36 Vayadhinile was a movie about a woman who discovers her dreams and herself long after she lost sight of where she was heading or how she got there. She is content coasting along, with her job, her family (emotionally distant husband, cruel teenager, loving in-laws), her television serials. All of a sudden, she’s the harbinger of hope. She revolutionizes farming in India, teaches the country the importance of organic farming, and gets her husband and daughter to treat her with respect. If women had to change the nation to win the respect of their family, respect will be out of reach for many. 36 Vayidhinile preached (and then preached some more), but at least it wasn’t confused about the message it wanted to preach, or the lesson it wanted to impart.
Ki & Ka is a great one-line story. An ambitious woman (Kia, Kareena Kapoor) meets a
man boy (Kabir, Arjun Kapoor) whose aim in life is to become his mother, meaning he wants to be a ‘housewife’. He deifies his mother, she was a domestic goddess, an artist who shaped their home, the woman whose tireless efforts with household chores made him the man he is today. He is quick to label all those who go to work as ‘corporate robots’, heartless soul-sucking creatures intent on racing ahead. Kabir is also the son of a business mogul, who seems to own half of Delhi. Yes, Kabir is rich enough to decide he doesn’t want to work (because he never needs to). He can choose to not use his IIM-B degree (which his father paid for, of course), and then conveniently declare he will not live off his father’s money. He rides a Segway everywhere and wears a hangdog expression almost permanently (though this might just be Arjun Kapoor’s face, I shouldn’t be mean). Kareena Kapoor is so vibrant, so expressive, so luminous, she makes the male lead appear even more wooden than usual (and if you watched Two States, you would be shocked to know that this is even possible).
Kia and Kabir hit it off and within about three dates decide to marry each other. While she is off wowing people with her Powerpoint presentations, he makes rajma-chawal and waits for her to get back from work. He converts their house into a train museum/railway station and she even thinks it’s cute. They are made for each other. She wants to become the Vice President next, the CEO after that, and he wants to become the male Nigella Lawson…or something. Okay, what next? The movie seems to be told from the point of view of Kabir, who with his smug grin and self-righteous tone, proceeds to tell us that every woman who wakes up before her husband to make him tea (or coffee), who picks up clothes strewn around and folds them and puts them back in the wardrobe, who does the laundry and goes grocery shopping, who wears her mangalsutra for the world to see, who asks the earning member of the family for money and hides this money in a plastic bag in the refrigerator (not making that up), this woman is the best there is. Behind its veneer of modernity and all that progressive sheen, this story has existed for as long as we have been watching movies. Kabir says he’s taking the woman’s place because his mother is his inspiration, but the movie does not attempt to question the woman’s place, it does not wish to challenge the institution that put women in this place to begin with. It makes you cringe at every turn, with dialogue like “He wants to be my wife, not my husband.”
Ki & Ka rides along on existing stereotypes – housewives will remain busy with kitty parties and complaints about their ever-increasing weight, men in buses will remain perverts who pass lewd remarks at women out for a walk. This wouldn’t have been so bad if the movie hadn’t tried to tackle gender roles entrenched in our society. It neither makes a case for men who stay at home while their wives try to make something of themselves, and nor does it help the cause of women fighting everyday to balance their work and home. It allows Kia to look selfish and petty for feeling resentful towards her husband’s sudden fame, when he gets all the rainbows and sparkles for doing the things most women do everyday. It allows Kabir to look like the better person for letting his wife do what she wants.
What could have been a sensitive movie about the fluid roles of (urban upper middle class) men and women in marriages instead resembles an advertisement that tells us women empowerment will happen once men share the load. It almost makes me want to say a message-movie might have been better.