By Poulomi Das
Last July, when Girls Trip released in theatres alongside Christopher Nolan’s widely anticipated Dunkirk and the sci-fi porn Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets, the all-women comedy was projected to gross only around $20 million. As luck would have it, the rib-ticklingly funny Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, and Regina Hall-starrer was a box-office anomaly. It became 2017’s first live action comedy produced, written, and starring African-Americans to break the $100 million+ mark.
The film had a unique marketing strategy: Girls Trip was sold as an event movie for adult women. The bawdy comedy’s success was a needful reminder of two facts. First, that it is imperative to treat any women-led film as an A-level event (no less than the Avengers frenzy that grapples the whole world). And second, not shy away from acknowledging that these films are targeted toward a starving demographic of women, who want to see versions of themselves on screen, having fun.
Girls Trip then, managed an incredible feat: It quietly reclaimed the “chick-flick” genre; being lauded and loved by both men and women.
Closer home, when the trailer of Shashanka Ghosh’s Veere Di Wedding — one of the most anticipated Bollywood films of the year — dropped last week, the air was rife with excitement. The big, bad testosterone-fuelled world of Bollywood that churns out factory-produced male-bonding cinema by the dozen, is hardly known to focus on light-hearted women-led films about the sanctity of female friendships. But if the trailer is any indication, Veere Di Wedding aims to fill this very gap.
Films that depend on male-bonding or unabashed sexism seem to get away without being labelled.
In the trailer, four besties — Kareena Kapoor (making her comeback after two years), Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhaskar, and Shikha Talsania — drop truth bombs, cuss with pure abandon, discuss orgasms and sexism over drinks, and refuse to let marriage dictate their identities. Besides being a perfect antithesis to last year’s Lipstick Under My Burkha, the film looks and feels like a Bollywood iteration of Girls Trip that seems too good to be true. In fact, there’s even a scene in the trailer that directly evokes Girls Trip: a shot of the four friends laughing hand in hand as they set out for a night of partying.
Except, Veere Di Wedding comes with a baffling condition: Its insistence at not being labelled a “chick flick”. The film’s promotions up until now have been riding on the back of one telling hashtag #ImNotAChickFlick. Because for a film to be taken seriously, it must eschew all the attendant baggage that comes with a film about women.
In an op-ed column in the New York Times, feminist icon Gloria Steinem articulated what is my favourite definition of a chick flick. She wrote, “A chick flick is one that has more dialogue than car chases, more relationships than special effects, and whose suspense comes more from how people live, than from how they get killed.” To my mind, Veere Di Wedding, just like Bridesmaids and Girls Trip, seems to fulfil all of the above criteria. Further, the film boasts two female producers (Rhea Kapoor and Ekta Kapoor) and is co-written by a woman (Nidhi Mehra), which in the male-dominated bastion of the Hindi film industry, is an incredible feat.
Why, then, are the filmmakers in such a hurry to disassociate from the very genre that they are contributing to? And, most importantly, what is wrong with being a chick flick?Veere Di Wedding can be a great example of a Bollywood chick flick if it lets itself to be. | Image credit: Balaji Motion Pictures
As Steinem points out in her piece, the problem with the term ‘“chick flick” is perhaps “the fact that adjectives are mostly required of the less powerful”. Films that depend on male-bonding or unabashed sexism seem to get away without being labelled. But it’s always “female directors”, “female actors”, and “chick flicks” that are needed to operate under the constraints of expectations. But is washing our hands off the term “chick flicks” then the only way to ensure that women’s contributions aren’t thought of as lesser to men? What if we also focus on what the term “chick flick” also stands for: a celebration of women and their stories?
As it stands now, chick flicks, especially in Bollywood, hold a dismissive and trivialised reputation. The rare films that dare to be identified with the moniker immediately sound a death knell on their existence because it alienates a sizeable chunk of the male audience, raised on garden variety entertainers led by male heroes. They’d comfortably watch prick flicks (where men denounce the fairer sex, and then promptly find themselves) like Pyaar Ka Punchnama and its ilk, but steer clear of a film that has women that serve a role larger than just a crutch for a male lead. Naturally, the fear of losing out on the majority of an audience is a nightmare that forces many producers to package their women-led films in a way so that they sound universally appealing. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with that, but if the success of Girls Trip tells us anything, it’s that there’s no better time to offer the world polished definition of chick flicks than now.
In fact, it’s our reluctance to own the genre – bastardised due to insipid contributions of previous films – that continues to legitimise the legion of prick flicks. If male bonding can be romanticised as a prop for films for the umpteenth time, then so can films like Veere Di Wedding supersede expectations from a chick flick and offer a realistic depiction of both, female friendships and what living as a single girl in the country feels like. That, unfortunately, can only be done by a film that’s for women, by women and of women.
If Lipstick Under My Burkha and Girls Trip have taught us anything, it’s to never underestimate the sheer power of women going to the theatres in hordes. Whether it’s to protest the diktat of a CBFC chief who couldn’t handle a “women’s film” or to celebrate the wedding of a veere.
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