R...Rajkumar review: Shahid, Sonakshi in a r...regressive film
Prabhu Deva is making films that will make feminists want to throttle him to death and regular, sane, not-part-of-the-Khap people wonder why his films are so appallingly retro.
This is the hero of our childhoods, whose moves in Humse Hain Muqabla (Kaadhalan in Tamil) we used to imitate; the man we were unanimously going to support whenever he would take part in that inevitable dance-off against Michael Jackson (an urban legend almost every kid I knew believed wholeheartedly); the man who, along with Mani Ratnam and AR Rahman, represented South Indian cinema to Bollywood-watching audiences in the ‘90s.
Today, Prabhu Deva is making films that will make feminists want to throttle him to death and regular, sane, not-part-of-the-Khap people wonder why his films are so appallingly retro.
Most reviewers tore apart Indra Kumar’s Grand Masti for its misogyny earlier this year, especially since it released barely a fortnight after the horrific Shakti Mills gang rape in Mumbai. However, while Kumar’s film is indeed adolescent trash, it does have – dare I say it – an innocence in its intention. It's the point of view of the hormonal teenaged boys. When was the last time you heard of the average teenager carefully erring on the side of political correctness? Plus, officially, it was a film meant strictly for adults.
R…Rajkumar, on the other hand, is purportedly a family entertainer, a pav bhaji film with a U/A censor certificate. It is directed and accessible to a far larger audience, and carries the stamp of being comfortable viewing when in fact R...Rajkumar is considerably more offensive than Grand Masti.
In this film, as in most of his other films, the female protagonist is a sassed-up version of your typical Bollywood doormat. Chanda (Sonakshi Sinha, who must now appear in three Looteras to redeem herself) is independent and even adept at self-defence – her introductory scene shows her beating up multiple men, which is what attracts Romeo Rajkumar (Shahid Kapoor) to her — but she quickly degenerates to becoming mindless and spineless.
The attempts to dress up regressive ideas with progressive frills are many in R...Rajkumar. In one scene, a love-addled Rajkumar breaks into Chanda’s home and lands up in her room. As she changes her clothes, she discovers Rajkumar in her room and is, predictably, shocked. His response is to take his shirt off and say, “Ab tumne bhi mujhe dekh liya hai. Aa gaye na ek hi platform par?” She semi-giggles in response. In the next scene, she is in love with him, presumably because he took off his shirt for her and saved her life (so what if she is supposedly capable of beating up people in her own right?).
So let's get this straight: creepy, annoying stalker enters your house; sees you topless. But he’s heroic and all, so you – a free-spirited woman with a penchant for righteous violence -- are now suddenly in love with him?
There are the usual commercial cinema markers of misogyny in this movie, of course, such as item songs (and then there are some truly horrifying ones), random violence against women for comic effect and the association of a woman’s sexuality with her moral character. Antagonists Manik Parmar (the ever-rapey Ashish Vidyarthi) as well as Shivraj (Sonu Sood) are shown either taunting or assaulting Brinda (Poonam Jhawer) repeatedly for simply wearing low-cut blouses, from what I could gather.
As always, there's the care to package the attention-grabbing parts of the film — what passes for its plot, the stars — in what Prabhu Deva thinks is feminist-friendly packaging, but the details that haven't received that whitewashing are astounding. In a throwaway scene intended to be funny, a corrupt and inept policeman, whose character is established as some form of comic relief, is shown raping a woman in a jail cell before he gets an important call from a drug lord. As he hurries out, he’s shown zipping up his trousers hastily. The nonchalance with which rape, and custodial rape no less, is casually shown and dismissed is appalling, to say the least.
At this point, Prabhu Deva's Hindi filmography comprises Wanted (2009), Rowdy Rathore (2012), Ramaiya Vastavaiya (2013) and, now, R…Rajkumar. Of these, the first two were massive blockbusters and the third, a washout. Perhaps R…Rajkumar will turn out to be a hit (thus reaffirming my atheism), but even without box office collection figures, it establishes one thing. This film, just like Prabhu Deva's previous films, demonstrates a level of misogyny and cultural hypocrisy that is impossible to digest. Amplified by the terrible storytelling and an astonishing lack of aesthetics when it comes to anything that isn’t a song sequence, this film is a ghastly cocktail. They might as well have called it "R...Regressive".
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