Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge. Remember that one? Is that even a question? Because that’s a song, along with our other dosti anthems, that just sort of shows up on maudlin evenings, demanding to be sung. And we succumb, rolling our eyes over the cheesiness of the lyrics, referencing the movie from which it came (who can forget Sholay?). We have sung it along with friends, celebrating those friends and friendships, which are lifelong, life-affirming, life-saving. It can also be corrosive and messy and ugly, but if you are true friends, you know how to untangle the skeins, to straighten the knots, and to get back to where you belong — to your people. Into the warm huddle of comfort, love and acceptance.
I could share several stories about my closest friends who walked me through some of the hardest days and nights of my life by just being there. They made room for themselves and created lasting memories of silly jokes and shared laughter. They are my mainstays, my go-tos, both when things get tough, or when I’m happy and I know it and want to clap my hands. Because I know my friends will, too.
Bollywood has had a long tradition of pals (hero and sidekick, two or three big stars). But the kind of pals who had a shared history — scraped knees, broken hearts, old crushes — showed up only in Farhan Akhtar’s trend-setting Dil Chahta Hai (2003, DCH). We instantly knew that these boys, lounging on those recliners, knew, really knew, each other. The way we know, really know, our closest friends.
There have been several male friendships post DCH which felt real, despite their filmi settings. Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011) gave its best friends a road trip to straighten their heads and resolve personal issues. The Delhi Belly (2011) boys, three in number, got to pig it out in a shared apartment, and have an adventure or two. The Pyaar Ka Punchnama (2011) trio gave us the lowdown on girls, girls, girls. The Kai Po Che! (2013) threesome stood by each other in times of trouble, and turned out to be solid stayers.
So yeah, guys have been palling up for a long time in Bollywood, in dramas, comedies, rom coms and dramadies. The sacrificial best friend, the jokester pal, the guy who will turn up when the villains need beating and take a bullet for you.
This, alas, has never been the case with gals. Because they are still having to earn their place in the movies, one role at a time. Finally, though, things may be changing. Veere Di Wedding announces, drumroll, the arrival of the girl gang which has been best friends forever. It has turned this shamefully stubborn rule of engagement on its head in one fell swoop. In this Shashanka Ghosh-directed film, starring Kareena Kapoor Khan, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Swara Bhasker and Shikha Talsania, we are not subjected to striated curves — we see the full form, and that is as gloriously, unapologetically full-frontal as anything we have seen in Hindi cinema. And it’s a first.
Solo female bravehearts have been flying high for a while now (Kangana Ranaut in the ground-breaking Queen , and in some delightful sequences of Tanu Weds Manu ). Twosomes have been allowed to show up briefly, too (Deepika Padukone and Diana Penty in the perky first half of Cocktail ). The three searingly real Pink (2016) girls (Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari, Andrea Tairang) turned into the pillar each needed when circumstances went seriously south. The four women in Lipstick Under My Burkha  (Ratna Pathak Shah, Konkona Sen Sharma, Aahana Kumra, Plabita Borthakur) brilliantly subvert patriarchy and discover themselves.
The Veere… girls are different, and that’s why the film feels like such a departure. They are old friends. They have spent a lot of time together, fought, cried and giggled with each other. And they are still at it, a flavoursome foursome with a salty mouth on them, talking up a storm 10 years down the line, about their loves and sex lives (or the lack of it) and relationships. They are beating the gong for female friendship, which we instantly recognise. Because we’ve been there, done that.
We have seen this — a bunch of women hanging, for no better reason than the pleasure afforded by it — happening in Hollywood. Carrie Bradshaw/Sarah Jessica Parker and co., inhabiting somewhat the same space in Sex And The City. Annie Walker/Kristen Wiig and co. looking for love and the forever thing in Bridesmaids (2011). And so many more. There’s a whole tradition of gal pals getting together to make whoopee, or to hold each other’s hands, or to share each other’s deepest, darkest secrets.
Chick flicks. Romcoms. Female-oriented. Buddy movies. Our need to stick labels, derogatory or not, on to films often reduces the films to those labels. Oh, the Veere girls are so shallow, they go to Phuket on a whim, just because they can. But we’re here to tell you that sometimes what seems shallow may turn out to be deep. You don’t have to belabour the point: you can make it lightly, with a laugh, and it will hit home with as much force. Female bonding, or solidarity, is the key to the Veere appeal: they are there for each other when things go belly up, or they need to twirl their bellies. What can be better than friends-like-family? Dosti. Pyaar. Mohabbat.
Yes, these girls belong to a certain moneyed, well-to-do section of Delhi society, and have effortless access to big bungalows, farmhouses, luxe cars and clothes. Their lifestyle and situations may not match ours, but we can relate to them because they have been drawn with acuteness and authenticity. Not only are the women framed as whole and human, the film has a great deal of affection even for its most stereotypical characters (the south Delhi snobs, the “wast Dalhi” gilded glitter and troubled coupledom), and it is mindful of everyone’s desires and devices.
Veere’s veers are, and this is crucial, people first. They know each other’s tics. Kareena’s Kalindi scratches her neck when in a fix. Bhasker’s Sakshi is constantly taking refuge in a bottle. Sonam’s Avni is negotiating, with the agility of a clodhopper, the dating maze. And Talsania’s Meera is figuring out momhood. The film doesn’t put them into boxes, even if we can see their “type”: the needy, confused one, the plump, rebellious one, the one with a bad marriage, the ditsy one dying to get hitched. They play to their types, yes, but they are also — and this is the most important thing of all — who they are, fully embracing their joyful stupidities, their clunkiness and silliness, and yes, their imperfections. They make mistakes, they fall, they flail, and then they get up and go. That makes them believable. We’ve been there too. And then shared those things with our pals, and laughed our heads off, and made ourselves feel better.
The masturbation scene is laugh-out-loud hilarious. It is also truly subversive. Not only does it show a woman in a mainstream big-budget movie, fully capable of pleasuring herself, but she also has, at that point, no need for anyone else. The man, standing slack-jawed by the bedside, is entirely superfluous, and the film treats him just so — he fades into the background. It is a groundbreaking Bollywood moment.
Why does this feel so rad in 2018? Why does this fill me with glee? Don’t women do these things? Haven’t they always? This should have been a done deal years back, right? That it’s taken all this time should give us pause. And are our films going to be fully woke, feminism-wise, from now on? That is asking for too much. One film is only a film, but sometimes, hallelujah, things seep out. It could, going forward, bring the possibility of a level playing field within grasp. Could the next step be a full-on screwball comedy, where both men and women are equally free to have sex (or not), and where they have equal stakes?
That would be a thing. Because the mainstream Bollywood movie still coasts on the male superstar calling the shots, and the female star showing up when the script bothers to remember her — for a song and dance, or, to be a dutiful mother-wife-sister-sweetheart-daughter. She is almost always via-via. An adjunct.
Through the history of Hindi cinema, there has been the odd break-out leading lady. But she is almost never the focus. She almost always came second to the all-powerful, all-encompassing male. The creation of the spunky, see-where-life-takes-you, free-spirited female character is a slow, steady, work in progress.
The Veere-s have taken it up a level. No male suns and female satellites here, just young women trying the adulting thing. Lounging, smoking, drinking, cussing, clowning, chatting, being gross, being supportive, just doing their thing, and, in midst of it all, finding the time to laugh.
Time’s up for toxic male gazes which turn women into body parts. And if I had to choose, I’d say give me shallow over sexist, any day. We have ignored for far too long the therapeutic, liberating value of full-throated female laughter. And just to be able to have fun. Sometimes that’s all you need.
A Film For All
Rhea Kapoor, 30, is in a haze. That’s what she says, laughingly, when she gets on a phone call with me. But there’s no hiding the elation in her voice when she talks about her production, Veere Di Wedding, which is going strong in its second week. “It’s been a long time coming, dude,” she says.
Is she pleased with the numbers it has notched up? Veere… apparently has done the kind of business that few female-oriented films have managed till now in Bollywood. According to boxofficeindia.com, the film had made Rs 67.75 crore till Day 11 of its opening, the third-highest so far for a film helmed by women, after Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015) and Raazi (2018). Kapoor says she’s not “into numbers” but yes, it makes her confident that the next time she goes knocking on studio doors, they will receive her “much more kindly, you understand, because I can’t even begin to tell you how hard it was to get Veere… off the ground.”
“You understand” seems to be her favourite phrase. She says it a lot. But there’s no scope for confusion. Kapoor is crystal clear that Veere… is not a “chick flick”. “Why should I put my film in a box? It is a relationship film with four women in the lead. I don’t see why men won’t be interested in watching it. Didn’t both men and women watch The Hangover which had three male friends? Didn’t we all enjoy it? So why should I limit my audience? I’m not down for it, bro,” she says. Point. SG