Thursday, December 8, 2016

Queen, directed by Vikas Bahl

India (Hindi), 2013
146 min, comedy, self-exploration, travel
Directed by Vikas Bahl
Starring Kangana Ranaut

When Rani’s fiancée breaks up with her two days before their wedding, she decides to go on the honeymoon by herself. Her first time outside the country, and her first time really alone, gives her the opportunity to explore who she is and what she wants from life.

While in many ways this film draws upon problematic stereotypes of “life in the West,” it still provides a good example of a sheltered young woman steering her own life for the first time.


In Delhi, Rani lives a sheltered and protected life. Her younger brother acts as her chaperone, especially when she meets Vijay, her fiancée. It seems like her match with Vijay was only partially of her own accord: she wanted an arranged marriage, and this marriage seems to be half-arranged. I’m not sure she really considered any alternatives before making the decision, since she just took marriage as a matter of course.

When Vijay dumps her, she is devastated. She curls up in a ball and cries in her room for a whole day. But she emerges with a decision: she was really looking forward to going to Paris, and had even spent all of her life savings on the ticket – so she wants to go. At this point, she still gives her parents the veto decision, but her father realizes that she needs to do this for herself. Hesitantly, they drive her to the airport and send her on an adventure without them.

At first Rani is incredibly overwhelmed, lonely, and just wants to go home, but then she makes friends and begins to enjoy herself. As she does so, she realizes that she doesn’t need a man to have fun or to travel. She also realizes that some of the assumptions she was making about other people were wrong. For example, although she has been taught that all men are scary, she ends up befriending her three male roommates at a hostel in Amsterdam. Over the course of the film, as she continues to try new things, she becomes less afraid and more independent.

The Indian jerk boyfriend

This film directly addresses one of my pet peeves about Indian movies: the valorization of abusive (even stalker!) boyfriends. After Vijay dumps her suddenly, with no thought about her feelings, Rani accidentally sends him a picture. Seeing this selfie, Vijay suddenly realizes that he actually still loves her. He begins calling her repeatedly, and even goes to Paris and then Amsterdam to track her down.

At first, Rani doesn’t know what to do about this. She is angry, but society has taught her that she should forgive him. When he suddenly appears in Amsterdam, she is willing to talk to him privately - even after he tries to beat up one of her new friends in a fit of over-possessive stupidity! Finally, at the end of the film she realizes that his behavior is not acceptable and that he does not deserve her.

I was happy that Rani, unlike many Bollywood heroines, comes to the realization that stalking and over-possessive behavior is not romantic.

Buying into stereotypes of the West

My biggest problem with this film is the incredibly stereotypical depiction of the West. As usual, Rani’s character exploration is accompanied by large amounts of drinking, clubbing, and visiting red light areas (in Amsterdam, of course). Like other films of this genre, it seems like the only way Rani can loosen up is by literally wearing less clothes and drinking. Obviously, this isn’t all that happens in the West – but if you watch Indian movies you would be forgiven for thinking so.

Rani has two potential love interests in Amsterdam, one an Italian restaurant owner and the other one of her roommates. Of the three roommates, the one who catches her eye is the only white person; the others are a black Frenchman and a small Japanese man. The depiction of the Japanese character fits into the racist depiction of Asian men as cute but sexually unattractive; the Black character has barely any speaking lines. It is the hot, emotional, artistic, very white Russian who catches her eye. This reinforces the idea that the only foreigners worth dating or marrying are white people – an idea that is quite prevalent in Indian society.

Despite these rather significant problems, the powerful portrayal of Rani’s voyage of self-discovery makes this movie worth watching. I recommend it as an exploration of how being alone teaches you about who you really are.

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