So it has raked in over 40 crores in its first 4 days at the box office. And about as many comments on social media. From conservatives who have never seen Indian girls swear and discuss sex on screen before. From feminists who staunchly support the raunchy. From men who say they do. From film critics who want more depth of character and a tighter storyline. From Swara Bhaskar who has criticised Pakistan for banning it. Even from Swara Bhaskar’s mother!
But what is Veere di Wedding really? Is it just a story of four friends meeting after 10 years to reflect on their lives and loves. Is it a social barometer of how life has changed for Indian girls? As an NRI for more than two decades now, mainstream Hindi films have fascinated me with their unerring grasp of how things are changing in India. They are not the only barometer for sure but show me a successful Hindi film and I will show you a grain of truth. Remember the Three Idiots take on the education system? Or Karan Johar’s films encompassing NRI life because every family has one; an NRI I mean. Was Veere Di Wedding going to do for feminism what Yash Chopra’s song sequences did for Switzerland? Was it going to be a trendsetting film that will take Indian heroines from Sati to Sexy? Having seen it — I don’t think so; and to be fair to the filmmaker, Shashanka Ghosh, I don’t think he is trying to say all girls in India are like the quirky quartet in the film. But yes, a very thin sliver of urban ‘westernised’ society in India has first world problems and by depicting those millennial issues he has done a service to feminists and to secular, bold and modern India in general which seems to be reeling against a conservative backlash from Hindutva fanatics.
I use ‘westernised’ in quotes because this is above all an Indian film about Indian girls. It is liberal India getting up and saying — see this is how we think and telling conservative politicians to keep off their lives while using the most choice expletives in Hindi!
Seen in this light, it is a fun, light-hearted film where nothing much happens except a lot of smoking and drinking and foul language. In that sense, the cinematic image of a modern woman in Hindi films hasn’t changed at all — think Saira Banu in the 70s film Purab Aur Pashchim. She wore short skirts and smoked and drank. Ditto for the quirky quartet almost 50 years later. Except that Saira was Pashchim and bad. And now these girls are celebrated as regular girls with regular urges and regular problems. So that is a step forward. Does this also mean the girls are westernised and hence Pashchim is good? Naaa.. it is much more complex than that.
Ostensibly the influence of the west is certainly there. Three of the four girls live outside India. The Kareena character lives in Australia and the Swara Bhaskar character’s brief marriage was to an NRI. The Shikha Talsania character is even married to a Western man. Yet is the girl who lives in India — the Sonam Kapoor character as a divorce lawyer, who is the most successful career girl of them all. So is she liberated, modern and westernised? Not at all. She is coy and hypocritical. She yearns for an arranged match and hides her flings from her mum. I know… she sounds awful, but boy does she look great — in all those western designer clothes! And that just about sums up the complex relationship between being western and Indian for most of the characters and for most young Indians generally, I suspect. Western on the outside, yet Indian within.
This cultural dichotomy goes for all the other characters too. The Swara Bhaskar character would never acknowledge there is anything remotely Indian/conservative about her. She plays the archetypal bad girl who drinks too much, goes out clubbing, hates the gossipy aunts who live around her parents and make them miserable — yet even she cares for her parents in Karan Johar Indian style. In one of the more moving scenes in the film, her anguish is visible when she realises her parents are ashamed of her divorce and have stopped socialising. The West has acknowledged that almost 50% marriages don’t work and has moved on but here neither the parents nor the daughter can do that. Does that make them Western or Indian. Definitely the latter — in the nicest possible way. As for her NRI husband — he may have left India but definitely lives in a cave. Which self-respecting man would divorce his wife because she was unfaithful to him with… a sex toy? One of the weakest links in the film — this guy will only be remembered for having spawned the ultimate gaali — motherlover!
Or take Shikha Talsania who plays the character with a gora husband. She should be properly westernised right? She has cut off her links with her Indian parents, seems to have lived abroad for years but what does she do? Asks the husband to learn Hindi and makes the child (almost two) sleep between them. You cannot get more Indian than that! The big cultural divide in the early parenting years is definitely the child’s sleeping habits. Ask any NRI as they struggle between their Indian instincts to pamper the child and the ‘cruel’ Gina Ford sleep technique.
Even the Kareena Kapoor character has her Indian side fully intact — despite her millennial dithering over marriage and angst-ridden family life. While the family is ‘western ‘ enough to accept a gay lover within the parivar, the other woman is not so welcome. Karishma struggles with her father’s choice of partner after her mother’s death and it is only at the very end after the father has apologised and made up with her that she makes a civilised western gesture to the step mother whose only fault it seemed to me was to have a very shrill laugh 😊 Meanwhile the family has brawled Indian film style over property and explained marriage to the young impressionable bride-to-be as the‘ bedrock and foundation for fights’. Only Indians can say such things and it takes an Indian to understand them.
To sum it up, forget the shrill hyperbole, the western dresses and the pretending to be cool and western– this is a film about Indian girls coping with Indian problems. Pashchim is the party they go to, Purab is the heart and the home!