Ms. Representation: Beautiful Beasts
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema, and this week it's about Anushka Sharma and her roles in NH10, Phillauri and Pari
When she first produced and starred in NH10 I wondered if it were a one-time thing. And then my suspicions and interests peaked and were piqued, respectively, when she did Phillauri. And now with Pari it’s confirmed. There’s something about the borderline morbid, living on the edge, and most of all, morality, that seems to draw Anushka Sharma like a spirit to a tamarind tree.
From blood-curdling revenge to literal blood-sucking spirit-human, she’s out to haunt us with her films, and I can’t help but think of, and feel happy for, how much fun she must be having. With the jokes about the films she’s been sharing on Instagram (like the hilariously scary I love you too that Pari mouths that she posted on Valentine’s Day) and the jokes in the film itself, Pari is the latest in that weirdo Anushka space that is delightful and that almost no one else is going to, in Bollywood right now, so far as writing for women is concerned.
And it almost feels like a logical progression if you think about it. NH10 had blood, gore and thrills. Phillauri had ethical questions and a ‘nice ghost’. In Pari, all three come together – well sort of. Because she isn’t a ghost. She is very much alive. Throbbing with feelings – fear, grief, hunger, rage, lust, and most importantly, love. You don’t know until the end if Pari is scared or scary. She is both, of course, but which is more and which isn’t, you never know. The film had a Japanese Anime vibe, with the fantastical casually parked smack gob in the middle of the ordinary. Switching from one to another as if it were just all normal. Another Japanese fiction influence was the adjacency of the morbid and fearful with the tender and the loving. Of beautiful beasts.
Things that stand out, for me, among the films she’s co-produced and starred in, are the fact that she is out, straight and centre, of course, and then there’s the deliberate role-reversal. She is out taking revenge in NH10 for her husband’s murder, she’s sitting on a platform and smoking as whistles fly in the cinemas. The men in these movies are one step behind, or trying to play catch up with her. Even in Phillauri, nobody knows that she’s the writer. She’s quietly subverting and challenging the status quo in her own way in each of these films. Both within the script and outside of it. That’s the most exciting thing about her films. And there’s a business model in there for actors, especially women, tired of waiting for someone to write good roles for them.