Arguably the pivotal reasons why Tanu Weds Manu Returns is such a big hit is because the two protagonists we’ve met and adored before, Tanu and Manu, are everything that we deny we are: slightly cuckoo, a bit wussy and fundamentally flawed. The only reason why such dots can become screen legends is because of the superb writing that plots like these demand.
But the show-stealer this time is Datto, or Kusum, Kangana Ranaut’s double role and Tanu’s alter ego. She’s everything Ranaut’s coquette Tanu is not. In one brilliant scene, when the two lookalikes are introduced to each other, Datto reminds Tanu why she’s a better choice as a bride. “I’m a state-level athlete and can provide for my family. Whereas even your underwear is bought by a man,” she says. The audience is hooting here, cheering for the girl with a heart of gold who prefers her track pants and T-shirts over low-back body-hug kurtis. But in spite of being the most liked character, she is abandoned on the wedding stage.
Is it because it’s only the first time she wears make-up in the film? Is it because she put on a crisp white collared shirt with her bridal skirt, like an Abraham & Thakore-esque indie bride? Is her hair too short? Her accent too local? Because she’s more comfy in a sports bra versus a common push-up?
This, despite the cultural mood today defines beauty and sexuality as a spectrum. Today, voices on social media are valued above our traditionally accepted mores. This is the time for unabashed political correctness, unbiased gender equality, absolute tolerance for all religions and races and beauty ideals that range from black to full-bodied to even disfigured.
This is the world that questions Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a back-handed compliment to his Bangladeshi counterpart when he begins with: “Despite being a woman…”. When an American President congratulates an Olympian athlete for having a sex reassignment at 65 years of age and making it to the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. This is not a world where Manu would/ should choose coquettish Tanu over androgynous Datto.
What does it mean to be a woman? If this film and Bruce Jenner’s new self Caitlyn are to be believed, a woman is a highly feminine, sexualised creature. An editorial in The New York Times has likened Caitlyn’s debut cover to Botticelli’s Venus emerging from the sea. In the pages of Vanity Fair, Caitlyn is shown in skin-tight evening gowns, lips plumped, alabaster skin and giving good competition to her reality TV celebrity daughters. The NYT author asks: can she really be the avatar of personal freedom and self-expression? (Interestingly, the pictures are shot by the legendary Annie Leibovitz, a lesbian and life partner to feminist superhero Susan Sontag.)
Both Tanu and Caitlyn attest to an ideal standard of beauty the world claims it has a problem with. Yet both seem to be our new heroes. It’s almost as if women are made to believe they can run, they can choose, they can rise and they can fly. All this is theirs, so long as they do within the confines of a female stereotype.
This is when high heels really hurt.