Dangal, Sultan, Tanu Weds Manu Returns: On screen, it's a good time for Haryana's women

Karishma Upadhyay

Dec 23, 2016 15:40:49 IST

Haryana is not known to treat its women well. The state has one of the worst male-female sex ratios in India; khap panchayats and honour killings; an abysmal female literacy rate; and, according to the National Crime Record Bureau, has recorded the highest rate of gang rapes per lakh women in 2015. The stereotypical image of Haryana is that of its infamous patriarchal and feudal setup where women have no say in anything. Haryana is not the only state where women are victimised — but it’s found it hard to shake off the image.

Dangal, Sultan, Tanu Weds Manu Returns: On screen, its a good time for Haryanas women

(Clockwise from above left) Aarfa from 'Sultan'; Geeta in 'Dangal'; Datto in 'Tanu Weds Manu Returns'

Except on the silver screen. Bollywood’s been doing more than its fair share to shatter this image in the last few years. From Tanu Weds Manu Returns’ Datto to Sultan’s Aarfa and, more recently, Dangal’s Geeta and Babita, it’s been a good time for Haryanvi women in reel life.

While talking about Datto, the strong-willed Haryanvi he created for Tanu Weds Manu Returns, director Aanand L Rai told me last year: “We have a very different idea about girls from Haryana. Those girls are very strong. In 5-7 years, you will see them all over the world. They are as smart and ambitious as my 20-year-old niece who has grown up in Mumbai.”

Kangana Ranaut as Datto is a natural with karate chops and hockey sticks — just as she is, making tea on a chulha. A state-level athlete, Datto could be any small-town girl walking a very fine line where she is fighting the shackles and yet dreaming of making it big. “What I wanted to do with Datto was to portray an Indian woman who is different from Tanu. She is responsible, strong, and confident. She is equally at ease in the kitchen and on the sports field. It’s her choice. She decides what she wants to do with her life,” Rai added.

Interestingly, sports connects all the young women we’ve seen from Haryana onscreen in recent years. While Datto is a long-jumper, Arfa and the Phogat sisters Geeta-Babita are queens of the wrestling ring. While there were detractors who believed that Anushka Sharma’s character was dealt with regressively (the point where she decides to keep her baby at the cost of giving up on her wrestling dream), I disagree. At no point in the film is Aarfa told what to do with her career or her body. The decision is hers alone.

In an interview with Anupama Chopra, Anushka defended her character’s decision, saying, “She makes a choice to not abort her child. Should she have not cared about her child and followed her dream? Are we moving towards a society that says the only right thing for a woman is to abort her child and follow her dream? That would could be right for somebody and wrong for someone else. But the ability to make that choice is a progressive step and not regressive.”

Nitesh Tiwari’s Dangal is about the exceptional Phogat sisters and their tiger-dad Mahavir Phogat who pushes his daughters beyond their physical and mental limits to win accolades for India.  In a year that’s had some strong feminist films like Pink and Dear Zindagi, this Aamir Khan-starrer makes its mark. Mahavir Phogat starts off obsessed with wanting a son to fulfill his dream of winning a wrestling gold for India until he realises: ‘Gold to gold hota hai, chora ho ya chori’. Babita and Geeta might have been pushed into wrestling by their father but the decision to become the best was theirs alone. There’s a moment in a film where Geeta and Mahavir go head-to-head. It’s a fight of supremacy between two pehelwans and it’s exhilarating.

Choriyan choron se kam nahin’ is the anthem of each of these films and one that hopefully will percolate from reel to real life.

Updated Date: Dec 23, 2016 16:23:11 IST