I recently watched Bollywood rom-com Tanu Weds Manu Returns (TWMR), and one thing that kept on niggling at me was about what happened to Komal, the girl kidnapped half way through the movie.
Komal is the sister of Jassi, protagonist Manu’s best friend, and the love interest of Manu’s other friend Pappi.
In the film TWMR, we find out that is getting married and the impression portrayed by Pappi is that this is against her wishes. We don’t actually meet Komal in the film until halfway through, when Pappi has finally convinced Manu to make the trek to Jassi’s city, and Pappi speaks to Komal. At this point in the film, Komal’s wedding festivities are in full swing.
Upon talking to Komal, Pappi (and we) find out that actually Komal is very happy with this marriage and never had any intentions of marrying Pappi.
Hereupon ensues a hilarious exchange between the incensed and dumbfounded Pappi and incredulous Komal, in which Pappi calls Komal out for misleading her with all the late night correspondence on Whatsapp and what not.
Where this story arc takes a sinister turn is when Pappi decides to kidnap Komal as ‘she obviously has no idea what she wants’ and ‘he won’t take no for an answer’. What a silly mare, of course us dippy little girls don’t know what we want. Thank goodness for all the more intelligent and mature men out there to help us out.
So, a girl has been kidnapped against her will and no one bats an eyelid. Not Kusum, who despite her rural upbringing, purports to be a strong and independent woman, nor Manu, who is a qualified doctor from a well-to-do family and lives in London. In fact, instead of opposing such a thing, they help Pappi kidnap here. Instead of Kusum displaying her famous karate chop move on Pappi for being such a brat and not accepting that no means no, she renders Komal unconscious.
Then, even more incredulously, once she is brought to Kusum’s village, she vanishes for the rest of the movie, only to appear at the end credits, where she is seen to be calmly conversing with another wedding guest as if nothing has happened and that she didn’t just miss her OWN wedding. The mind boggles.
This utter disregard for women in what is supposed to be a light rom-com is an indication of the utter disregard and lack of respect given to women in India on an everyday and casual level, and which extends to Bollywood.
The extreme results of such disregard and lack of respect can be seen with the high levels of danger women face everyday in India, and which has been evidenced by the extreme cases of violence against women that have occurred over the past few years.
Bollywood should feel a moral duty to not portray women as the casual property of men who will do as they will with them regardless of the wishes of women.
Casual portrayals such as this validate the thought processes of those men who truly do not know better – and as evidenced by real life events – these men can be found in plentiful supply across India (especially in its rural towns and villages).
Furthermore, if this has been an important story arc or plot twist, it should have been handled more responsibly, as sadly, these kinds of things do still occur much too regularly across India.
We should have seen Komal take a stand for her rights and wishes, we should have seen her chastise Pappi more forcefully, and we should even have seen Komal call the police when Pappi did not back down, and kidnapped her.
In this way, Komal is not just a movie character, but she is a mirror image of all those girls in India who are stripped of their freedom to choose, on a daily basis. Be that may their freedom to choose a life partner, their freedom to say no, their freedom to live their life on their own terms, and also the right to be treated equally, and with respect, as a fellow human being.
India is not alone in treating women like livestock – it is all too common around the world. However, it is not something to be glorified or casually dismissed by those who have a responsibility and a moral duty to portray women in a better, more equal light.
Because, ultimately, Bollywood is not only an entertainer, but also an educator. Whether it likes to acknowledge this or not, it is a fact.
Not completing that story arc and instead casually dumping Komal back in the movie in the end credits is a disservice to every girl and woman in India who is plucking up or has plucked up the courage to pursue her dreams and her right to choose, whether that be the man she will marry, continue her education, or to take on a job.
It is also a discouragement to all those girls and women who are currently in the process of gathering their courage to take their lives into their own hands.
We should not confuse what is the portrayal of the reality of what happens to women, with the casual acceptance and thus irresponsible validation of the treatment, or as is the case, the mistreatment of women.
Finally, perhaps what is the saddest thing of all is that as it stands, this turn of events served no purpose other than to provide a few cheap laughs, which the film actually did not need, as it does well on its own.