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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Female, 24, seeks Romance*

Lately, when anybody asks me 'Watched any movies?', I blank out. It might be due to the fact that when someone puts me on the spot I draw a blank anyway, but in this case it is more to do with the fact that none of the movies I watch seem to be the sort that stay with you hours after the credits have rolled. It's also true that I do not watch a lot of movies as such. I firmly believe in selective absorption of popular culture. And after one particularly traumatic incident (I don't remember what it was), I decided I was going to be very very choosy about which movie I watch, given how I was devoting 2 hours of my life to it when I could be making better use of those precious hours.

So, it's mostly been a case of trying to watch P.S. I love you/Bride wars/Marley and Me/random supposedly good flick and turning it off after a few minutes because I cannot bloody stand the nincompoopery I am being subjected to. I really should learn to apply the Bechdel test before I start a movie, as recommended by a reader when I cribbed earlier about movies.

And then I read this article and had a 'Twing!' moment. I kept reading and my brain was yelling 'She is so bloody right!!!'. The piece basically compares the rom-coms of yore to those of today and draws a conclusion that modern-day rom-coms are essentially misogynistic and dumbed-down versions. In a really bizzarre manner, it appears that movies about women in this supposedly modern era actually portray them in a poorer light than those earlier. Evidently, the heroines of yesteryears were far more advanced, individual, liberated and strong compared to the heroines of today. As the article says

... the women who people today's romantic comedies seem to have three main obsessions ... [shopping, babies and marriage].


Now, at a time when 70% of women are in the workforce, career women in romantic comedies are generally either portrayed as incompetent, cruel, or both... [it is] quite insulting that a career woman now is something that is so frowned upon. You see depictions of women who are supposedly at the top of their game, yet they can't walk down a corridor in a white suit without pouring coffee on themselves or walking into a bush. The films are not very subtly saying 'yes, they may be at the top in their jobs, but actually what they really need is a man. In fact, a husband.

And while on one hand there is this pre-feminist portrayal to be worrying about, there is another aspect that is equally worrying. With more and more heroines being portrayed as independent, career-minded, selfish individuals who get 'tamed' by the men involved, the message being sent out is that it's okay to simply expect that one will only get the best without having to put in work, that if something isn't perfect at the start and on the surface then there's no need to dig deeper but simply give it a boot.

As one of the girls Kira Cochrane interviewed post the movie watching, said, "I see marriage as a bit of a negative thing ... You're signing your life away. Very few of our parents are still together, so why would we want to go through all that?"

So while every other rom-com tells the girls of today that they can get away with being selfish and not settle for less than what they expect until marriage happens and all that will change, they are also sending the message across that marriages, nay, even stable relationships are hard to come by and do not last. Is it any surprise then, that the target audience ends up in a 'Why make an effort then?' rut.

It's a rather scary scenario. Specially for parents. It's come to a point where parents are simply thankful to see their children married at all, at whatever age, than simply shacking up with someone or turning out to be gay (no offense to the gay community there).

Coming back to the point though. It's imperative that the whole notion of romance and the role of a heroine are drastically altered from their present day avtars.

It's not just movies and TV shows that are the problem. Even books seems to be going the same way. Chick-lit's taken off in a big way but instead of liberating the modern woman, it has shackled her worse than before. And romance novels, or rather Mills & Boon romances, are not the same as before either. They seem to get raunchier and raunchier with nothing else to bind the pages together except the smut. As my friend D once said "It's not fiction dude, it's fuction!!!"

Now while I tend to avoid romance novels like french beans curry, I did read a few good ones. The most prominent ones in my mind are Georgette Heyers' books. Her heroines really were the sounky, imaginative, spirited creatures that heroines are supposed to be. Not in all her books, but most. I particularly enjoyed Sylvester and Cotillion. And if I were forced to choose an M&B work, it would have to be The Faraway Bride. Describing the journey of an orphaned English girl who marries an Australian visitor when he proposes to her in a fit of anger at his match-maing aunt, the book is more about the heroine's move to Australia and her very successful efforts at acclimatising herself to her new home while slowly building a relationship with this stranger she married than any action between all characters involved ... it's a book that has stayed in my mind for years. It's description of Australia and its characters made it a wholesome read. I often wondered why it was made into a romance novel ... I thought it deserved better than to be clubbed with 'fuction'.

And I truly wish this is what I could find in the movies, TV shows and books of now. A female role model who is spunky, imaginative, creative, smart, intelligent, hard working and just flawed enough to make her human. Someone who does not have outrageous expectations of romance but is happy to go along and play the game, make the best of it and emerge a winner. I wish to find A Heroine.

* No this is not an ad inviting proposals, decent or otherwise.


  1. I always wondered if the pouring of coffee and walking into the bush is a way of making her seem "human w/ faults". And you know physical comedy is supposed to be funny, yes?
    well no!

  2. simply shacking up with someone or turning out to be gay (no offense to the gay community there)

    Oxymoron of the day! :)

    But serisouly, well written Female, 24. You will get your romance indeed!

  3. SO TRUE...
    Women are so dumbed down nowadays that some actually think by dumbing down - they will get married/hookedup/whatever...

    And yes, your last line sums it all up quite well.

  4. Subtle humour is an effective way to drive home a point and you have done it very well here!

    I agree - we need smart, intelligent and poised (pun intended) heroines who CAN walk past the hunk of a boss without crashing into a messy tangle of heels, files, coffee and cleavage. [Oh, but I still love good ol' Bridget :)]

    As for the monotonous chick-lit bit, try 'Piece of Cake' by Swati Kaushal. The protagonist does break a few myths by remaining single in the end (no, there was no dearth of eligible bachelors in her life. Left me with an ambivalence I can't explain.

  5. Damn, and I thought you were going to talk about your ad in or suchlike ;)

    That's it from my side this time. I don't have anything to do with any genre which starts with "rom...", unless it is "roman history".

    And while we are on the topic of my kind of rom-, check out "Falco" series by Lindsey Davis. A classically sarcastic detective, his spunky girlfriend/wife in ancient Roman setting... :D

  6. I thought long and hard to recall one movie of recent times that potrayed the female..the way you described to find.

    You are right! There have been none..

    Now, that's a sad realization. Hmm!

    Watched Delhi 6 yesterday..and actually liked the female character there.

    'Bittu' is a young, fun loving, ambitious and strong enough to ditch her conservative family to attain her dreams..and this time, it's not about running away to get married to her hero.

  7. La Vida Loca: Culd be, but that's saying all women are clumsy and klutzy. And granted one may behave a little stupidly when in the presence of an object of affection... but this is a classic case of dumbing down. Why can't they be shown blushing furiously, stammering, dropping pens (if they have to show them as faulty) ... or show them making mistakes at work, getting lost while executing home duties, forgetting things... The trouble with today's female characters is that they just don't seem real enough. They seem to have been written by people who don't really observe much and caricature every woman in a generalised way. And even if they do have to caricature, it's comedy, it's funny only when it's believeable ... it's all in the execution essentially.

    Anna Bond: Aiyyo! No really, I was trying to speak from the POV of parents who might not be that easily accepting of homosexuality. That's all. And I'd be happy if I could find some believable romance in this popular culture shit we're being subjected to. Not too much to ask for, is it?

    Pixie: Actually it's probably more a case of everything being dumbed down. It then seeps into real life ... life imitating art and all that rubbish you know.

    Thought Bubbles: You know, I actually found Bridget Jones the book more entertaining than the movie. The book was so much more fleshed out and whole. Things get lost in translation unfortunately. And what I don't get about chick lit/ chick flicks these days is why there cannot be a balance among the things in a woman's life. Why does it always have to be a 'mad about shopping/career/babies/ hatred of men/ extreme love of men/ desperation to find a man/ tricks to keep a man' sort of thing... where's the balance gone! And where's the personality gone?

    Amey: HAHA! Have you been appointed by my relations to reconnoiter my love life? :D Tareek pakki hui toh niyota bhej doongi tumhe, theek? And thanks for the recommendation... will look it up when I'm in the bookstore next.

    AlwaysHappyKya: Now see, I still don't get that... it's still an either/or situation there. Why can't she have both, want both? If I HAD to pick a recent movie which did make an effort towards choosing a heroine, I might pick Jab We Met. Granted Kareena Kapoor was rather irksome in places but on the whole it was a character that was altogether hatke!

  8. when i think chick flick, top-of-mind to me is when harry met sally... or the devil wears prada. or even marley & me.
    i liked marley coz it took me back to my childhood... of growing up in a house with dogs... the dog dying... and all that. i could relate to it. i loved the movie. i didn't even realize the bad acting or the fact that aniston quits her job to stay home and raise children.
    i can't find a flaw in sally's character... she's as real life as you or me.
    devil wears prada... another chick flick i liked... loved the book too. but i may not like it if i see it today. but what i rber is that it's about a girl who figures out what she wants from her life - doesn't give up her dream or her guy - and is happy.

    i think with most movies, we take back what we connect with. if anything, at all. and that, to me, makes the movies worth a watch. even if i can take 2 lines back with me... one scene i can connect with - for me it's paisa vasool.
    coz movies aren't always about reality.

    also, speaking of popular culture... if i look around, i find more women looking for "love" than women looking for a career. popular culture depicts what's popular. i guess, currently it's looking for love. maybe in another 5 years time, it'll be looking for a balance.

    the chick lit that we're talking abt caters perfectly well to its target audience. nobody thinks of it as a serious read or a guideline. it's like reading maxim and saying all men want is women with great bods. *THAT, is another topic tho! :D*

    chick lits or chick flicks are supposed to be taken at face value - most of the times.
    for the more serious audience, there are the serious movies and books.

    i know we don't really agree on the topic of movies... but i still lauve you! :)

  9. OMG! i think i shud blog. i am SO sorry for the length of that comment!!!!!!!!

  10. OMG! Thank you for writing this!! Totally agree with you. I was discussing something sorta different yet similar the other day- ruing the lack of droolworthy men in today's cinema vs days gone by.

    I'd take a Gregory Peck/Clark Gable/James Dean ANY DAY over these pothering pink morons who think *pouting* is acting.

    Also, what female characters they used to write back then, man. No way would anyone be capable of writing and enacting the sorta females Bette Davis portrayed. No way!

  11. Has no heard of Meg Ryan?! How about Konkona Sen back home??

  12. Rayshma: Well, they do say 'Love make the world go around' so it's fitting that rom-coms are the order of the day. I haven't watched When Harry Met Sally, might like it but can't say and you know my opinion of the other two. And true that we take back what we can connect to from what we watch... but that leaves me with nothing to connect with as such. Like I said, I have other things to do with my time. And given you worked in close rlation to this stuff it's bound to rub off in some way na :)And no, chick-flicks are not meant to be guidelines... no one has to take them seriously, but the way they are rolling out, it's akin to the old 'India is a land of rope tricks' attitude or some ignorant firang asking if Indians travel on elephants. It's only funny for so long. And since you brought it up anyway, it's time someone started addressing what guys want differently too. I'm not saying this stuff should be serious, all I'm saying is let's stop this dumbed down crap.

    And who said we don't really agree on movies? We'll always have Tridev and Kimi Katka's socks ;) :D

    And you're having withdrawal symptoms woman... get back to blogging already!

    Pitu: The Sultan has decreed it, no further word! :D

    Thought Bubbles: Thanks a lot! :)

    Stray: We're discussing characters when we mention heroines, not actresses. Capische?

  13. it's all a phase, sweetie. a longer-lasting trend!
    look at it this way.. someday, the next generation will look at today's chick-flicks and have a good hearty laugh! :D
    like we look at kimi's socks in the then controversial song! :D

    i is not getting back yet! i will post longer-than-post comments and harass u! phtooeeeyyy!!! :P

    on an aside... what would u classify as a bollywood chick flick? i can't think of any.

  14. pls don't say "laila" to answer my question! that doesn't qualify! :D

  15. Nope, doing it all pro bono ;)

    Don't worry, your secrets are safe with me. But if you don't tell, your condition would be the same as our colleague's when we found his photo staring at us from rediff under "matrimony".

  16. Anonymous10:40 PM

    Hey DDD,

    I have a total girl crush on Tina Fey and her character Liz Lemon. She is smart, funny, NOT ugly and generally going about her life and career without even a whiff of the uber bitch that all these movies make the career women to be!

  17. Anonymous1:57 PM


  18. "I cannot bloody stand the nincompoopery I am being subjected to." lol!

  19. Any film or book which portrays women in a way that breaks stereotypes is instantly called a woman-oriented movie or feminist literature. It's almost as if strong, independent women are not part of the mainstream.

  20. Rayshma: It's a yucky phase then. And I feel sorry for the next generation, being subjected to this stuff as 'old classic movies'. Hmpfh. And aren't all bollywood movies chick-flicks in some measure?

    Amey: What happened to said colleague? And aren't you forgetting something? You'd have to be able to first recognise me to know my photo is up on some matrimony site (it is not, to my best knowledge) ... hai na?

    Cluelessness: Yeah she does seem to be one of the rare ones!

    Anon: Go away, shoo!

    Arunima: *Grin*

    D: Welcome! Glad to have you here :) I would agree, except it seems to me that the definition of 'strong, independent women' itself has been stereotyped to death now. Do you have a favourite book/movie which has the sort of heroine we're looking for?