As someone who has struggled with professional choices every step of the way to adulthood, and as someone who prefers content over conversation at times, I have consumed quite a hearty amount of a specific genre called ‘coming-of-age’ when it comes to cinema. However, despite relying on these films throughout my adolescence, I could never completely relate to them or the various quarter-life crises they aim to portray. There is something about the mainstream coming-of-age stories in India that always bothered me ever so slightly.
Conditioned to always question my judgement initially, I decided to do some research and talk to other people who may not have the same biases as me – an angry feminist on the Internet.
After receiving a hundred or so recommendations of Dear Zindagi and Margarita With A Straw, I can now openly talk about my problem with the Desi narrative of coming-of-age content.
From Udaan to 3 Idiots to Wake Up Sid to Tamasha, I have come to realize that exploring the distinction between passion and profession is a luxury women are not allowed to afford according to Bollywood. While there are endless stories about the Rohans, Farhaans, Sids and Veds of the world (as there should be), there are hardly a handful about their female counterparts. It’s almost like we are not willing to be as forgiving towards young girls wanting to experiment with their lives as we are towards young boys.
Coming to the few female-centric films of a similar nature I have watched lately, they all seem to treat their protagonists’ career choices as secondary – reiterating the age-old patriarchal distinction of men being rational, practical, career-oriented, fiercely ambitious and women being softer, more emotional in comparison.
Wake Up Sid and Tamasha are both films about a young male protagonist defying conventionality and discovering his true calling. On the other hand, Dear Zindagi is about mental health and childhood trauma whereas Margarita With A Straw is essentially about a woman living with special needs. Don’t get me wrong, these are both extremely significant films, talking about things that need to be talked about. Kaira and Laila are certainly two characters that resonated with thousands of young women. However, one cannot equate them with the likes of Sid or Ved who did not need any underlying justification for their bold (so to speak) professional decisions.
In a country where there is still an approximate 20% disparity between the literacy rates of men and women, female protagonists daring to make unconventional career choices may seem almost audacious to many. When the mere thought of women being financially independent is still taken with a grain of salt, where can we expect to find a space for female characters who have the cheek to dream?
Cinema is a medium that exists to influence the masses and for decades, young women have been watching themselves being portrayed as eye slash arm candies at worst and the typical textbook Manic Pixie Dream Girls at best. The latter -seemingly harmless- trope leads to some real-life consequences wherein women start viewing themselves as an extension to the men in their lives, existing as a stepping stone in the hero’s pursuit of success and self-discovery.
Of course, let’s not forget how a film is usually considered to be worthy of being an authentic coming-of-age story only when it has a male protagonist. Those with female protagonists are simply shoved under the tainted, trivial umbrella of what we’ve come to know as ‘chick-flicks’.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.