Hello and welcome to Spoilt Modern Film Reviews! A new section where we will review (mostly) Indian films from a feminist perspective and point out the various problematic (and sometimes positive things) about them.
Sometimes these films will be new releases and sometimes, classics that need to be debated. Think of this as an expansion of our Conditioning is for Hair, not Minds series; as we evolve to include more forms of media to do stereotype smashing.
The very first film to be reviewed in this section is one that released the past weekend and, is being hailed by some as Bollywood’s first gender equality film. The film called Ki & Ka. Well, let’s see how that turned out then, shall we?
Okay, so the good news first. After watching Ki & Ka, no one can ever say that Bollywood’s first ever ‘gender equality film’ failed at sending across a message of gender equality. Mainly for two reasons –
a) Ki & Ka is not Bollywood’s first ever ‘gender equality film’ (Queen already did that two years ago) and,
b) Ki & Ka is NOT a ‘gender equality film’ at all. That’s right. You’ll see how.
** Spoilers ahead**
Roles reversal, not equality
So, as you may already know, Ki is short for Kia and Ka is short for Kabir – played by Kareena Kapoor and Arjun Kapoor respectively. It is also a play on the words lad-ki (girl) and lad-ka (boy). The film is the story of an urban couple, where the woman is a top advertising executive and the man is a stay-at-home husband.
This is an innovative, stereotype breaking concept and had potential for a HUGE narrative shift. Sadly, though, the film fails to deliver on its biggest USP – establishing gender equality. A more apt description for the film would be that it’s about gender roles reversal. Which is new, but hardly does anything for equality – especially because of the way it has been presented. You see Ka, the stay-at-home partner being treated like a doormat by Ki, the financial provider, for pretty much the entire duration of the film.
Sample this, Ki yells at Ka at the smallest of instances, in situations that could easily be sorted out with dialogue, tries to control his personal life and, becomes insecure when he starts getting recognized as an entity beyond that of her husband. Wow, isn’t that a copybook definition of the subjugation millions of stay-at-home women in India face daily? How does reversing the roles, but maintaining an identical amount of subjugation going to help? Some roles, like the oppressor and oppressed, need to be completely eliminated, not reversed.
This one you can pretty much entirely blame on the director R. Balki (or is it Balka?). Ki has been given a character that is, to be honest, just unlikeable. In one sequence, she returns from work to find no food on the table because Ka is out, and sits in the exact same spot till he comes back to say “where have you been?” Even worse, when Ka says “sorry, batao kya khana hai? I’ll order” (tell me what you want to eat, I’ll order in) she snaps “kuch bhi, I’m starving!” (anything, I’m starving!) Wow, so Ki can’t even order for herself because she is a working woman? On another occasion, Ka recalls to an interviewer how when he first saw Ki’s house, he immediately thought it “needed a woman”.
No, not a homemaker, a woman.
So yeah, in one sentence they managed to establish that not only is keeping a house in order essentially a woman’s job, but a working woman is incapable of keeping her own house clean and therefore, NOT A WOMAN AT ALL! Slow clap.
Ki could easily have been determined, assertive and participative. But, by going great lengths to paint the lead woman as selfish, insensitive and insecure, the director only furthers various stereotypes. For example, wives are nagging and insecure, working women are ruthless and incapable of having basic life skills etc.
The only thing more upsetting than Ki’s unflattering personality is the unrelenting two-hour campaign to make Ka look like the best thing since sliced bread. Seriously, you’d be forgiven to mistake him for freaking Superman himself!
The guy knows everything about everything and there’s nothing he can’t do! The only reason he is a stay-at-home husband is because he WANTS TO BE LIKE HIS MOTHER (face meet palm)! Because, if he wanted, he could be a business tycoon, a fitness trainer, an MMA fighter, an advertising model, Masterchef Australia winner, a train museum owner (seriously, what is with all the toy-rains?) and of course, a gender equality expert. In fact, let’s talk about that last one for a minute here.
Now, Ka’s position on equality of sexes would put a gender studies scholar to shame. Just picture this – dude’s invited as the only male on an all-woman panel for a Women’s Day TV show and proceeds to mansplain to them about how we’ve got gender roles all wrong because “hum ki ka kaam ka se kara rahe hain aur ka ka kaam ki se” (we are asking women to do men’s work and men to do women’s work) – again firmly establishing that gender roles are natural to the world. What’s even worse is that the other women on the panel smile and nod along in wonder at this never-heard-before genius logic.
Man’s the hero, again.
As a result of these two very different characters given to the two leads, most of the audience is likely to end up sympathizing with Ka and hating Ki. The undertone is also very firmly that without Ka’s support, Ki can’t chase and realize her professional ambitions.
So what do you have? Eventually it’s the man who is the hero of the film, yet again. Sigh.
The extremely problematic description of stay-at-home people
At multiple points in the film, Ka’s friends, his father and even his own partner use words like nikamma (no-good), bekaar (useless) and phrases like “mere paison pe aish kar raha hai” (you’re enjoying life off my money) to describe him. This is perhaps the biggest disservice the film does to the cause of stay-at-home wives around the country; who struggle everyday to have their contributions in the house recognized as valuable and financially quantifiable.
As if that wasn’t damaging enough, Ka himself justifies to his mother that just because he wants to be a house-husband doesn’t meant he is gay or likes the colour Pink. Because, you know, homophobia and the unnecessary gendering of colours are essential parts of a ‘gender equality film’.
I’m not sure if Amitabh Bachchan is really this big a jerk in real life, or if his acting skills have improved a lot since I last saw him in a film, but he is incredibly believable as the thankless, non-participative husband in his cameo here. He justifies having children as a reason for women giving up their careers and curses Ka for having potentially subjected him to “chaar din ka lecture” (four days of lecturing) from Jaya. Because, you know, Ka is someone who supports his wife’s career ambitions and that might somehow give Jaya the fantastical idea that her husband should also attempt the really difficult task of learning how to boil a cup of water (an actual dialogue in the film).
In the end
Ki & Ka does nothing for empowerment, it does nothing for equality. You know what’s equality in a marriage? Both partners sharing responsibilities and helping each other succeed – whether one of them is stay-at-home or if both have careers outside home!
Ki & Ka flips traditional gender roles in a way that makes the female lead look like an unlovable monster and the male lead like a rainbow farting unicorn, selfless enough to love the said monster – just to help her realise her dreams. The film revolves around Ka with Ki coming and going from the scene – firmly placed in the background while her husband works his magic. It does a few things differently to achieve the same old end – further the ‘men are superheroes no matter what they do’ narrative.
Spoilt Modern Rating
1 ½ toy trains.