Ms Representation: Choice of a woman
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author discusses about the importance of choice
Valentine's week has just passed by, and love is still in the air. Or at least in theatres. And while there’s talk about love, it's hard to avoid chatter about marriage. After all, we live in a society where the latter often precedes the former and is also sometimes considered as a one-size-fits-all miraculous cure for any problem that twenty-somethings have. Even more funnily, female college students are apparently made to take pledges that they will never have a ‘love marriage.’ But I am digressing. Celluloid has always been a major influence on how we love. And in this season of love, I met several interesting women who each brought their take to the 'commitment' debate.
Let me start with Jo March, from Greta Gerwig’s lovely adaptation of the Little Women. A rebel who has continued to be relatable over centuries, Jo March refuses the idea of marriage or companionship. In this film, unlike the book, she chooses to be independent, earning her money out of writing. This is, without a doubt, the ideal ending. The unbridled Jo March, running her way through the independent life she has always wanted. But, one of Jo’s other monologues (from the book) also caught my eye. Confused about what she wants, Jo breaks down saying that she is sick of people thinking that women are just for love, also acknowledging the fact that she is lonely. Does it make her less ‘independent’ if she does choose to have a companion?
This is a confusion that Zoe from Imitiaz Ali’s latest Love Aaj Kal 2 faces. The film might be a disaster, but Zoe’s dilemma is quite relevant. A fire-brand, all Zoe wants to do is get her career going. With separated parents, Zoe is taught the importance of financial independence right from Day 1. To quote Raj (Randeep Hooda), from the film, “All your life, there’ll be one thing you never thought you’ll do. But one fine day you do it. Just like that.” Likewise, she finds love unexpectedly in the form of Veer. And she’s stuck between the two, pondering if love is a compromise.
Here’s where Neena (played by the lovely Shobana) from Varane Avashyamund steps in. A teacher, and a divorcee, Neena has had multiple failed relationships over the years. Walking out of an abusive marriage, she single-handedly raises her daughter Nikitha, another independent woman. For Nikitha, marriage is determined by a checklist. When Neena’s choice to give love another chance, is frowned upon Nikitha’s prospective groom, Neena is unapologetic. “I have not sinned, I just like a man,” she says with an easy smile. She also asks an important question to Nikitha, if she wants her life to be defined by a marriage.
So is being alone, or being non-committal the only indicator of independence? All of these women, and their diverse stories and desires, are connected by one thing: Choice. Their lives were determined by the choices that they made, either to stay with or without someone. And that's the barometer of independence. This is why a story like Suvarna’s from World Famous Lover rankles on various levels. Suvarna is defined by her marriage with a husband who is flirting with another woman. What does she do? She trains herself, acquires a skill. Just when you think there would be a confrontation, Suvarna falls at her husband’s feet, begging him to not ‘desert her and their child’. It isn't her 'choice' to stay with her husband; she has no other option.
When we speak of independent women, let it not just mean them wanting a life of their own. It is about arming women with strength, confidence, and agency, to speak their mind, carve their path and not be judged for it, which includes having a life beyond being the ‘love’ of someone. As Jean-Paul Sartre says, we are our choices. And what could be a better way to empower someone, in love and otherwise, than to let them know that they have a choice?