Thursday, 16 January 2014

Open letter to DNA editor Upala K. Basu

Originally posted HERE

It is no secret I am a Madhuri Dixit fan, and I have also made no secret over how disheartening I found the failure of Dedh Ishqiya at the box office. However the following lines are not a reaction of a Madhuri fan, they are a reaction of a WOMAN I am above being everything else, and I would like those of you who read it forget about everything you know about me except for the fact I am a woman and an avid watcher of Bollywood films, old and new.

Just this morning I have been directed to THIS ARTICLE published by DNA and written by their Deputy News Editor Upala K. Basu - and to whom I would like to convey this message:

Dear Madame,

much like majority of others you too obviously believe actors and filmmakers - but above all actresses - are only as good as the box office figure of their last movie. It doesn´t matter if they have as long as 30 years of hard work, success and appreciation behind them. In fact, that is what makes them even easier to target. With your latest contribution to DNA you have made abundantly clear you believe women come with an expiration date, talent or artistic abilities nonwithstanding. You believe after reaching a certain age an actress should dilligently fall into a convenient slot and stay there if she wants to be accepted by the audience, and basically implied that any other attempt on breaking new ground is not wanted or needed.

If I am to dissect your article, right from the very first paragraph it shows how unprofessional views you hold and voice out. A failure of a film is never one person´s fault, even more so if it is a film like Dedh Ishqiya - with four main leads of equal importance. Given Madhuri Dixit is the greatest star of them all, Naseeruddin Shah is still nothing short of a living legend, Arshad Warsi is a comedy king for the masses and Huma Qureshi has been only gaining in the count of fan following ever since she made her impressive debut. And these are just actors. The makers are critically acclaimed Abhishek Chaubey and even more critically acclaimed Vishal Bhardwaj. To pin low BO collections on just one actress is highly unfair, especially since if it was the other way round people would be giving credit for the success to all people involved. Including you.

Perhaps the most outrageous part of your article is the following: "Sridevi chose to return to the big screen with a film befitting her age. She played a wife and a mother. Madhuri chose to return as the leading lady who is looking to get married and is holding a swayamvar.” There is no other possible interpretation than that a woman over 40 can only be a wife and mother. There is no other way a role could “fit” such an actress. How very narrow minded and short-sighted such a perception is? While being  a mother and a wife is for most (definitely not all!) women what they aspire for and cherish, a WOMAN is always a WOMAN first. Everything else comes later. Given your poor observational skills and biased, sexist views, I do not suppose you have ever watched Mother India (1957). The amazing message of that movie is that a woman is a woman, and a mother is able to kill her own beloved child for the sake of protecting the dignity of womanhood. Saying Madhuri chose a a role not befitting her age is utter nonsense. Begum Para Mirzada IS a woman in her late 40s, she is a widow and she is actually an inspiration to all women by carrying on with her life, planning her future and making her own choices.If all you could think of while watching a movie with story as complex as Dedh Ishqiya, and with a character as layered and problematic as Begum Para Mirzada, was that a woman in her 40s is planning to remarry (and for whatever reason you found it wrong), then it shows you are unable to broaden your own mind and accept a concept that differs from traditional, rusted views.

It is nothing but painfully ironic that you mention Naseeruddin Shah´s seniority over Madhuri as a problem that weighted the movie down. The age difference between the two is still lesser than the age difference we see almost every Friday in other films. Shahrukh Khan´s next is opposite Deepika Padukone, Salman Khan opted for baby-faced Daisy Shah, Aamir Khan got to romance Katrina Kaif, Sunny Deol was cast oppostie a 19-years-old Urvashi and I still have nightmares over Sanjay Dutt drooling over Prachi Desai just last year. This in itself screams “sexist”, much like the fact male stars are allowed to be in our faces 24/7 and still make films, but the moment an actress reaches out to her audience through the same means she becomes over-exposed. Yes, it kinda rules out rushing into the cinemas because of a specific actress, BUT people should be primarily interested in good cinema over somebody´s persona. It is not such case in India, which results in public being happy about mediocre to downright atrocious movies as long as their middle-aged hero looks impressive on screen. Putting a movie like Dedh Ishqiya down just because one of the leads is often seen is, again, unfair and irrelevant considering the quality of the product.

Another sexist claim of yours: “She needs to evolve and needs to let go of playing the desireable diva.” Again, you imply that a woman who has crossed a certain age is not desirable no matter what she does. Wrong. A woman in her 40s, 50s, even 80s can be desirable and charming. And as for evolving - Madhuri Dixit has beaten all other actresses of her generation in it by choosing Dedh Ishqiya and the character of Begum Para (I am beginning to think you have not even bothered to watch the movie). Begum Para is a child-woman, crippled by past experience. Her health has deteriorated and she is possibly even mentally disturbed. Ad to it (and now I am sorry for the spoiler to all who might read this and not have seen the film) homosexual colouring of the character, her disinterest in romantic love (SPOILER END) and unapologetic actions. What you have is an absolutely new, unique character, never seen before in Indian cinema. You applaud (and rightly so) Sridevi for her meek, sweet housewife who finds self-respect, but Begum Para is no less compelling or complex. In fact she is much more fascinating. She is just not easily to relate to. Madhuri Dixit has taken up a role most actresses would turn down out of fear it would rag their image. Instead of being launded for her daring choice and stunning performance she is being told to settle on conventional mother roles and being put down because she was presented as beautiful and enchanting.

In the end I would like to point out to you that some of the most loved and celebrated gems of Indian cinema flopped badly at the time of their release. Kaagaz Ke Phool, Guide, Mera Naam Joker, Umrao Jaan, Lamhe, Andaaz Apna Apna, Dil Se and others are considered masterpieces and are remembered as cult classics. Even Pakeezah was flopping badly and was only saved at the BO because of Meena Kumari´s tragic demise. There is no denying Dedh Ishqiya did not hit the bull´s eye, while another random college romance Yaariyan scored. Now look ahead of ten years and say with conviction Dedh Ishqiya, with its poetic setting, unique story, different treatement and brilliant exectuion is not going to be remembered and loved. And look just few months ahead and tell me people will actually even remember Yaariyan.

You may defend yourself by saying you only write what people think. However that is not an excuse good enough given you expressed your own opinions. Surely you must realize how strong the sexism and ageism in the two-faced Bollywood industry is. And how wrong it is. Pointing out what is wrong in mindset of society is your job. I can just say you are extremely lousy at that, serving to support the sexist, ageist mindset instead.

Sincerely an offended woman in her twenties.


  1. You voice out what's in the heads of many other women very well, Ally. Thank you and proud of you. :) -Ida-

  2. This is an excellent post. I hope that the woman that this letter was addressed to was able to read it.