Cocktail – Regressive and Misogynist?

In response to critics and commentators who have called ‘Cocktail’ regressive and misogynist , I still don’t understand how is it regressive or misogynist to turn a woman away from the path of self-delusion and self-destruction to a world of sanity and wholesome relationships.

But before I actually come to Cocktail, let me mention TV program I saw recently , hosted by Sagarika Ghosh, on the Guawhati molestation episode. When asked if women should also be careful about how they should dress, a guest, Pooja Bedi, replied, “ Every generation have been pushing the boundary a little. There were women in burkhas. Then women gave that up. The ext generation wore sleeve-less . And so on.” I thought to myself, by her logic the height of this progress would be when women wore nothing at all! Since when less clothes or shorter skirts started meaning progress? I thought Churchill made fun of Gandhi because he wore less clothes!

If Pooja Bedi’s pronouncements as spokesperson for women’s emancipation can be excused ( I wonder why the particular channel keeps inviting her when any important issue related to women is discussed.) , the esteemed journalist writing in Tehelka does not seem to fare much better.

Cocktail, Image 1

Let me quote from her piece. “Veronica, a flamboyant, sexy woman, at ease with herself, played by Deepika Padukone., ‘ she says. Sorry, Veronica seemed anything but ‘ at ease with herself’ to me. “At first, the film leads you to imagine it will be a cheesy but emancipated take on a new, modern sexuality, where consenting adults come together in relationships constructed on their own terms.” But isn’t that what it is, except that it is not all that cheesy as such. Does not Guatam lives with the woman he loves? Does not Vernica resist the temptation to win over Saif by emotional blackmail ( which at one point in the film, she could), once she knew Gautam loved Meera? Knowing well that their sleeping and living together was without pre-condition, holding him to ransom and forcing him to marry her just because he had slept with her would be equivalent to a village panchayat ruing that the rapist should marry his victim, won’t t? She pulls back ads any girl with some self respect would. But the feminist / progressive critics and viewers fail to take note.

“Gautam starts out with a casual, live-in relationship with Veronica. Predictably, despite the buzzy, warm vibe between them, when it’s time for true love, he jettisons her for Meera, “ she writes. Now isn’t that what happens quite often in the most ‘progressive” circles of society? John-Bipasha anyone? Isn’t that what the idea of living together supposed to be about? That your are not tied in? Which is more progressive? That you marry someone just because you have lived together with her for a certain amount of time? Or that , no, you had a honest enough relationship with someone, but now you think you love someone else and all should accept that? Isn’t that what happens in the end? Yes when two people break up, one is likely to get hurt more than the others. In this case it is Veronica , and she not being a woman in control of her life ( quite contrary what the writer of the piece imagines her to be) goes to pieces. ( But this kind of self-destructiveness is not peculiar to women. Devdas did that too, and died. Here Veronica does better and bounces back to normalcy.) But like true friends, Meera and Guatam support her, make her feel loved, and slowly she gains her self-esteem, to a degree higher than what she possessed before she knew these two. It was a charade then and all bravado. Now it was genuine self-confidence.

“Gautam — as much the playboy — is put through no such moral laundering. It’s the old axiom: sexually prolific men are virile; sexually prolific women are whores. A man like him can find true love, a woman like her cannot.” A double mistake here. First of all, she fails to recognize that, yes, there is a difference between men being sexually prolific and a woman sleeping around. (It has to do with evolutionary biology that has hardwired the instincts of men and women a little differently. The payoff for a woman to sleep around is less, because she can give birth to only one child, while a man sleeping around can father multiple children, almost without limits.. That is the basic instinct. Of course we do not live by our primordial instincts alone, and civilization influences play a role. But the basic biological compulsions will take thousands, maybe millions of years to evolve significantly. Perceptive artists divine the essential truth intuitively , more so than social scientists and columnists.) The second mistake she makes is in insinuating that, ‘A man like him can find true love, a woman like her cannot.’ The director shows nothing to lead us to that interpretation. Veronica will probably meet someone better than Gautam now and win his love. ( Just like there is the examples of John and Bipasha breaking up after years of living together, there is also the example of Tina Munim marrying Anil Ambani after a much publicized live-in relationship with Tina Munim. So both our society and our films do give women a second cnace as they do to men. Yes , it is harder for women. But that’s how it is. ) Yes Veronica has changed her ways, but how is that regressive? Does anyone here suggest that living in an alcoholic haze, pub-hopping, and sleeping around without a committed relationship, will lead to long-term fulfillment? Heck, why women, no sane counselor will advice that kind of a lifestyle for a man. You have all heard how Javed Akhtar confessed that the years he spent under he spell of alcohol are his only regrets in life. You have also read writer Jeet Thayil mention how the years he spent doing drugs were totally unproductive, and waste. Now he si clean and come out with his novel long-listed for Booker. And what if she switches short skirts for longer ones? Why are long skirts or salwar-kameez regressive compared to short skirts? I would like to hear one strand of reasoning in support of that.

In fact, the film’s regressiveness seems to be all in the writer’s mind. ‘The function of art may not be to reform, but surely it must, at the very least, unobtrusively prise open tiny new understandings, and nudge society towards greater humanity and empathy, ‘ she writes. And precisely that is what the film does. The film is remarkably evenhanded in how it looks at the two friends with totally different personalities. At no point are Meera’s ways shown to be superior to Veronica’s. ( Even the matronly Dimple says to Veronica, “ Tu ladki buri nhain hai. Bas dhang ke kapde pehna kar!” ) Meera’s small town ways are not made fun of or looked at patronizingly either. Veronica or Gautam don’t comment disparagingly about her clothes, or her religiosity. Each one to his own is how they share the common living space. Meera for her part is not your stereotypical small town girl either. She is nonjudgmental about the live-I relationship of Gautam and Veronica. She is not all uptight and a wet blanket when they go partying together. She does drink the occasional glass of wine, dresses spiffily as per her tastes, and shares I the fun. She works at getting a job. And , holy of holies, she has no qualms about pre-marital sex when it comes to herself. And she is no passive doll, incapable of making any first moves as the push she gives Gautam, saying ’Tum kyon nahin girte’ proves. Coming to Gautam, he does not lecture Veronica on her wayward ways. She does not imply that she is a bad girl, or anything remotely close to that. The film does not show his attraction to Meera has anything to do with her Indian ways. The way I read it, he too was tired of his anchorless life and was looking for someone opposite to his past life, some one more innocent, more rooted. Whatever it was, it was certainly not because of her longer skirts. And no, Veronica willing to cook lamb biriyani and wear salwar-kurta did not do it for him. ( Unlike say Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai.). It was just Veronica’s desperation. But why the desperation? For that we have to recognize what kind of a girl she is She is not really the wild at heart type, Her lifestyle is a reaction to her parental neglect and careless upbringing. That is why she bonds with Meera so well, who gives her a home she never had. Then she comes under the charm of Gautam and she fills fulfilled. But she has had it al easy and and not learnt the life lesson that you have to pay high price for things that you truly desire. Nothing teaches you that better than some hard knocks. Meeting Gautam’s mother stirs a yearning for a kind of family bonding that she never had. Then comes the hard knock. Gautam’s falling for Meera makes the ground beneath her feet cave in. In the film, the soundtrack plays ‘ Alvida, yaara alvida” and “O ishq ch vich kamli hoyi, Bhaaron hassi andron royi “ In my mind the lines that play are ‘ And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street, And now you find out you’re gonna have to get used to it. How does it feel To be without a home, Like a complete unknown, Like a rolling stone ?’ and ‘The lover who just walked out your door, Has taken all his blankets from the floor. The carpet, too, is moving under you. And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.’ She had kind of taken Meera and their ménage-a trios for granted. So that fact that Meera could steal Guatam from her completely shattered her emotionally and made her lose her self-esteem, setting her ona path of total self-degradation and destruction. But once Meera and Gautam showed her how much they cared for her, her self-esteem returns and she gets the grip back on her life.

So there are many refreshing departures from stereotypes and many insightful peeks into complex relationships, if one stopped looking at the film with glasses tinted with pre-conceived idea of what we want the film to be rather than what it is.

( Rangan, bringing in the Jules et Jim was the best part of your review for me, for what the fulm aims is the sophistication and subtlety of European cinema while dealing with man-woman relationship rather than the broad-stroke , message-oriented depiction Hollywood films.

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