Ki & Ka or why Bollywood does not quite get it yet

Of course, I had to watch Ki & Ka. After all, it’s being hyped as a movie that breaks gender stereotypes. The first glimpse of its trailer was not promising at all and my antennae quivered with unease. But I didn’t allow the pale cast of thought to meddle with the native hue of my resolution, and off I went, dragging along two other unsuspecting viewers.

But often, as life will show you, obeying quivering antennae makes a lot of sense. The film turned out to be terrible. My two movie buddies hissed at me from either side at regular intervals, and I had to sponsor extra cold coffee and popcorn to buy their silence.

Forget breaking stereotypes, R. Balki’s film enforces and reinforces every stereotype there is. The only difference is that the roles are reversed. So, instead of a woman making fluffy omelettes and plumping up the cushions, it’s the man. And instead of the man rushing to work, it’s the woman (in a suit, of course) working 24/7 and mysteriously making it to CEO from marketing manager in three short steps.

In other words, in the brave, new world of gender equality, nobody has still learnt to fix their own breakfast or make their own bed. The most dangerous convention of all is reiterated — that the earning member “deserves” to have a slave at home. In one really stupid scene, Kareena Kapoor (the working wife) comes home and finds that Arjun Kapoor (the stay-at-home husband) hasn’t fixed dinner yet. She gets mad and demands food immediately. What horrible, parasitical behaviour! Why should it be tolerable simply because it comes from a woman instead of a man?

Gender equality is not about women taking on a range of intolerant and non-empathetic behavioural cues from men and for the latter to become the long-suffering Sati-Savitri clones. It’s about removing stereotypical expectations from people of any gender and expecting that the members of a marriage or partnership will evolve into truly self-sufficient and liberal individuals who share work and play amicably.

Given Balki’s background in advertising, one expected a tiny bit of sophistication and finesse. Instead, he uses a sledgehammer to ram home the same, tired point over and over again. Wear a mangalsutra. Tick. Wake up first to make tea for family. Tick. Fold and put away spouse’s strewn clothes. Tick. Remove tired spouse’s shoes. Tick. For heaven’s sake, he does not even give the stay-at-home husband his own credit card!

And, of course, all the so-called progressiveness centres on the hero-heroine. Bring in the neighbours, and Balki’s gender-sensitive skills suddenly collapse. All homemakers (when female) are fat and frumpy. All homemakers (when female) play cards and attend kitty parties. All homemakers (when female) attend gym to lose weight.

There’s worse. This “gender-sensitive” film has a sexual harassment scene played out in a Delhi bus to showcase the hero’s muscle-flexing skills. To trivialise and commercially exploit something as traumatic as the Nirbhaya rape is bad enough, but to allow the rape and harassment dialogue to regress again to the Stone Age equation of strong-man-rescues-helpless-woman is unforgivable.

The best part of Ki & Ka is Swaroop Sampat, whose lovely face I remember fondly from Shilpa Bindi packets and who plays the balanced, humorous and yet very real kind of person who should have populated the rest of the film as well.

Nobody’s asking for nouvelle vague realism just because it claims to be a gender-sensitive film, but we do demand ordinary, plain vanilla common sense, which is conspicuously absent in this extraordinarily reductionist film.

As you will see from this gem of a device it uses: The husband, who has an MBA degree, is actually shown keeping the housekeeping money (which his wife ritually doles out) in a plastic bag in the freezer. Yes, that’s the level the film’s at.

The writer is Associate Editor with The Hindu and can be contacted at vaishna.r@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 8:26:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/why-bollywood-does-not-quite-get-it-yet/article8479683.ece

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