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Pink champagne, bank heists, and male stereotypes

For all of Kangana’s enthusiasm, Simran ends up being a confused feminist fantasy

brunch Updated: Sep 20, 2017 17:31 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
Kangana’s  latest release Simran is about Praful Patel, a feisty Gujarati woman who works in the housekeeping department of an Atlanta hotel
Kangana’s latest release Simran is about Praful Patel, a feisty Gujarati woman who works in the housekeeping department of an Atlanta hotel

Kangana Ranaut has gone where no woman has gone before: straight to the heart of the class and gender problem of a self-satisfied Hindi film industry. Recent skirmishes with Bollywood royalty have confirmed her as the iconoclast of the business, already worthy of a biopic.

So when you get the “real” Kangana for free on your TV, computer and phone screens 24x7, popping stereotypes like bubble wrap, her films are expected to do more. Because after all, everything is possible in cinema.

The preface to Simran was a public spat with the film’s writer Apurva Asrani (who earlier paired with director Hansal Mehta on the sensitively handled Aligarh.) Ranaut demanded (and got) additional story and dialogue credit. Asrani claimed she was a bully who didn’t deserve it. Having watched the film, I’m surprised either was interested in claiming credit.

A still from Simran in which, robbing banks adds an outlandish element to a tale that would have done well to retain its roots in reality

Woman on top

The film is about Praful Patel, a feisty Gujarati woman who works in the housekeeping department of an Atlanta hotel. She’s 30, divorced, and lives with her cardboard cutout parents who feast on theplas and plot weddings. They’re pestering her to marry again. She’s pestering them to help her out with money so she can buy a house. So far so good. Then she leaves for Las Vegas for her cousin’s bachelorette. And this is where the film develops a fatal rip in its panty hose.

Things start off light and easy. She glugs her beer and enjoys her free peanuts. The next day she tries her hand at baccarat, chasing a man who was indifferent to her the day before. She beats him at his own game. Ends up with a stack of cash. Spends it on pretty clothes, pink champagne and caviar. She’s in the consumerist heaven of Vegas. And she’s winning.

Feeling invincible in her red off-shoulder dress ($400) and scarlet lipstick ($50), she ends up in bed with the baccarat guy, but prematurely ejaculates: “No protection, no sex, my friend.” She fills her glass with champagne and heads back to the casino.

Such a sloppy heist is unlikely to be successful even once, let alone a number of times in the same town. Bank security is virtually non-existent. Just like the reality quotient of this plot arc.

Funny money

Predictably, the baccarat dream turns sour. Praful not only loses all her savings, but also drunkenly accepts a huge loan to cover gambling losses. When she’s back home, the shit hits the ceiling. Her creditors are about as friendly as hungry Rottweilers, and she needs to pay them back pronto. To make matters worse, one jilted lover – also her boss – steals the money she had saved by casually robbing banks. (More on that soon.) On the family front, Praful leads on a sweet suitor in the hope that her father will give her the funds to repay the goons. She shows the MBA hopeful her secret spot in the woods (not a metaphor), and makes some soulful noises about the wind, wings and freedom.

For about half the film we see Praful robbing banks to repay the increasingly menacing creditors. Her modus operandi is to put on a wig and hoodie. Scribble a note on a napkin in lipstick demanding money. Scare the teller of the bank with it. And leave with the loot.

Such a sloppy heist is unlikely to be successful even once, let alone a number of times in the same town. Bank security is virtually non-existent. Just like the reality quotient of this plot arc.

And this is what comes of lionising a character and feeding her the script.

About half the film we see Praful, the lead character essayed by Kangana, robbing banks to repay the increasingly menacing creditors

Who’s the man?

This damsel wants to buy her own gowns, slay her own dragons, and romance multiple charming princes. Nothing wrong with any of it. But there’s hardly a pause where she stops and considers her life, her choices, her options. The film takes its name from the heroine of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, encouraged by her mother to live her life freely (albeit for a month). But how does Kangana’s Simran interpret freedom?

Binge drinking, foolish gambling, ill-advised sex – these are all too familiar milestones along a male wasteland. And they would be enough to elucidate Patel’s gender-neutral lifestyle and psyche. Robbing banks adds an outlandish element to a tale that would have done well to retain its roots in reality. As it is, it’s a clumsily assembled model with too many pieces and too little glue.

Praful aims low – to live like a reckless man, and gets there with ease. Kangana is so afraid of playing female stereotypes, she’s ended up playing a male one. She delivers yet another impressive performance, but this ain’t no win for feminism.

From HT Brunch,September 20, 2017

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