s just Ken

Both my daughters watched the Barbie movie before I did and insisted that I watch it too, but with a girlfriend. So I did. And I was glad I did.

The life size pink and purple sparkly Barbieland inhabited by competent and self-sufficient Barbies who do everything perfectly seemed like a feminine Utopia that most women have been dreaming of ever since they grew up from being little girls who played with Barbies. The superfluous Kens, blonde and clingy, who use ‘beach’ as a verb, were a refreshing twist to the dream.

The story follows one Barbie who needs to leave perfect Barbieland and come to the real world to find the cause (and cure) for her imperfection (flat feet and thoughts of death). Ken hitches a ride with her and as Barbie figures out the humans responsible for her condition, Ken learns about patriarchy. 

After a series of funny but illuminating experiences that showcase the absurdity of the real world (which seems more horrendous and ridiculous when juxtaposed against the pink perfection of Barbieland), the movie culminates in a complicated chase that brings both the creator and the corporation that markets Barbie to an unrecognizable Barbieland where the women have become subservient to the Kens and are planning to change the constitution of what is now called Kendom. 

I didn’t buy Barbie dolls for my daughter who didn’t care for the sharp contours of the doll and preferred cuddly beanie babies instead. I didn’t care for Barbie because something about her coloring and impossible dimensions didn’t sit right with me as a Gen X adult woman who lived in the real world.

It wasn’t until I came across this brilliant monologue in the Barbie movie which perfectly echoed my thoughts that I understood the reason for my discomfort.

It’s called cognitive dissonance!

The highlight of the movie is America Ferrera’s monologue which summarizes the gist of a woman’s life where she does everything and still feels worthless.

The movie is a very smart take on how patriarchy has treated women unfairly and makes it difficult for womenfolk to have a level playing field to fulfill their potential. I didn’t expect anything less from Greta Gerwig whose Little Women was an equally impressive contemporary retelling of a classic.

If you haven’t watched the movie yet, go watch it just for this monologue that comes towards the end. If you don’t want to watch the movie, just watch the monologue here.

Both movies in their own way tackle a problem that has a name but not much of a solution – patriarchy. Unless we name it and call it out when we see it, we cannot begin to set things right. Books and movies are the best way to light the spark of recognition and perhaps start a movement!

Photo credit: Photo by Sean Bernstein on Unsplash

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