Curse of the comeback? Part Two of Five: Preity Zinta in “Ishkq in Paris” (2013)

This is part two of a five part series looking at whether heroine-oriented comebacks are doomed to fail.

The second film looked at is 2013’s “Ishkq in Paris” which saw Preity Zinta, a hugely popular actress in her peak with blockbusters such as Veer Zaara, Kal Ho Na Ho, Dil Chahta Hai and Koi Mil Gaya, attempt a comeback following consecutive unsuccessful films, a shift towards non-Hindi and more arthouse projects, and then a five-year hiatus. Notably this break was not due to or corresponding with marriage and/or children (Zinta married rather this year [2016]).

Zinta’s most recent Hindi films, prior to her 2013 comeback in “Ishkq in Paris”, Jaan-E-Mann and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, were commercially unsuccessful and critically unappreciated, leaving Zinta to explore roles in other languages (including ‘The Last Lear’ and English-language film, and Punjabi and English language film “Heaven On Earth”. This put extra pressure on her return to be a hit, and the large a gap since her last successful Hindi films (2006’s Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna and 2005’s Salaam Namaste as a lead) meant the film needed a gimmick or something instantly different to attract attention and get people buying tickets.

This didn’t happen. Rather, for “Ishkq in Paris”, which suffered a very poor box office run, there are very identifiable reasons the film was unsuccessful, not exclusively limited to the film itself.

The usual SPOILER alert – and whilst the film is not one that will stay with you forever, it was perhaps unfairly singled out as an example of what not to do. So if  you have some time to spare, check out “Ishkq in Paris”, especially if you are a fan of Zinta’s other work or of the romantic comedy generally. Trailer below:

The missteps of “Ishkq in Paris”, and how they could have been avoided:

A pure romance plot was not in-keeping with contemporary commercial films:

“Ishkq in Paris” missed the fact that sugary romance films are not as popular as they were in the 90s and early 2000s and the highest grossing films now incorporate romance but generally lead with action, comedy or drama as the main genre (e.g. Bajirao Mastani [drama], Chennai Express & PK [comedy], or Dilwale & Ek Tha Tiger [action]).

Profitable films in recent years without the Khans have also typically not been of the sugary romantic genre – this year Neerja [thriller], last year Tanu Weds Manu Returns [comedy], Queen [travel/buddy film], NH10 [thriller], Piku [drama], Ek Villian [thriller] and Pink [drama].

Increasing the comedy element of the film, a natural fit for Zinta, would have been an obvious solution, as an action or thriller element would involve entirely reworking the movie, and added drama would have lost the light and fun feeling the film attempts to leave its viewers with.

A more stereotypically youth-oriented plot unlikely to appeal to those who had grown up watching Preity Zinta:

The most successful recent films which could perhaps be categorised under this genre still had other box office pull such as Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (popular songs, buddy/travel film element, off-screen gossip around the lead pair), Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (youth market, popular songs), 2 States (youth market).

Preity Zinta fans, however, who had idolised her in films such as Kal Ho Naa Ho and Veer Zaara, even the youngest ones who would have been teens at the time, by the release of “Ishkq in Paris” would be 10 years older, having matured into adulthood likely with the responsibilities that come with that.

The Paris setting and Frenchness of the lead character meant the film lacked a desi quality needed to appeal to the Indian audience:

In Ishkq in Paris, Zinta plays a Half-French, Half-Indian character called Ishkq, who meets Akash a ‘Funjabi’ from Delhi, on a train from Rome to Paris. Arriving in Paris he asks her for a no-baggage night out in the city, to which she agrees.

The three aforementioned pure romance/romantic comedy films that were successful in recent years – 2 States, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania were all largely shot in India or promote the importance of home (note Naina wanting to remain in India despite her love for Bunny, and his return for the location wedding in Rajasthan; Kavya choses the local boy Humpty over the NRI Angad; and 2 States is set across Gujarat, Delhi, Maharashtra and the titular “two states” of Tamil Nadu and Punjab.

The film’s entire setting in Paris (although with some parts filmed allegedly in Lyon and Prague) that there was some interest specifically in shooting in Paris over any emphasis on creating audience interest. The setting lives the film ending up as a strange mix of Aditya Chopra’s upcoming film Befikre, 2014’s Queen – largely set in Paris and Amsterdam, Tamasha – with the first part seeming like an advert for Corsica’s tourist industry, Hum Tum – which involves a lot of scenes in locales in New York and Paris which simply involve Saif and Rani’s characters discussing the relationships between men and women, and perhaps the most obvious influence is the 1995 Hollywood film “Before Sunrise”, which perhaps indicates another reason why the film feels dated.

Failure to acknowledge the space the characters would really be in during their late 30s:

In the film whilst there is a small mention of Akash’s career as an agent, we know very little actually about Ishkq’s life in Paris – her career (if she has avoided long-term relationships, it would be highly possible she could have instead focused on being accomplished in her career), nor do we meet any of her friends (another possible focus of her attention). This film in another mould could have been a desi Bridget Jones’ diary – where Bridget is shown trying to advance in her career and also as having a close knit group of friends, but being “unlucky in love”.

This leaves Ishkq as an unrealistic character to be portrayed by Preity Zinta herself at this stage in her career. Zinta producing the film for Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan (a la Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania) as a modern day Simran and Raj would have had a better chance of succeeding in its current format. A version to relaunch Preity Zinta’s career needed to play down the impact of her parents (would even a Half-Indian woman who has lived her whole life in France still be living with her mother in her late 30s? Unlikely), and perhaps her learnt habits of living life as an independent woman that she might be unwilling to sacrifice. This would have made for a more believable character, script and more relatable film with a greater appeal and chance of success.

The songs were underwhelming – this meant a lack of buzz, and failure to capitalize of the Salman Khan cameo:

Akash leaves for London and we reach the interval. He stalks Ishkq on Facebook and is invited to a friend’s wedding in Paris and stalks her in Paris for real.

He asks Ishkq to do him a favour and be his +1 for the wedding. She agrees and when at the wedding claims she is there rather scouting for cute guys.

At the wedding reception Preity as Ishkq declares “I love Bollywood” in a meta moment when it is announced a major B-Town star is attending. The song breaks and it is indeed a major star – a cameo from Salman Khan no less, who unfortunately for the viewers, has not exactly established his popularity due to smooth dance moves (this is no Hrithik Roshan or Madhuri Dixit video song cameo).

A better soundtrack more generally (the use of some of Hindi film’s most popular playback singers in the likes of Shreya Ghoshal and Sunidhi Chauhan isn’t matched with catchy tunes). They also feel, like the pure romantic comedy genre itself, as not in keeping with the zeitgeist of popular tracks in 2013 when “Ishkq in Paris” was released. This is especially curious but also important as some of the tracks from Zinta’s biggest hit films have had lasting popularity and allow for repeat listens even in 2016 (including the title track to “Kal Ho Na Ho” and “Maahi Ve” from the same film, and the songs “Main Yahan Hoon” and “Tere Liye” from “Veer Zaara”. Such memorable songs in “Ishkq in Paris” would have helped create buzz for the film that would have increased the initial occupancy as the film opened.

So what did work?

Parts of the film are a fun watch – I enjoyed the “rolling of the dice” as a framing device setting up different scenes and locations, and the two of them acting out a “film within a film”:

Akash and Ishkq visit the Eiffel Tower, and after purchasing a “fun dice” from an eccentric Indian street-seller and after rolling “party”, they go to a night club for dancing and obviously the first song of the movie (which in-keeping with the point above, is unfortunately quite generic and forgettable).

They share best pick-up lines and break up lines, and then roll the dice again and land on “dinner”. At dinner they meet a psychic that predicts that Ishkq will marry within a few months and that she will meet her father very soon (the first taken lightly and the latter prediction receiving a much more serious and concerned reaction).

They roll the dice once again to try to cheer up Ishkq and land on “movie”. She remarks its too late in the night to catch a film and he wants roll again, with Akash hoping of course to land on “sex”. Iskhq shuts this down, and proposes instead making their own movie (somewhat of a meta joke given Preity produced and co-wrote the film). They act out their own romantic drama, during which Ishkq berates the improvising Akash for adding that the heroine has waited 8 years for the hero’s return.

“This is a rubbish love story” she declares, asking him if he thinks he’s Zinta’s Jaan-E-Mann co-star and friend Salman Khan. Finally, he puts on a more convincing performance, ending with a declaration of love. The Veer Zaara star remarks “[y]ou watch a lot of Yash Chopra romances”.

They spend the rest of the night discussing their fears and emotional baggage (so much for a no baggage night) and roll the dice again landing on coffee as dawn breaks.

That the relationship begins between Akash and Ishkq with a full third of the movie to go is a little less predictable:

We learn Ishkq has never been to India and of her father’s absence in her life since she was 7. They begin a relationship (somewhat less predictable than expected that this happens only two thirds of the way through the film rather than at the end).

There is a strong theme of women’s empowerment in the fact that Ishkq is not a character looking for a man to solve her problems. Rather her relationship with Akash builds on a flirty friendship into something more:

Whilst it is somewhat frustrating that the main obstacle to Ishkq and Akash’s relationship seems to be her “daddy issues” causing a fear of commitment, this short dialogue stood out in particular:

Akash: Don’t want to hear what Ishkq?

The truth that I love you?

That I want to spend my life with you?

And be the one to save you from ever being lonely?

Ishkq: Save me?

Really?

Save me?

I’m very happy the way I am!

And I can look after myself.

I don’t need a goddamn saviour, OK?

That this argument is the obstacle that causes their split is authentic and allows the audience to identify with both sides, to identify with Ishkq’s frustration with his need to “fix” her, but appreciate Akash when returns apologetic with an attempt at reconciling.

Ishkq’s mother Marie tries to help by explaining to Ishkq that in fact she and her father split amicably, and she discouraged her father from remaining in their lives. If this had been kind words from a mother attempting to do what was right for her child’s happiness, rather than the truth, this may have been a more interesting plot point. There is no indication this is the case however.

End scene as a taste of what this film could have been in another guise

A scene that is more reminiscent of Bridget Jones’ Diary and one of several snippets of what this film could have been is the scene at the end where Ishkq is running in a hoodie, jeans and a pair of Uggs to the Gare du Nord train station to catch Akash at the food court where she had highly recommended the laksa.

This is fully within the conventions of the romantic comedy genre, but adds a twist that is softly comical and in-keeping with the character. Preity Zinta has enough personality, film experience and screen presence that a fully fleshed out Ishkq could have become a great film character, but the disconnect between her characterisation as written in the script, and the casting of Preity in the role mean this never manifests.

Zinta as Producer and businesswoman

Preity Zinta has joined a growing club of heroines moving into production with “Ishkq in Paris”. Whilst this will undoubtedly lead to mixed results, Zinta contributed to supporting this trend and creating a role for herself, not relying on opportunities to emerge where there are fewer. The three Khans, Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgan have all been heavily involved in film production, so it is encouraging to see other heroines also make similar moves, including Anushka Sharma in 2015 with NH10 and next year’s “Phillauri”, Priyanka Chopra supporting regional cinema with her company Purple Pebble Pictures and with Sonam Kapoor rumoured to be joining her Producer sister Rhea (who produced Sonam-starrers “Aisha” and “Khoobsurat”) in the production of the upcoming “Battle for Bittora”.

Perhaps learning from her producer experience, Zinta has now switched her focus to business ventures, notably her involvement as a co-owner of the IPL team Kings XI Punjab, where she has been celebrated for her success as a businesswoman and remains passionate cricket fan.

Conclusion:

“Ishkq in Paris” is a far from perfect film. It was, perhaps even destined to fail from the beginning, given the need for a new angle or gimmick to garner interest, after a significant spell away from Hindi films for the lead actress Preity Zinta.

Both the critical and box office battering it received, are however, unfair. Zinta does a fair job and in fact both leads are likeable and do their best with the format to engage the viewer. A seeming lack of clarity of what the film might be trying to say about relationships, however, is lost in an array of inspiration from romantic comedy films from both India and the West. It leaves the audience feeling that the film is unoriginal in concept and delivery – a likely reason why critics were particularly harsh.

It is worth considering to what extent gender factored in here. The film is produced by a woman, widely known for her independent mind and outspokenness in the industry, playing a Western character (of partial Indian descent), in a Western locale, in Western clothing. She has the guts to be the lead, literally naming the film after her character (or character after the film – its hard to tell), and casts a relative unknown actor alongside her as the male lead.

Most potently, the subject matter is romance and the genre is a light romantic comedy – considered particularly to appeal to female audiences rather than male ones. It could quite easily fit in the genre I’ve coined “lipstick cinema” – with upcoming films such as Sonakshi Sinha’s “Noor” and the Kareena Kapoor/Sonam Kapoor film “Veere Di Wedding” seemingly fitting into this genre.

It will be interesting to see what reception they receive by audiences and critics, and how they manage marketing in advance. Films which appear to directly market to women are considered as less serious, of lesser quality and are charged often even in advance of watching, as not worthy of even viewing.

Verdict: This film does suggest that heroine-oriented comebacks are held to a higher standard. “Timepass” films which engage the viewer’s attention for a couple of hours and end with a feel good conclusion are many in number, but few find themselves in front of either commercial or critical obstacles such as faced by “Ishkq in Paris”.

Whilst there are evident flaws in the premise and delivery detailed above, whether these would have truly lead to an acceptance of Zinta’s return to movies remains a question.

“Content is king” is a common phrase these days and holds true – but if there is an audience that watches the content in the first place. A disastrous first day collection set the course for “Ishkq in Paris” as a box office flop that was always going to be impossible to overcome. The film’s flaws largely lie within the context of the challenges associated with a film return when trends, style and execution have all changed in the meantime. The other main barrier deals with a catch-22 of a perceived in-authenticity for women over 35 to portray stories that suggest the youthful escapism cinema is selling to its audiences (this does not in the slightest apply to our male heroes), and a general lack of interest in stories that actually reflect the lives of women over 35.

As such “Ishkq in Paris” is the first piece of evidence to suggest perhaps there is a “curse” against heroine-oriented comebacks – sometimes there is a double standard, and sometimes the obstacles are too hard to overcome.

Found this interesting?:

 

 

Queen (2014)

Kangana Ranaut’s 2014 superhit “Queen” is a film that subverts expectations in a number of ways, changing the attitudes of audiences through the eyes of its protagonist.

On starting this blog, I knew I had to discuss this film as early on as possible. But why? Why is this film important? The context of lead actress Kangana Ranaut’s career path, and film conventions are crucial to understand to grasp why this film is so groundbreaking.

It is worth noting that, indeed, Kangana Ranaut was already more than a jobbing actress in Bollywood before Queen – notably she had won a National Award for her turn in 2008’s “Fashion”, at a time in which women-orientated movies were so infrequent that this film’s success stood out in particular. The film won both critical acclaim and drew in large audiences male and female alike, with India’s now international superstar Priyanka Chopra also seeing herself awarded with a National Award for the very same film.

However, whilst Kangana’s performance was appreciated and the positive reception towards her performance was merited, this film embodies how she was then pigeon-holed as an actress for years going forward. That is, she was seen as a supporting actress rather than a lead, great for grim, female-orientated movies chronicling poor treatment, and perfect at embodying “damaged women”.

Somewhat bizarrely, 2014’s “Queen” changed that narrative. Why is this bizarre? Well the film sees Kangana portray Rani, a young woman jilted by her fiancé just a day before their wedding, and is left to honeymoon in Europe alone whilst still heartbroken and devastated at how she’s been treated. Whilst it’s certainly a lead role, it was by no means a major blockbuster release (a la “Krrish 3”, her release that directly preceded “Queen”) and certainly Rani has been poorly treated, and initially looks like she could spiral into a caricature of such “damaged women” at the start of “Queen”. Being left travelling alone in Europe as a naïve, inexperienced young woman could have seen Rani embody this archetype. For those of you who’ve seen this film, you will know already this is not exactly the direction chosen.

Therefore, it is easy to view the casting of Kangana then in this role as only the first of many ways that “Queen” subverts the expectations of the casual or seasoned Bollywood viewer. I have picked out and explained 5 others below.

The usual SPOILER alert for the below – again, if you haven’t seen “Queen”, it comes highly recommended and not just by me, so go watch and come back!

Trailer is below:

Act of subversion number 1 – re: the wedding party dance number over the end credits of the movie

In Queen, we get the dance number over the credits is the opening credits! Enjoy “London Thumakda” below:

There are different dance scenes throughout the movie that either allude to, or directly reference this scene. This is somewhat unusual nevertheless as the wedding party dance number itself therefore becomes an important theme and drives Rani’s character development, which ultimately is the entire plot and focus of the film.

Act of subversion number 2 – re: Europe as a romantic location – where a girl falls in love with a boy!

The Hindi film lover knows that foreign locales, and particularly European settings are where young couples fall in love. This is embodied best, of course, in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.

Not so in “Queen”. Rather, Vijay and Rani’s romance plays out in middle-class India – and it is the exotic locales of London, Paris and Amsterdam which firstly convince Vijay to call of the wedding, and in Rani’s case, allow her to move on from her relationship with Vijay. This inherently posits overseas locations as “anti-romantic” – it is where first Vijay and then Rani fall OUT of love.

The Eiffel Tower, almost certainly the most famous image of any spot in Europe, haunts Rani in a comical scene where she tries to run away from the tower and the memory she associates with it of Vijay, to little avail.

European travel is rather presented as a way of making friends rather than falling in love – and we see this initially in Paris with Rani and Vijaylaxmi.

Later, after a big night out in Paris, Rani and Vijaylaxmi go clothes shopping, with Rani picking out comicly bad outfits, to the disapproval of Vijaylaxmi, who in frustration chooses out an item for Rani and takes away her other clothes so she can’t change back. An uncomfortable Rani takes a photo of herself in the outfit instead of leaving the changing cubicle and attempts to send it to Vijaylaxmi. Given this is a movie – the text goes to Vijay instead (try sending a text from Paris to Delhi in real life and see how easy it is to do that accidently). This revives Vijay’s interest in Rani.

When Vijay travels to Paris to reconcile, Rani is already on the train leaving for Amsterdam, she cannot, and more significantly, will not catch him jumping onto the train (or more appropriately – be caught jumping if she is the typical heroine). Rather as he rings her to announce his arrival in the French capital, an angry and upset Rani declares “Rani is dead” and hangs up.

Almost at the end of the film, during her final day in Amsterdam, when meeting with a Vijay pleading with her for forgiveness, ultimately she realises she prefers instead to be with her friends and leaves to go the rock show. Friendship trumps romance.

Act of subversion number 3 – re: the sexually-active woman as a cautionary tale

“Fashion”, Kangana’s heroine-oriented feature that predated “Queen” as referenced above, was a positive step for women due its meaty roles offered to Hindi film actresses, its success at the box office and its critical acclaim, but the film itself has a number of issues worth discussing in another post. Relevant here is the fall of both Kangana and Priyanka’s characters through which they are treated as cautionary tales – i.e. “this is what happens to women when they make the wrong choices”. Whilst Kangana’s character meets a tragic fate and becomes the ultimate cautionary tale, Priyanka’s character also sees her very lowest point represented when she has casual sex with a foreign (and curiously, also black) man. Madhur Bhandarkar’s “Heroine” also follows similar problematic storylines with Kareena’s character whose low point is marked prominently as a lesbian affair.

Rather in “Queen”, the main character seen as sexually active is the character Vijaylaxmi, played by Lisa Haydon, a firengi woman we are first introduced as Rani suffers the displeasure of overhearing Vijaylaxmi’s noisy sex with on-off-boyfriend. The scene, played for humour, is shocking to the virginal Rani, but in literally her honeymoon suite (with no irony lost), also quite clearly piques her sexual curiosity.

We meet Vijaylaxmi face to face for the first time as she smokes on the balcony in a shirt and underwear, cursing aggressively and speaking crudely and explicitly about her lover’s [lack of] manhood. She is painted fully as a glamorous supermodel-type and acting as the ultimate anti-Rani.

We later learn that Vijaylaxmi is also an unmarried mother, and that her sexually liberated attitude cannot be put down fully to her Frenchness or Western moralities – she is, as her name is chosen to emphasise, also half-Indian, the offspring of a passionate affair between her Spanish-French mother and Indian father in India’s city of sin, Goa.

Furthermore, rather than any male saviour, if Rani relies on any other individual during her time in Paris, it is her new found sister Vijaylaxmi – who retrieves her passport from the police and consoles her as Rani wails and bemoans her current status and joins her on the bar top in a first real glimpse of a free and happy Rani since being jilted by Vijay.

This scene has parallels with the scene at the beginning where Rani joins in the dancing to “London Thumakda” along with her grandma and all the aunties. We then cut to a flashback scene of Vijay berating Rani for dancing “inappropriately” raising concerns over the impact on his own image and reputation. In terms of enabling an environment where Rani is free to express herself and be happy – Vijaylaxmi, despite her sexually liberated ideas and lifestyle, is a better ally than Vijay.

In the taxi back to the hotel – the nauseous Rani and Vijaylaxmi discuss burping, and this short but fascinating scene encapsulates much of the whole of “Queen” and the message it contains. The dialogue, whilst seemingly trivial, addresses the concept of social permissiveness by admitting there may also be some positive aspects to liberal attitudes, without denying there may also be downsides or that other choices may be legitimate. Part of the dialogue I include below (in the film this is mostly in Hindi, but below is purely in English):

Rani: in India girls aren’t allowed to burp

Vijaylaxmi: everything is allowed here

Rani: But then in Rajori girls aren’t allowed to do much

Rani: Lets both burp today

           [burps]

Vijaylaxmi: “You’re quite good at it”

Rani: [burps again]

          “you also burp”

           [they both burp]

The Hindi film character Vijaylaxmi has some obvious parallels with is Deepika Padukone’s Veronica from the movie “Cocktail” (conveniently a film Rani, the aunties and even her grandma all reference fondly at the beginning of “Queen”). Both Veronica and Vijaylaxmi are shown as alcohol drinking, party loving and engage in casual sex but remain characters the audience finds likeable and can identify with. There are some key differences between the two worth noting however. Veronica is shown as sad and lonely, and using her hedonism as a form of escape, when she deep down desires a more conventional life. She is also too liberal to be the object of the hero’s affection at the end of the film, and she sacrifices her happiness on his behalf in favour of the innocent and virginal Meera. Vijaylaxmi, rather, is shown to be happy with her life, enjoying her freedom, and does not appear to look for validation from men. The most important man in her life who makes her happy seems to be her young son, and she enjoys the role of a mother. Conventional desires such as motherhood are shown to co-exist with a free spirited nature and progressive lifestyle.

Beyond Vijaylaxmi, whose free spirited nature is now somewhat accepted as she has proved herself a good friend to Rani, the audience is pushed further as Rani and her hostel roommates visit the red light district of Amsterdam to deliver a gift from Vijaylaxmi to her friend Roxette. Roxette is a working girl in the euphemistic meaning – i.e. a prostitute, who initially mistakes Rani for a paying customer.

Once she realises who Rani is, we immediately see a different dimension to her as a character. The oldest of seven daughters, as she explains to Rani, she started working in the sex industry despite her degree in commerce due to the difficulties she faced finding other employment and financial responsibility she faced after the passing of her father (literally calling herself the “beta” of the house). Roxette (or Rukshar), mentions the legality of prostitution in the Netherlands, the earnings she can make and that the work comes with government benefits.

Rani asks if she couldn’t do another job as working as a prostitute is a “very difficult job” and the profession is not treated entirely without stigma – Rani’s reason for being there as it is a parcel from Rukshar’s mother who has Vijaylaxmi’s address instead to avoid discovering her daughter’s line of work is a dose of the reality around sex work that despite Rukshar paying for two of her sisters to go to university and for the wedding of another, her life is hidden from her family.

This storytelling goes to explain Rukshar and her life choices to allow for a level of acceptance of her both by Rani and the audience. Whether they agree with them or not becomes irrelevant, the audience through Rani understands the factors that have led to making them. Rukshar adds Rani as a Facebook friend and ultimately they have a fun night dancing echoing back to Rani’s night out in Paris earlier in the film. They part with Rani complimenting Rukshar’s dancing and offering an invite to Delhi.

Act of subversion number 4 – re: female-male friendship as ultimately merely a precursor for romance

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Hum Tum, Kal Ho Na Ho, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Wake Up Sid, Band Baaja Baaraat, Anjaana Anjaani, ABCD 2 or a multitude of other films would teach any Bollywood viewer to expect male-female friendships to evolve into romantic feelings and relationships. In portraying travel as an avenue to develop and cement friendships however, including between men and women, “Queen” subverts this common convention of in particular Hindi films, but also cinema in general. The viewer accompanies Rani on making this discovery.

On arrival in Amsterdam, Rani discovers that her hostel room involves her sharing with three guys (Tim, Taka and Aleksander) – a concept that is completely unfathomable to Rani and her views on appropriate male-female interaction.

She initially insists on another room, but after being informed none are available, sheepishly enters and shortly after makes a fake call to Vijay so that her roommate can understand there may be a man arriving at any point, as a form of protection. This is another example of her resourcefulness at pressure points.

She also reopens the door despite a brief argument immediately prior between Aleksander and Taka. She finally resorts to sleeping in the hall, when she is woken from her Vijay-related nightmares by Tim, to which Rani screams in fear, once again screaming “Mummy, Mummy”. Her screams wake up the other two roommates who join them in the hall and the three ultimately convince her to sleep inside the room and they will sleep out in the hall instead.

The next morning Rani makes breakfast in the hostel kitchen for her three roommates as a pseudo-peace offering.

Later Taka enters the room whilst Rani is skype-ing with her family and she instantly asks him not to making himself known, given her family’s likely disapproval.

The same day, Rani is showering when the guys return from a day out in Amsterdam, and Kangana shows Rani’s panic in her face before she is shown checking the lock.

Soon after however, she starts screaming and the guys look to help her, but obviously the door is locked. Seconds later, Rani runs out of the bathroom and the guys enter to see what happened, only to (humorously) also start screaming, run out and join Rani on the top bunk of the bed furthest from the bathroom.

We then learn it is only a lizard (how many lizards are there in Amsterdam?) and Rani takes comfort in the fact they were all scared through this these three young, foreign men are brought to her level of vulnerability – she no longer sees them as a sexual or physical threat, but rather

Rani approves the three guys sleeping in the same room as her and at this moment their friendship truly can begin. She is invited to hang out with them the following day, and later when she rings her friend back in India, who asks her if she has met any hot guys, her response is she has met some guys, but it is clear she does not seem them romantically.

Her new found friends are seen as encouraging and supportive, unlike her romantic interest in Vijay. We see this when Aleksander, the Russian painter, encourages Rani when she asks him about his artwork and says she also “wants to do something”. His response of “who is stopping you?” cuts to a scene of her and Vijay. Taka later encourages her also when the opportunity arises for her to work by showing off her culinary skills in a competition.

It is later revealed that Taka has lost his family, along with his job and his home in the 2011 Tsunami and Rani’s reaction that “[he] is alone?” is important for its response from Aleksander “[n]o, he has us”. This firmly establishes the friendship group as a makeshift family – and if men and women are like family this creates an alternative paradigm through which to see male-female friendship. Through this lens, it can be as platonic as family members, and does not need to develop into a romantic entanglement.

At the end of Rani’s time in Amsterdam you can imagine her placing a Rakhi not just on Chintu but also Aleksander, Tim and Taka – they have become like her brothers. This includes when they intervene in Vijay attempting to pull Rani away with him and she resists, but also stepping back when she asks.

Ultimately, spending time with her three friends and makeshift brothers becomes preferable to what she thought she wanted at the beginning of the movie – that is, time with Vijay, even if Vijay does not approve of her being friends with, and certainly not sharing accommodation with, three young men. Rani has by this point realised this opinion is foolish and doesn’t care, and by this point too, neither does the audience.

Act of subversion number 5 – re: the conservative to socially liberal transformation turning a woman into a desirable commodity, and the reconciliation of hero and heroine as a result

Rani’s social conservatism and general innocence is emphasised throughout the early part of the film that documents Vijay and Rani’s courtship. In fact, it is this innocence and conservatism that is Vijay’s reason for cancelling the wedding, as he considers himself more worldly in comparison following a stint in the US. Whilst we don’t see this period in Vijay’s life, as the focus is on Rani’s perspective, we get hints of this chasm between the two of them, as well as an emphasis on her sweetness (literally from a family with a sweet shop).

Vijay introduces himself as an engineering student, whilst Rani is “only” studying “home science” in a small, girls’ college she struggles to describe clearly in a humorous moment. Vijay even calls Rani “home science” which soon switches to “my queen” as he pursues her intensely a la SRK.

Whilst her friend encourages the romance as he “looks like Shah Rukh Khan to [her]”, Rani interjects that it is a known fact she wants an arranged marriage. Their differing attitudes to relationships and Vijay’s characterisation as a Rajori version of the ultimate superstar among the Indian diaspora foreshadows the demise of the relationship that the audience already know to be the case. Rani’s version of romance is as she has seen in cinema halls – she calls Vijay out on the “shelves in a library trick” stating she’s “seen at least 10 films where heroes have tried this”.

Even this young and innocent Rani is not as two-dimensional as she could have been portrayed in a lesser film however. We see evidence of her pragmatism and resourcefulness even when under pressure or out of her comfort zone from early on in “Queen”. This includes Rani’s reaction to Vijay telling her he no longer wants to go ahead with the wedding. Whilst personally distraught, her instant response is around the face-saving practical concerns of having to tell her family the news and her response to Vijay is that as this is his decision, it is his responsibility to do so. She literally begs Vijay to marry her to avoid causing such pain to her loved ones, rather than being more self-centred or personally offended.

Her decision to go on her honeymoon alone (setting the plot in motion) is also further evidence of her independent streak and willingness to make the best out of bad situations.

During her early time in Paris where she is struggling to adapt, she is targeted by a mugger, and the child-like Rani literally screams “Mummy, Mummy!” almost resorting to the innocent and dependent girl she could have been characterised as.

Rather we are also shown that she quickly realises the valuable item inside (her passport) and clings on to her bag for dear life, getting into a perhaps unwise fight with a thief in a quiet corner of a foreign city at night. Here she should be saved by gallant young man to be introduced as her new love interest – but instead Rani’s persistence draws the attention of someone in the neighbourhood and the thief is scared off.

Rani’s response to this attack is to take a taxi (one of a several shots or short scenes where Ranaut’s acting leaves no needs for words) to meet up with Vijaylaxmi in a Paris nightclub. This is the ultimate fish out of water scene, where the hedonistic partying inside is neither demonised nor celebrated, it is there purely to put Rani out of her comfort zone. The following scene is played for laughs with the young Rani getting drunk and preaching to French partygoers and later Vijaylaxmi.

The most obvious embodiment of Rani’s naivety and innocence, played for laughs, with Kangana an uninhibited good sport in filming this with a straight face, is the scene later on in “Queen” in the Amsterdam sex shop, where Rani is racking up gifts for her family without realising their sexual nature or usage. Her roommates cannot contain their laughter and tease her unashamedly. The audience’s view of her as a sweet and innocent young girl is as such represented through them (arguably this happens on a couple of other occasions with Vijaylaxmi also).

Towards the end of the movie, after Rani has visited the red light district and made friends with Roxette, gained perspective on Vijay’s betrayal through admiring Taka’s joie-de-vivre even in the face of tragedy, and is embarking on working by making and selling golgappas (a.k.a. pani puri and a number of other things!), she is also more confident about her own desires. She admits her crush on Marcello (as well as on Salman Khan!) and when she is challenged by Marcello that Indians are not only best at cooking but also best at kissing, she not only cites all Emraan Hashmi films in defence but, despite her initial nervousness plonks on one him!

When she sees Vijay for the first time in Amsterdam, who had revived his interest in her due to her modern attire and travelling in Europe, he is nevertheless not approving of all her changes – that she has been drinking champagne, that she has made friends with Tim, Taka and Aleksander. When he discovers they are her roommates he threatens to tell her family and worries once again about his own reputation, but Rani has ceased to care.

Back in Delhi she visits Vijay and speaks with his mother beforehand. This scene gives the audience a glimpse of what life would be like for Rani to be married to Vijay, and whilst his mother is keen for a companion, it is described as a very limiting lifestyle and what Rani wants, having come back from her adventures in Paris and Amsterdam, has evidently either changed, or she has realised was always different.

On seeing Rani – dressed in a lower cut outfit and with her hair straightened and make up on fleek, Vijay smiles from ear to ear and hugs her as he assumes she is there to reconcile. Instead, she places her engagement ring in his hand and hugs him goodbye, accompanied by an admirably mature “[t]hank you!”. Rani’s growth is complete, and as her path forward does not include Vijay, there is no reconciliation between the “hero” and heroine. It’s a heroine-oriented film in the deepest sense of the word, Rani is our heroine, but Vijay is not our hero.

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