The New Woman Has Arrived – Part II


New Woman in literature and films

Emancipated women have always figured in films and literature.

The earliest depiction in Hindi films that I saw was in Khwaja Ahmed Abbas’ film “Gyarah Hazar Ladkiyan.” Abbas got the title from the government’s official figure of the working women in Mumbai in 1954. Mala Sinha was one of them.

To me, as a Sindhi boy born after partition; working women were the independent women, as they are neither constrained by the tradition nor restricted by the customs. I had a working mother, and I know it.

I saw a woman like her in a Sindhi short story of Sundri Uttamchandani. The narration that left my eyes moist was about a Sindhi refugee wife who has to live on a limited salary of her husband. Whatever ‘sacrifice’ in the meal; whether mango or butter, would first be quietly from her plate and then she would have a conflict between reducing the nutritious food from the plate of her toiling husband or her growing Son (schooling).

The sacrificing woman decides to work to support her husband; and thus, becomes the second bullock of the cart. To me, this was the real emancipated woman.

She was the result of the changing tough world. But she had also come out of the pages of literature.

This bold woman who could fight the social pressure could be seen in the fiction of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee and Rabindranath Tagore. She was also present in the fiction of Punjabi’s Amrita Pritam.

I saw the glimpses of the woman ready to break the chains around her in The Deal. It was about dowry. Nirupama’s father was unable to pay a dowry of Rs 10,000 but gave Rs 7,000; and as the groom insisted, the marriage took place. But her life was full of torture. Her father managed to bring the rest of the dowry by selling his house. But Nirupama strongly urged him not to give any more money to her father-in-law. This was her moment as a strong woman.

She later died though torture, and her father-in-law arranged another girl with a dowry of Rs 20,000.

Nirupama remains in your mind as a woman who tried to fight the unjust social structure around her.

Tagore’s story: Mahamaya revolved around the ‘Sati’ custom, and she was married off to an old man whom she despised; she later became a widow. She was forced to become Sati. Mahamaya was able to escape the pyre and knock on the door of the man she loved. He was willing to accept her, but she had one more condition that she would remain in purdah. He wouldn’t see her face; otherwise, she would leave him.
One particular night, the anxious man came closer to see her uncovered face and saw a burnt face. He screamed, and she woke up.

Mahamaya left him.

She didn’t want pity. She was a proud woman.

More than Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee created what I consider ‘the mother of the modern emancipated woman.’ Just think of

Vijaya of Datta, Kiranmayi of Charitraheen, Hemangini of Mejdidi or Kamal of Shesh Prashna.

These were the women with their own mind during the days a patriarchal Bong society only suppressed them.

Like the Nora of Ibsen’s Doll’s House, these women were the original free women.

Not many have realized that the women who figured in the Sindhi and Punjabi folk stories were assertive and fighting women who had rejected the social norms and customs.

Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, the classical poet from Sind, treated them as such and these female characters were described as ‘his brave heroines’ (the term in Sindhi was Soormiyoon). The stories included Sohni Mehar, Sassui Punhoon, Noori Jam Tamachi, Sorath Rai Diyach, and Momal Rano.

Shah and many others wrote verses on these tales, which in turn adds more glamor to these female characters.

To return to Hindi films, one saw a reflection of that woman in Nikah. The climax scene when the former husband (Deepak Prashar) and the current husband (Raj Babbar) of Salma Agha are arguing over her has the twist. Nilofar (Salma) doesn’t return to her first husband.

This emerges the modern and bold woman who speaks her mind and tells the men that they cannot treat her like an object to be exchanged as a token of friendship.

Arth was a milestone, a turning point as far as the portrayal of a woman finding her own identity was concerned.

Pooja (Shabana Azmi) suffers a lot when her husband (Kulbhushan Kharbhanda) leaves her for another woman, an actress (Smita Patil). She soon becomes an independent woman with the help of another young man (Raj Kiran). When her husband returns to her feeling remorseful and apologetic, she refuses to go back to him. There is a strange reality in her portrayal as she refuses to go with the new man, either. She ends up like the modern single, once bitten twice shy, kind of woman.

There is continuity from Abbas’ Mala Sinha to Chopra’s Salma, Mahesh Bhatt’s Shabana, Vikas Behl, Anand Rai’s Kangana, Shoorjit Sircar’s Deepika, Tapasee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari, and Andrea Tariang. They are the large hoardings of the growing modern woman’s life calendar.

But the story of the women’s emancipation has yet to climax.


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The New Woman Has Arrived – Part I


The New Woman has arrived!


Our world has changed. The woman has changed. She was once a closet smoker. She would look stealthily around and light up, take quick drags, and throw the butt away.

But now, she is relaxed whenever she places a cigarette between her lips and strikes a match. The smoke comes out of her nostrils, and she takes another puff.

She doesn’t care if people are watching. It is her life, her choice.

It is the same with alcohol or when she is snorting heroin or smoking hash.

She is equally guilt-free with a one night stand or sleeping with the husband of an office colleague she likes.

It is her life, her choice.

If she is an editor, she ensures that sexism and misogynist words and phrases are out. As a reviewer, her priority is to check whether the characters or the story is regressive; and if yes, to lambast the filmmaker.

If she is directing an ad film, she ensures that the man in her film is a wimp, his wife may order him around, or rather slaps him a couple of times. She is changing the way men are portrayed; she is changing the mindset. She is quietly working to transform the patriarchal setup to a society where the woman has the last word.

She is the new age woman. She has arrived.
She is a feminist who doesn’t need to explain herself for being what she is.

We have Vidya Balan (Ishqiya, Kahaani, Bobby Jasoos), Deepika Padukone (Piku), Anushaka Sharma (NH 10), Kangana Ranaut (Queen and Manu Weds Tanu and its sequel), Radhika Apte (in her bold scenes), and finally the three girls in Pink (Tapasee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari, and Andrea Tariang).

Vidya is aggressive and a dominating partner in Bobby Jasoos where Ali Fazal plays second fiddles to her. Not only is this a title role, but she breaks the ceiling by working in a male dominated profession, as a rare female detective, despite belonging to an orthodox Muslim family.

The kind of roles Kangana Ranaut has done have got her to become an icon for the feminists.

However, the three girls in ‘Pink’ have emerged as the ultimate in the portrayal of the feminists. They defy all the social norms, including living alone, going out at night, and drinking with almost strangers; even being sex workers. At least one of them even admits to having asked for money in exchange for sex (though only because she got tired of the hostile and offensive treatment by the Public Prosecutor); but the film doesn’t even have a hint of judgment against them, about their choices. Their lawyer, played by Amitabh Bachchan ensures that the message of the film “No means No” reaches everyone irrespective of what or who the woman is. This is a total acceptance of feminist values.

The real climax and message reaches the audience when Amitabh, despite being their lawyer, asks Taapsee Pannu in open court whether she was a virgin. He questions her till she opens up. Again, she’s guilt free. She admits that she wasn’t a virgin, but she lost it neither under compulsion nor for money. It was her choice!

It conveys the message Deepika Padukone sent some time back in a short message film. What a girl does with her life or with her body is her choice.
If she makes love to a guy she likes and loses her virginity, it is her choice. Her family, her friends, and the society had no say in the matter.

The New Woman is free from all crutches and every restraint, as well as every manacle.

Kangana Ranaut seemed to play a modern and independent woman who didn’t care for the conventions in “Tanu Weds Manu;” but she and her free and independent woman really emerged successfully in Queen. This coming-of-age story is about Rani. Her fiancé (Rajkumar Rao) calls off the wedding because he finds her traditional. She, a North Indian girl from a conservative family, goes on her honeymoon alone. Later, when her fiancé sees another picture of her where she appears modern, he repents and follows her on the honeymoon. He tries to win her back, but she rejects him.

The girl walking alone and laughing carefree has almost become the symbol for the carefree Independent woman.

Even in “Tanu Weds Manu,” Kangana’s tryst with the independent woman who rejects the social constraints, continued.

Deepika Padukone shifted from her traditional glamorous roles to play Piku, the unmarried daughter of an always constipated Amitabh Bachchan. Everything from her lines, her irritation and her concern for her father projected her as an independent woman. She would have ended up being just another sacrificing spinster Raakhi specialized in, but for the nuanced performance and the treatment.

In an interesting party scene, Amitabh reveals to her suitor that she wasn’t a virgin. This is a complicated situation in the story where an utterly selfish father creates obstacles in the marriage of his own daughter.

However, the point is made. Virginity is passé.

Not going further into the story, I can say that with Deepika’s Piku, the depiction of a modern woman became real.

(…Contd Part 2)


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Before you add Kashmir to National Anthem…


Mohan’s Musings

The controversy that will never die

Did Rabindranath Tagore really wrote Jan Gan Man in honour of King George V?

Before I get into the flesh of the ‘Jan Gan Man’ controversy, let me say that this has been investigated a number of times and it has been clearly established that Rabindranath Tagore wrote it in honour of our motherland Bharat.
First, about the patriotism of Tagore. He was the one who wrote poems like ‘Where mind is without fear’ and Ekla Chalo Re. The massacre of Jallianwala Bagh so angered him that he renounced the knighthood in protest. The Knighthood was conferred on him by the same King George V after he received Nobel Prize Literature.
I have written this piece because it has been suggested that Kashmir may be added to the anthem. Some have gone as far as to suggest that Tagore’s Jan Gan Man may be junked.
Tampering with any creative work, specially of this caliber, is simply unacceptable.

It all started with two British papers (The Statesman and Englishman) who reported that Tagore recited Jan Gan Man in honour of King George V. Congress had invited the King to pledge its loyalty to the throne. (Remember this was 1911.)
Reporting the same event, Amrit Bazar Patrika had reported, “The proceedings of the Congress party session started with a prayer in Bengali to praise God (song of benediction). This was followed by a resolution expressing loyalty to King George V. Then another song was sung welcoming King George V.” (Dec.28,1911)
The Bengalee had recorded, “The annual session of Congress began by singing a song composed by the great Bengali poet Ravindranath Tagore. Then a resolution expressing loyalty to King George V was passed. A song paying a heartfelt homage to King George V was then sung by a group of boys and girls.”

Why the confusion?

The confusion had arisen because a different song, “Badshah Humara” written in Hindi by Rambhuj Chaudhary was sung on the same occasion in praise of King George V.

Years later when the National Anthem was being chosen, two songs, Tagore’s Jan Gan Man and Bankim Chandra Bannerjee’s Vande Matram made it to the finals. Vande Matram was unacceptable to the Muslim population. The government settled for Jan Gan Man.
However, the Hindu right wing was never happy with the rejection of Vande Matram. Even having Vande Matram as the National Song didn’t placate them.
Some of them chose to defame the national anthem and the poet who wrote it. Articles full of lies claiming that Jan Gan Man was composed to honour King George V were published. Memes and forwards have continued to spread the same lie.

Tagore’s clarification

Commenting on the controversy Tagore has written, “I should only insult myself if I cared to answer those who consider me capable of such unbounded stupidity as to sing in praise of George the Fourth or George the Fifth as the Eternal Charioteer leading the pilgrims on their journey through countless ages of the timeless history of mankind.” (Purvasa, Phalgun, 1354, p. 738.)

Tagore’s word should be enough. But the controversy has not died, will never die.
Fling dirt enough and some will stick.


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… To be Continued (The story of serialised novels in India and abroad)

On every first Monday of the month, a group of friends who admired Charles Dickens would meet and read aloud the latest instalment of his ‘Dombey and Son’. This was one of the many groups of Dicken’s admirers who looked forward to his serialised novel. This was in the England of 1847. But even before, he had used this method to arouse interest in the readers when he serialised ‘Pickwick Papers’. While the readership for the first instalment was just 1000, the last instalment was read by 40,000 persons.

Dickens used this form all his life for all his novels. So did William Makepeace Thackeray for ‘Vanity Fair’ and Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes stories too were first published as serials.t The public response was so warm that there was a major protest in the form of fan letters when, tired of writing the series, wanting to write something else, Doyle ‘killed’ Sherlock Holmes. The writer had to resurrect his detective!

Serialising was popular in America too where Henry James divided his work into segments of similar sizes and let it first be published as a serial even when his story was already ready. Others, often, wrote the subsequent instalments even as the earlier one’s were in readers’ Often a novel would be read in instalments for as long as a year during which the authors would respond to the response of the readers. But in Russia, Leo Tolstoy‘s ‘Anna Karenina’ ran for four years!

As the world changed with the World Wide Web, a serial format on the net began when Stephen King wrote The Plant and many others did the same.

Websites like FanFiction.Net and web-based communities like LiveJournal, FictionPress and Fictionhub have even produced bestsellers that have overtaken the traditional novels.

The mobile devices too have made the serial format popular with JukePop Serials and the like promoting serialised novels.

India too has a similar tradition.

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee‘s ‘Anandmath’ was first serialised in his own magazine Bangadarshan (Bengali) in 1882. It was a heart warming novel about the Sanyasis who fought for the freedom of India. Bankim wrote the song ‘Vandematram’ for this novel. It was later published in book form.

‘Anandmath’ went on to get a cult status and Vande Matram ended up as the National song of India. Prathapa Mudaliar Charithram, a novel by Mayuram Pillai, written in 1857 was the first serialised novel in Tamil. Serialised novels with the freedom struggle, instilled patriotic pride in the people.

Krupa AJ Satthiananadan, considered the first Indian woman novelist writing in English. ‘Suguna’, her novel was serialised between 1887 and 1888 in Madras Christian College Magazine.

Chitralekha (Gujarati) often serialised novels written by Harkisan Mehta and Tarak Mehta. So did Sushma (Hindi) and Shamma (Urdu). I remember writing my first novel (‘Roop ain Sadhana’) for Jagruti, a Sindhi weekly when I was in my late teens. This is the only serialised novel in Sindhi. Writing a serialised novel is writing under a pressure. There always is a deadline though the magazines prefer to have at least one extra instalment in stock. But a deadline, more important, is in the head of the writer. He doesn’t forget his story and doesn’t part with his characters even when he goes to bed. There is a flow about it.

My friend, author and journalist Om Gupta has started his serials novel and seeing the first chapter I’m sure this is going to be a sure winner, an important step that would be noted as a part of the history of serialised novels. His link is
Om Gupta is a talented veteran. I look forward to his next installments.


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