Swara Bhaskar’s Anaarkali of Aarah is her much-deserved lead in a film that reaches out to the masses. Debutante director of the film, Avinash Das, not only sends across a strong message but also ensures all the ingredients of a “masala, entertainer” remain intact in the movie. There are songs, romance and revenge. And there is also a strong message that a ‘no’ always means ‘no’, irrespective of the speaker’s identity.
Anaarkali of Aarah showcases several highpoints where Swara’s character redefined gender equality. Here’s a look at some of the best ones:
Anaarkali is not ignorant of her beauty, her talent of singing and sex appeal, and is smart enough to use it to her benefit. She walks with confidence and abandon in the market place, gets free lipstick and nail polish in lieu of listening to poetry. It is only in recent years that Bollywood heroines have started displaying such abandon without being judged.
2. Anaarkali does not have the “moral” edge, but she knows her rights
She does everything that a stereotypical “ideal woman” does not - she smokes beedis, she swears and even has casual sex and sings “double meaning” songs. What she does not do is that which is not to her liking. She has her own sense of self-respect and protects it like a tigress. When her orchestra party members try to convince her to apologise to the man who molested her, she says, “Band kamre me hota chacha, to shayad sambhal lete. Koi Sati-savitri nahi hai hum. Lekin manch ke upar, hazaar logon ke saamne humari beizzati bardasht nahi karenge.”
3. Anaarkali’s love for her talent
Even when she has lost all hopes following a tragic turn of events, Anaarkali is not content with mere survival. She is dismal when she feels she may not sing ever again and is overjoyed the moment she is offered an opportunity. A woman’s identity, much like men, is also that by which she defines herself. Her profession is as important to her as her life and dignity.
4. Anaarkali does not need a tragedy to become a feminist
Most meek characters, especially heroines, take upon the responsibility of being an activist when tough times harden them. Not Anaarkali. She charges against her molester much later but she slaps him right at the moment when he molests her. She does not care if she is a woman slapping a man, or if she is a folk singer slapping the vice-chancellor of a university or if she is a “less than normal” woman slapping a powerful man. She simply retorts when she is attacked, subverting the power equation.
5. Rustic, not vulgar
Despite the heroine being a folk singer who is the “double meaning diva”, neither the songs nor the dialogues ever turn vulgar in the movie. Of course, they are raunchy and rustic - keeping in sync with the milieu of the story, but it never reaches a level of vulgarity where you cringe.
6. There are no saviours
This is exactly where Anaarkali of Aarah wins over Pink - there is no Amitabh Bachchan who becomes the voice of the woman. Anaarkali does have a small share of sympathisers but they do not exactly offer help - not in survival and certainly not in avenging her. There is an understanding, worshipping fan and a righteous reporter in the narrative but none of these are the crunches that Anaarkali uses. She trips over her attack, keeps herself alive with the help of the emotional strength they provide, but when she gets up, she does it on her own.
7. Anaarkali’s last performance
The film reaches another level of cinematic brilliance in the last fifteen minutes. Swara is at her best as she oozes fierce, defiant and strong energy during the dance performance that can be dubbed as her tandav - the dance of fury. While the lyrics repeat what Amitabh Bachchan-Taapsee Panu’s Pink did - consent matters. As Swara says while wrapping up the performance, “Ra*** ho, usse thoda kam ya biwi, aage se puch ke haath lagana”. Unlike a typical “Bollywood kalaakar”, Anaarkali does not look down upon housewives or women who conform to the norms laid down by men. She includes them in her fight as well.