The Perfect Indian Woman?

By Vanya Bajaj

(14/10/2020 18:00 IST)

Recently I watched 2 movies which were not only very successful but were also able to attain love from the masses. Being a big fan of cinema myself, I did watch both the movies. One is older than the other but watching both of them, one after the other made me raise some very serious questions against the norms of our society.

The first movie that I am talking about is ‘English Vinglish’, where Lt. Sridevi plays the character of a woman named Shashi, a small entrepreneur who makes snacks. The main character Shashi is mocked throughout the film by her husband and children because of her incapability to speak English. Irrespective of the fact that this woman has managed to build a start up in a field which she loves and is managing her family equally well, she is degraded by her family because they don’t consider a profession in cooking serious enough and ridicule her incompetency to speak English.

Now, my idea behind mentioning the summary of the film is not to pinpoint at the mental trauma which she goes through during the film. As much as I sympathise with her situation, the only question which I have towards the society is that- did anyone find it absurd that this lady was managing her family all alone even after having a career to manage, whereas the only responsibility that her husband had was making money and eating home-cooked meals?

Did anyone find it absurd when she was stereotyped of being orthodox and illiterate by her daughter because of her old school dressing style and her lack of expertise in the English language?

And last but not the least, why was Shashi judged by us (as an audience) when she found a friend in a man and was slightly attracted to him? Maybe because her neck was clutched by a mangal sutra and her hands were tied down by the weight of red bangles?

At the end of the movie, she was able to achieve respect for herself in the eyes of her family by delivering a speech in English in public. We all saw this as a Happy Ending which is even more shocking to me because this speaks lengths about our so-called modern society and our perspectives.

Almost every boy these days is looking for a woman who is modern enough to speak English and who will help him maintain his social status by being his arm candy. But, at the same time they are looking for a traditionalist as well, the one who can please their parents by being wrapped around in saris cooking meals. In short, boys these days are asking for epitome of perfection according to the so-called norms of the society whereas, the boy himself might be below average according to the same standards.

The second movie which again gave me a food for thought was ‘Shakuntala Devi’. In this movie, Vidya Balan plays the character of a guinness book record holder Shakuntala Devi, also known as the human computer. She was a woman who had the courage and confidence to create a life for herself by beating all the odds.

Shakuntala Devi never went to school, she never had a mentor, nor had any sort of professional training but was able to create a name for herself around the world. We all were very inspired by her and appreciated her till we reached the part in the movie where she gives up her husband to go and pursue her professional career with her daughter because her husband denies to give up his career for her. None of us objected to the fact that her husband chose his professional career before his family and thought that giving up his career for Shakuntala was absurd. The audience very easily questioned her success because she was definitely able to create a name for herself in the professional world but her personal life was a disaster.

But what if Shakuntala would have been a man, what if the male Shakuntala would have made the same request to his wife? Would it still have been absurd for the wife to give up her own career and follow her husband around the world like a lost puppy.

Here the question is not about giving up professional lives, it is about the ideology in our society which says that a woman might be able to pay her own bills but nurturing the family is still her job. It is that thought process which always says things like ‘women have to adjust’ and ‘women have to make sacrifices’ whereas I think that sacrifices have to be made on both the ends.

Some might have this perspective about Shakuntala Devi’s character from the movie that the cause of her broken marriage was her desire to achieve more in her career and her parenting methods were questionable.

But how can we forget the kind of struggle that she had to go through before she was able to create a platform for herself in front of the world?

How can we forget the fact that she was the same woman who moulded herself according to her daughter’s wish of having a ‘normal mother’?

By the way, what are the roles of a normal mother- cooking, feeding, cleaning basically all the tasks that revolve around their kids. According to this perspective, a mother should forget that she is a woman who had dreams for herself just because she has carried children in her womb. There is nothing wrong with being a home-maker, according to me its the most noble profession in the world but it should be a "choice."

Both the movies are directly pin-pointing at the hypocrisy of our society. On one end was Shashi who was the perfect wife, daughter-in-law and mother in the eyes of the society. She could have been very successful in her profession but she restricts herself to the four walls of her house so that she can convert it into a home. The audience constantly appreciates her for becoming self-dependent later in the movie but at the same time talks negatively about her naive attitude, her decision of going back to her family after proving herself instead of choosing a life of respect and not pursuing her career with utter seriousness.

On the other end was Shakuntala, who attained success at a very young age. She was way ahead of her time. She lived her life on her own terms and conditions and maybe that is why she did not let anything come in between her dreams. This time the audience appreciates her for being independent only till the point where she is a wife and a mother. She is a headstrong, independent and a decisive woman but this does not go very well with the audience. They criticise her for being unsuccessful because of her broken marriage. They also talk negatively about her questionable parenting methods instead of realising the fact that she was only trying to save her daughter from the hardships and betrayals that she had to face as a young woman.

Basically both these characters represent the present generation of women in our society. On one end is Shashi who is ready to sacrifice every dream for the happiness of her family and only demands respect. On the other end is Shakuntala, a woman who will let nothing come in between herself and her dreams even if the cost is her family. Shashi does not reciprocate her emotions even after being degraded by her family, maybe because she always hopes for a better tomorrow when her family will realise her value.

But Shakuntala is an opinionated woman who does not have a habit of tolerating anyone who does not respect her for the person she is, including her parents.

Now when I analyse both these characters, I don’t know whom I will be in future. None of them are wrong, but both of them set an example towards completely different perspectives of life.

Will I have the will power to give up my dreams for my family or will I be strong enough to give up my family for my dreams?

As an Indian woman, it will be expected out of me to choose the first option but I hope that when my time comes to make this decision, I am able to find a middle way. A lot of you will think that I should be the perfect blend by letting Shashi be the traditionalist in me and by letting Shakuntala be the flag bearer of modernisation in me, but I don’t know if I want to attain that kind of perfection. The only reason I say this is that neither was Shashi wrong and nor was Shakuntala, their choices and priorities made them who they were in their lives and the same way I will want to create my own path according to my own choices and priorities. But one thing which I definitely know for sure is that our society will never dictate my choices.

About Authors.

Vanaya Bajaj

Desk Editor


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