Ms Representation: Was Yes Boss a #Metoo movie?
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author talks about the 1997 Bollywood film, Yes Boss
The short answer to this is, of course, yes. The long answer, however, is what this column is about. When someone asked the other day, “Is Yes Boss a #MeToo movie?” My first reaction was, “Not really, or is it?” I had forgotten the plot, or was misremembering it, or the film was from so long ago that I hadn’t processed what it was actually about. Or perhaps it was a mix of all three. However, I tip my hat to Apurva B, who was sure that it was, and put the thought in my head for this piece.
So this weekend, I settled into my couch and turned to YouTube for an evening of Yes Boss (The film, incidentally, draws heavy ‘inspiration’ from For Love or Money, starring Michael J Fox). Sure enough, there was Aditya Pancholi (who has been accused of sexually assaulting two women over the course of the years) as Siddharth, the Weinstein-esque boss of an ad agency. He has staff and lawyers taking care of his 'affairs' so they don’t get messy–by that, of course, I mean, his rich wife whose money he’s enjoying does not find out he's cheating on her, though she never really trusts him and warns him directly of pulling the plug on his lavish lifestyle (possibly leaving him too) should he cheat.
There’s Rahul played by Shah Rukh Khan. He is no ally; he is covering up Siddharth's tracks because his boss is his ticket to becoming big. (There's that world famous song where he says this is all I want lord, and asks for the world–bas itna sa khwab hai). There is his 'Ma' of course. She is unwell and he needs money to get her back on track. It is entirely to SRK's credit that Rahul is somewhat likable even if he’s just doing unconscionable things through the film.
Then there’s the charming Seema (Juhi Chawla), a model who wants to live big too. And is swayed by Siddharth’s over-the-top gestures and believes he actually loves her, while he’s simply waiting to get her to bed and then dump her. Siddharth usually lies and manipulates women using his power and money and gets what he wants, while with Seema that does not seem to work.
Seema is interesting. She says she will not wear a bikini for an ad shoot and simply stands her guard. She is her own champion but Siddharth won’t let her be one. He walks in, all hero-like, a lone spotlight shining on him, giving the director an earful, saying she shouldn’t have to wear what she doesn’t want. Trying to become her knight in shining armour and asking her to turn up the next day for shoot. (Turns out the entire idea for this creepy drama is Rahul's. As are all the gifts the women in Siddharth’s life are receiving. Is it because Rahul is a great gift selector like me, or is it because there is a bit of Siddharth in Rahul… Questions, questions.) Anyway, Seema again wins round two by saying she can’t make it the next day, and when pressed for a reason she simply says, “It’s personal.” Neither man understands the concept of a woman’s personal space, as expected, and the duo land up to overwhelm her for her birthday, which is the next day.
When Siddharth is unable to have his way with Seema, his lawyer suggests an outdoor shoot. Now this bit in the film reminded me of a talk actor Tisca Chopra gave. She talks in this ‘storytelling’ session (which is on YouTube) of a director whom she does not name but calls a 'reptile'. He offers her a role, she takes it and then people warn her that he expects actresses to be his 'pet squeeze' for the duration of the film. She's wary, but continues working. Until, the 'dreaded' outdoor shoot. “I was petrified,” she says and adds, “Sure enough I was in the same hotel, on the same floor, in adjacent rooms.” This is pretty much what Siddharth does to Seema in Switzerland. Eventually, all plans fail and Siddharth forces himself upon Seema and she refuses, and then there’s a funny fight and all's well.
In a straightforward narrative, this would make Rahul and Seema the nice guys, but Yes boss is a universe where scams are arranged in a pyramid. The worst of the lot of is Siddharth, who does the horrible things, then there's Rahul, who knows all of it and aids him in his 'pursuits', there's Seema, who pretends to be Rahul's wife in front of Siddharth's wife and Rahul's mother (even though both men emotionally con and abuse her into doing it), and then there’s Rahul's mother, who finds out everything in the end, and says to Seema, “You have nothing to be ashamed of because you had ambitions just as my son did. Why should you just because you’re a woman?” She turns out to be the most feminist of them all (a feminist who asks her daughter in law to keep karva chauth albeit). And at the bottom of this sorry, but upbeat and colorful universe, after the sundry villains and side characters, is Siddharth's wife. Poor thing never finds out about his horrible ‘affairs'.