In defence of Simran : Good girl, bad girl, every girl
Praful Patel is addicted to gambling. She takes on risks without weighing them against rewards, she manipulates her parents remorselessly to wrangle money out them, she is callously acerbic to a perfectly decent suitor who treads the ground around her with amiable trepidation. She is not kind to anyone, not even to the frail, asthmatic cashier whom she leaves at the brink of death after robbing his bank. She shows no gratitude, not even to the cherubic, rotund fellow Gujarati who selflessly gives her money at a casino to lift her spirits, all he gets from her is a jovial high-five. Praful does not need anyone. Except Kangana Ranaut. I cannot think of any other actress who could have made the persona of Praful credible.
A few other actresses have taken off the pancake to establish themselves as serious performers, but Ranaut’s genius lies in her accomplishing the feat without abandoning the pancake. She uses her body to counter the culture industry’s strategy for the objectification of women. The first step to blinding someone is getting them to open their eyes: Ranaut blinds the male gaze with her plastic perfection, then delivers a spirited KO punch that belies her saleable appearance.
Ranaut’s journey through her films is a progression in autonomy. In Tanu-Manu she enters the marriage negotiation process on her own terms, in Queen she rejects marriage, settling for a mild flirtation with an exotic Italian instead, and finally, in Simran, she has no space to offer any of the men who surround her – father, fiancée, ex-lover, ex-husband all fade into irrelevance as her madness consumes her.
Simran could have been a lot more palatable. Acceptable, even. The makers simply needed to pitch their protagonist as mentally unstable or psychopathic – that’s been Ranaut’s territory for years. They could have built a back story of abuse. They could have played up the deprivation. This would have distanced her from the audience, made her the ‘other’ – a person unlike us.
Simran moves the conversation forward. It is the every-girlness of Praful that is unsettling. The movie showcases the pathological dimension of female frustration. The reasons for Praful’s gambling addiction and her abnormal risk-taking are not explained. The story stays silent on the failure of Praful’s first marriage, silent on her childhood experiences, silent on the reasons why her recent relationship with her boss ended. Her insane self-destructive behaviour is suggestive, instead, of a thousand, small, humiliating, disconcerting calibrations of the mind and body that almost every girl endures at the hands of people wiser-than-her, stronger-than-her and maler-than-her.
Simran could have been a better film, a better story. But of all the faults to pick, I wouldn’t go into the inanity of the robbery scenes. Silly as they are, they are no sillier than a single hero beating up a dozen goons with an uprooted hand-pump. Remember that these robberies actually happened, and happened pretty much as shown. The story has other problems, but nothing takes away from the importance of the larger story that it tells, and tries hard not to explain.
On the surface, this film seems pointless. Neither is Praful’s story uplifting, nor does it evoke sympathy. There is no justification for her actions, no villain, no revenge. Still, she stays with you, long after you have left the theatre, she and her sly humour, her joie de vivre and her ‘character flaw’. Her chuckle, her guffaw, her jubilant dance in the casino, her plaintive loser’s wail. Praful imagines she has wings on her back; she imagines she is flying in endless space that she shares with no one. Sometime or another, don’t we all?
(Java Singh, an alumna of IIM Ahmedabad, is a researcher on gender issues at the School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, JNU and Roli Jindal, also an alumna of IIM Ahmedabad, is a corporate executive and an author)
From HT Brunch, September 25, 2017
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