Simran and Other Bollywood Babes: Coming of age

Even though a slim minority, we are ready to own up to our hidden reality, rather than be the ‘good’ daughter/sister/wife that lives her lives for others rather than her own self, however fragile, flawed and mistaken it may be. It’s time to let us make our own mistakes, and let us pull ourselves out of our own mess, opines Payal, in her regular column, exclusively in Different Truths.

Indian woman as showcased in our movies swings on two extremes – the heroine and the vamp. Even if she starts out as a ‘bad’ girl, true love converts her into the cookie cutter prototype so loved by the masses. 

It’s a pleasure then, to meet the real badass Bollywood babes, who, if not quite real life, at least come close to the portrayal of real-life women in India today. Are we finally ready to ditch the heroine and the vamp, and talk about ourselves the way we really are? Even though a slim minority, we are ready to own up to our hidden reality, rather than be the ‘good’ daughter/sister/wife that lives her lives for others rather than her own self, however fragile, flawed and mistaken it may be. It’s time to let us make our own mistakes, and let us pull ourselves out of our own mess.

Meet Bitti and Praful then – the first two real badass babes of Bollywood. What strikes one is that they behave exactly like men. In that, they have an inborn sense of entitlement that is missing from most women.

Small town girl Bitti Mishra, smokes drinks, abuses, break dances and somewhere within her little world she is rebelling for the right to have an identity and make her own choices, good bad or ugly. Certainly, she knows that she is meant for bigger, better things and no matter how painful and stupid her mistakes may be. She will fight for her right to make them. 

In a conversation with friends, an interesting split happened. Most of the guys felt that ‘Bitti’ does not exist. Especially not in the cloistered and stultifying, one might even say suffocating milieu of a small town. They argued that it is only ‘exposure’ that gives a woman ideas about spreading her wings and finding herself. And cigarettes and alcohol? Certainly, they do not exist, not for women in small towns. Who would they drink with? Where would they hide and smoke? The women, to the last one, were of the opinion that Bittis exist in small towns that they are real, and that aspiration is not necessarily born out of exposure. That it finds itself in the very breath that is choked out because of social attitudes towards women and the expectations therein.

That a woman would have to ‘hide’ and do these things is something all agreed upon. Now, I’m not glorifying either drinking or smoking. But for many young people, these are the easiest expression of ‘coolth’. Of rebelling. Of being a little bit badass, without having to tread a dangerous path. Let me also say, they are perhaps an outward expression of the inner angst against all the rubbish that is imposed by social conditioning. Can there be better ways of expressing that angst? Yes. But nothing easier to cock a snook than lighting up a cigarette or swigging from a bottle being passed around. We all look back to the college days and laugh at ourselves and our need for this expression of ‘cool’ but, look around today, and see nothing much has changed.

But for girls…all this is, and was, even more taboo. And hence the belief that ‘it doesn’t happen in small places’, because you know those places are the repository of Indian values, of decency and morals. Actually, what we think is that a girl is most likely to be killed for these very acts and somewhere in our heads, we believe that women should be ‘above’ it. 

Or perhaps, it takes the manhood out of men to even think that their women might want to express their angst in the same way…

Oh! I know, I know, good men do not drink in front of elders either, and definitely, I have seen men ‘respectfully’ hold a cigarette behind their backs, when an elder steps in. 

But I say hooray. Hooray for a Bitti, who will not be pushed down, stamped out, or fall in line. For what we must acknowledge is that there are many Bittis out there, searching for a voice, searching for an identity, and there will be much more in times to come. We, as a society then, have to change and evolve in a way that lets them express themselves in ways other than cigarettes and booze.

Simran, now. The strange truth that the story is based on a real-life woman, who did exactly do that: hold up banks to get the money she desperately needed. Once again, not a lifestyle choice I’m endorsing. 

Praful is once again an unlikely Bollywood babe. She’s thirty-something, divorced and guess what? She’s come to terms with her divorce and accepts it as simply that, without the ensuing drama. Divorce is a problem for parents in India – perhaps parents everywhere. A daughter without a husband, how on earth is she supposed to survive without a man in her life? Marriage continues to be a safe harbour for most parents, because only then can they be rid of the ‘responsibility’ of a daughter. 

Here are the things we don’t talk about: what is the life of an adult woman who lives in her parent’s home? How ‘normal’ is it that parents don’t feel the need to give privacy and space to adult children, especially grown women? Sex and the single woman? Sacrilege! Forget about it, don’t even go there. The world is always sure about what is right and what is wrong for women. What is ‘allowed’ within the bounds of decency? It’s refreshing to see a woman like Praful who doesn’t give a fig for a social opinion. She does terrible things with her life. She makes mistakes. But she takes ownership for them, and that is unusual.

Now, if Simran was the story of a man, it would be so easily ‘understood’. I kept on thinking, ‘if this was an anti-hero movie we’d find it so amazing, a man who goes tearing off to explore his dark side. It may even become a cult movie.’ But because it’s a woman, it is even more significant, because it tears apart the notions of how and what a woman is supposed to feel. Be and do.

That’s exactly the point of movies like Simran and Bareilly ki Barfi – they are coming of age movies for Bollywood babes, they confront you with a woman – who could for the first time be venturing into a non-heroine territory. A journey that was started with Gayatri of ‘Shudh Desi Romance’. Here are movies that are talking the language and desires of real women.

‘But why does it have to be so negative? What’s with all the free sex, and drinking oneself silly, and smoking? What’s the point if a woman goes ahead and does all the stupid, thoughtless, selfish things men do? What kind of role model is that for feminism?’ asked a friend.

What exactly is the point, then. Perhaps we’d rather take risks than being safe. Perhaps, Bitti and Praful’s life is a big mistake, but that’s the crux – it’s their life to make mistakes with.

You’ll find me cheering. And yes, shouting – ‘Ja, Simran ja, jee le Apni Zindagi.

©Payal Talreja

Photos from the Internet

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