Why does Akira have to 'fight back' to be a badass woman?

According to Murugadoss and company, all of us have to adapt, to retaliate with Darwinian desperation.

 |  5-minute read |   06-09-2016
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A cursory glance at the posters of action films in Bollywood tells us that punchlines are a big deal. Often painted in red or yellow, they are supposed to trigger your blood, or even boil it, so you can brace yourself for the upcoming butt-kicks and punches.

They get all the more interesting when the action is delivered by a female character, in Akira, this was displayed by the theatre audience who literally applauded the titular character for her mastery of the martial arts. While most of us would love to see "badass" women fighting on screen, I am afraid that the repetition and lethargy with which they are written has dangerously led us to believe in the omnipotence of a brute muscular force.

Remember the dedication at the end? "To all women who fought back".

Force is the only way with which women can "fight back" to go about their daily lives. Because, let's face it, acid-attack and eve-teasing are not stories of only Jodhpur, but of many places around the country.

Now, as if to give a good mix, punchlines in action films are connected very wittingly to all the light-hearted content in it - consisting of slang and slang-ridden jokes. All punchlines of action films, therefore, good or bad, have something to offer to the audience.

Mardaani, for example, carried the punchline, "Every war is personal". Not only was the film inadequate, but amount of violent rage carried by the cop (Rani Mukherjee) tells us how desperately we want to see female fighters fight just like men do, macho power and all that jazz.

Almost to balance out, so much blood and rage is accompanied by sexist-merry-marijuana jokes, like the ones ACP Rane (Anurag Kashyap) cracks and you realise everyone seated behind you is belly-whopping with laughter. We all know and have at some moment, witnessed this unique brand of cop humour in reality, haven't we?

In Mardaani, Rani Mukherjee is a female male cop. To that extent, she plays the role of the hard-nosed, khadoos, slightly crass male cop who makes jokes about a senior cop's wife (who, according to Rani, is probably not satisfied sexually).

Many such jokes and one-liners are latent with Darwinian beliefs, which on the surface may make for cheap humour, but come to think of them after a while, they are reflections of deep-seated anxieties of evolution, sex, war and most importantly, survival.

Akira was no different; with its tagline "No one will be forgiven", it managed to display most features that Bollywood female-centric action films have been guilty of. So, we have some real thinking to do if we think that the tables have turned for female action heroes,if this is indeed a victory for feminism.

Because let's not forget, that the people who gave a standing ovation to Akira's punches are the same bunch who also had a hearty laugh when ACP Rane brutally killed Maya or when he, hinting at the non-corrupting nature of Konkona Sen stated, "Dekhte hain pet mein bacha leke kitna door jayegi". (Let us see how far she goes with a child in her belly.)

I actually got goosebumps immediately after, because it is so commonplace to see horrible things being done to pregnant women who resist, think of Dabangg 2 or Lajja. Being a pregnant woman, Kongkona is two times as vulnerable, at least in the Darwinian sense. Her inability to save Akira tells us that she does what is best for her survival. Had she not, something fatal would have happened to her foetus, and that seemed to be hinted well in advance.

The second evidence of a similar survival tactic in the film seems to be a scene showing acid-attack victims. When an injured woman's burnt face is revealed in a slow motion (cliffhanger-like), she screams the righteous scream of a woman thwarted by Darwin - a person whose outwards sexual characteristics have been "forever spoilt" - those that are key to human evolution.

Even Atul Kulkarni (Akira's father) seems to have strongly internalised that in order to save your virtue, you have to be ever-ready with muscular force, and indeed, you can defeat the criminals. Try recalling how his expressions applaud the triumph of a nascent Akira successfully overthrowing her offender.

Now while a woman can certainly beat the hell out of her offenders and we need to celebrate her courage, but in making muscular power the biggest asset, we are also eliminating alternative forms of resistance. Akira describes it clearly that any method of alternate resistance WILL NOT work. You will either die a bloody death like Maya's or somewhat similar fate, like the death of the eunuch (the real hero, if I may) in the film. Or you may lose your baby, if you dared to expose the corrupt cops in your city. The martyr Akira herself has to "sacrifice" for the greater good in the film and for an audience-driven catharsis.

This takes me back to where I started - the punchlines, the dedications and the one-liners in action films. In the beginning of Akira, a proverb is quoted, it goes like this: "God tests you on the qualities that you already have." Now, while that may be true for the god-gifted Akira, it is not true for the rest of us.

According to Murugadoss and co, all of us have to adapt, to "fight back" with Darwinian desperation: nothing less will suffice.

Welcome to that despicable world.


Rini Barman Rini Barman @barman_rini

Independent writer and researcher, Guwahati

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