"What sort of husband are you? Don't you have any shame, sending a defenceless woman out into the ruthless world to earn your daily bread?"
That's just one of the lines that Kareena Kapoor's Kia playfully taunts Arjun's Kabir with, in the trailer of R Balki's 'Ki and Ka', where we see gender roles get flipped over for the sake of establishing that 'stree-ling' and 'pul-ling' are, in fact, the same thing.
The trailer was appreciated for its honesty and pointedness, never mind that most of the lines and situations in the trailer are so textbook, they'd fall squarely under the purview of Smriti Irani.
One hopes that this is just for the trailer, and that the film itself has a little more nuance and subtlety than that, if it truly cares about establishing just where gender injustice lies in society. (For those who believe that 'it's just a film, it's hardly going to change society', this is where you switch to catching up on JNU or cat videos.)
The first song (gliding past that boisterous Honey Singh number), titled 'Ji Huzoori', seems to suggest that the film might not be as 'different' and 'refreshing' as the trailer suggested. The song’s video introduces us a little more to the characters of the lead pair, and it feels like despite the stereotype inversion we’ve seen so far, the characters still manage to fall into the very same stereotypes we’ve seen in young millennial romances in the past decade or so.
Arjun sometimes aimlessly rides a Segway when he’s introspecting, while mostly alternating between fiddling with a toy train and a mopping around a real one, implying perhaps that the man-child has some growing up to do. Meanwhile Kareena Kapoor gets to tone down her attire, bunch up her hair and be the ‘mature one’.
Essentially, the film now seems like a rehash of the same conflict we’ve seen numerous times before – where the man needs to grow up and the woman needs to chill out. Remember Aamir and Preity from that gold standard of the coming-of-age romance, Dil Chahta Hai? Or Vivek (or ‘Viveik’; we’ve stopped keeping track) and Rani from Shaadi Ali’s Alaipayuthey-remake Saathiya? Ranveer and Anushka in Band Baaja Baaraat, perhaps? The list goes on.
Each of those highly loved films — and so many more widely panned ones like Gori Tere Pyar Mein, Bewakoofiyan, I Hate Luv Storys (sic) — showed conflicts in the romance rising primarily out of widely propagated stereotypes about men and women; and irrespective of whether those films reinforced them or not, they demonstrated that it’s hard to truly talk of gender equality when mainstream art and culture fail to move past this stereotyping.
It’s great that we’re making films that highlight gender issues, but there’s only a fine line between exposing the injustice of patriarchal gender roles and feeding into them because it’s the ‘in’ thing to do. (Remember Vogue trying to empower, anyone?)
Whatever one may say of R Balki’s filmography, the one thing that’s apparent is that he isn’t one to keep things cool. Nuance doesn’t come naturally, but then that’s unfair to expect from someone whose core competency is that graveyard of equality, advertising.
Right now, it looks like the only promise Ki and Ka will fulfil is that it’ll be more of the same thing, even though we truly want it to be brutal and harsh, (even if it’s in a light, frothy manner,) about just how unequal our society can be. And quite like the future of gender equality itself, it ultimately hinges on hope.