Vikram Johri: Missed chance

The recently released trailer of Kya hum samajh sakte hain ki aapki relationship main Kia is the man?" which translates to "Can we say that Kia is the man in your relationship?" We hear an unseen woman, her back to the camera, say this to Arjun Kapoor, the Ka of the title, who proceeds to deny this causative fallacy.

He explains to her patiently the dynamics of their relationship: that he is a stay-at-home husband while his wife is the breadwinner. So far so good, but then, for good measure, he lays it on thick with a barrage of simplifications: "Main lad-ka hoon aur meri wife lad-ki hai (I am the man and she the woman) but I don't think you will understand since she is the one who goes out to earn…" So on his ear-numbing spiel runs.

The rest of the trailer confirms the growing suspicion that R Balki who gave us the delightful ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

There is the boy's father who, on hearing that the boy intends to stay at home after marriage, tells him to go check if he still has a penis. There is the cringe-inducing sex scene in which Arjun Kapoor tells Kareena he has a headache, in the apparently time-worn tradition of suffering housewives. Kareena won't take no for an answer, obviously.

There are other cliche-ridden script points, which the trailer amply showcases. "I am not gay," Arjun Kapoor tells us, "neither do I want to undergo a sex change. I like women, I like whiskey, but I will be damned if I got into the rat race to make a living." When Kareena introduces him, she calls him her "wife".

Rest assured that even our more evolved directors, and I would certainly like to think of Balki as one, will not skip a chance to introduce some deft, completely-lacking-in-nuance reference to homosexuality, because well, all gays want is to be women, right? Bring in a mention of the word in the script, a loose throwing around of the term, just to show how casually broad-minded you are, even when it makes no sense to put it in there.

It would be easy to question each of those stereotypes, especially the one about the sex change. But let me come to my real problem with the film: the humour-ridden high moral ground it takes in its misguided assumption that it is advocating the right of a woman to step out of the household.

In reality, it does no such thing. It seeks to present home and hearth as the natural domain of the woman and the outside world as the ideal hunting ground of the man. What Kareena and Arjun Kapoor do in the film is merely swap traditional gender roles. They are not questioning the roles themselves. And the film, at least what one gathers from the trailer, takes a lifetime explaining this swap.

It does not, for example, talk about how the cussedness of dowry has caused unspeakable damage to the lives of many women, and how financial independence has played some role in righting this social wrong. It does not talk about how money is often a pernicious barometer of hierarchy in a relationship and it is women who have historically been at the receiving end of this divide. It frames the man's staying at home as an easy-peasy unwillingness to go out and earn, an unwillingness borne out of a cool-bro stance. This entirely overlooks the larger problem of how women have not been allowed to seek financial independence for too long in this country.

Moreover, it neatly appropriates the bull-headedness of corporate culture with the most glaring tone-deafness. The wife is ribbed by the husband for being a "robot", a hard-hearted corporate entity with "no softness". He, meanwhile, is showcased playing ball with sundry women on the beach. Even when the woman is empowered, her choice is shown as succumbing to unmitigated corporate rigmarole, while the man is the more enlightened for having left it all behind to find succor is the bosom of women none of whom he is emotionally attached to.

I could go on, which is a pity since I have nothing more than a two-minute trailer to make my claim. Ki & Ka is a Bollywood product, so one cannot expect too much sense from it, but the way it tries to mask its blatantly reactionary politics under the garb of new-age cool is highly troublesome. Balki could have played with tropes of Indian life to make a broader point about woman emancipation. Regrettably, he chooses to pander to a low-enough denominator and couch it in lazy humour to make what looks to be an entirely avoidable flick.

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