Thursday, July 19, 2012

In Defense of Veronica and Imtiaz

Clearly I get too passionate about Imtiaz Ali's movies for my own good, but it's because for some reason I really, really get them (or I think I do anyway). And it bugs me when they get misinterpreted and judged by, well, people who don't get them.

I liked Cocktail. Didn't love it, and the second half was as messy as they say it is, with too many predictable situations and resolutions, but whatever, no rom-com is perfect, so overall I liked it. And as I've said before I'm all about the characters, so if the first half gives me a bunch of good solid characters and the second half doesn't mess it up too much, then I'm on board. Sure Imtiaz Ali could have been more progressive with Cocktail and written a completely different ending, like the girls ending up together or something (which quite a few people were rooting for) but... considering how many people ripped on Rockstar for the dumbest reasons, I can't really blame the guy. By the way, if you haven't seen the movie and you mind spoilers, stop reading right now. This is not a review, this is a spoilerific rant about what happens in the movie and how it all makes perfect sense to me. You've been warned.

I've been reading a few articles (not many, otherwise there would be a lot of four letter words in this blog post because they tend to get me angrier than I should allow) that talk about how stereotypical Cocktail is because Veronica is a slut, Meera is a virgin and "of course the virgin gets the guy".

Well, first of all, in what universe does the party girl who is clearly shown to be sleeping around get the guy? No, I don't just mean the Indian universe, I mean the WHOLE universe. I'll even take examples from real life, because I for one can't think of a single movie, other than Pretty Woman, where that happens. Let's make one thing clear, oh Indian reviewers who complain that Cocktail is not modern enough: party girls are not considered marriage material. Not here, not anywhere. Especially if they sleep around. It's not fair, it's sexist and it's bullshit, but unfortunately, that's how the world turns. I know because I've spent the last decade being enraged by the stupidity of this real life stereotype where guys who sleep around are studs, while girls who do it are sluts. And I've yelled at guy-friends more than once for calling girls cheap just because they had one-night stands. But you know... unfortunately, that's just how it is. And none of those girls that I was defending are married now (not that they want to be, but I'll get to that too, in a minute), and if they are in a steady relationship it's because enough time has passed since their party days that no one cares anymore. By the way, people still refer to them as the town bike behind their back. Yea, life sucks.

Having said that, those very people who "defend" Veronica's right to a love story and deplore that she didn't get the guy because she's a slut strike me as the most sexist of the lot. Because if they had actually understood the character, they wouldn't be calling her a slut to begin with. Oh, and they'd also have figured out that there was no point in her "getting the guy" because getting the guy is simply not the be all and end all of life. It's easy to get lost in stereotypes and yes, Cocktail does employ some stock characters to build the story on, but, in writing, a cliche is a problem only if it's used simplistically. If enough is built around it to justify it, then it's not a cliche anymore. Or as someone smarter than me once put it: has the cliche been earned? If so, it's cool. And this is the catch with Veronica: that cliche has definitely been earned by her character's backstory.

Veronica is fucked up. There's no way around this, she just is. She was abandoned by her parents who don't give two shits about her, she's been leeched off of probably her whole life because she has money, in fact it's been happening for so long that this has become her way of keeping people around, and she's incapable of building real, committed relationships. She loses herself in alcohol and drugs every night because she just wants to feel something. In a brilliant little scene after Veronica takes Meera home, she is shown talking to the videocamera and asking herself "How do I feel?", then unconvincingly concluding she feels "happy". That little scene sums up Veronica's needs in a nutshell. But to me Veronica gets the happiest ending of all three characters: she learns how to create and maintain a relationship that can give her the emotional stability she craves. That's what she thinks she wants from Gautam, and because society told her so, she thinks she can only obtain it by getting married and being a good wife. But the awesomeness of Cocktail is that she realizes she can have all this without giving up her personality.

How is that not modern enough? How can people be so narrow-minded as to root for her to "get the guy" and get married when that's EXACTLY what would obliterate her personality completely? Her personality, by the way, is not that she drinks and parties, but that she's free-spirited and independent. And not yet ready to settle down and play wife. Nothing wrong with that from where I'm sitting.

Which brings me to: Cocktail is not a movie about getting the guy, who marries him, who doesn't. The guy is completely irrelevant to the plot, or if you will, much like the girls are in Southie masala, he's just a catalyst for the plot. The real relationship, the real story happens between the girls. So even without going into bisexual territory, Imtiaz Ali and Sajid Ali create a romance between the two girls where they go through everything that two people in a romantic relationship would go through (or really, any kind of close relationship): they bond, they share, they make each other happy, they give each other emotional support, they balance each other out, they break up, they sacrifice things for each other and in the end realize that they still love each other. Voila. The story of every rom-com out there. Oh, but yeah, the guy is only a small part of it. Ooops, damn it, Cocktail writers, how dare you be so un-modern!

I guess this is the biggest point I wanted to make with this rant: if one looks at Cocktail from the traditional angle of the guy having to choose between two girls, then yes, it's cliched and it ends the way every other movie of its kind ends. But Cocktail changes the point of view and completely sidelines the male lead in order to give us the relationship between two strong, stubborn yet fragile, independent women (though each in a different way), whose friendship gets challenged by the events in the film. By the end we're almost not even invested in whether or not Meera and Gautam end up together but in how will Veronica and Meera make up because that's the relationship we don't want to see destroyed. For me it's a completely different movie when looked at from this point of view, and that's what I was hoping more people would take away from it.

Obviously this is Veronica's movie all the way, but I do have a few thoughts on the other two characters as well. First up: Gautam.

Gautam is described as a flirt and a social butterfly, but the movie shows us that it's only he who has that image of himself. He tries to flirt with girls all the time but I don't remember any scenes where that got him anywhere. Except for the scene at the office with the Asian client. And here I have to remind myself that this is a Hindi film and they have no clue how to even write Asian characters, so that was going to come out wrong anyway. But it's worth noting that the Asian lady merely forgives him for being late after he delivers his cheesy line, she doesn't go to bed with him or anything. She does show up at the club later on, but then so does everyone else in the office, so I read that as the company taking the client out, not as Gautam scoring with her. Of course, I could be wrong. If I am, then that's the only scene where his flirting gets him a date. And yes, I remember the waitress at the bar in the first scene, but I'm pretty sure she was really after a fat tip.

Then what happens with Gautam? He falls in love. Let's remind ourselves, by the way, that his summary of the relationship with Veronica is perfectly accurate: casual sex, companionship, no commitment offered or wanted from either side. No one ever mentions love. So why would he be at fault for falling in love with someone else? There's no betrayal from his point of view, he's free to do whatever he pleases. And that brings me to another thorny point: "he falls for Meera because she's the proper desi bride". Um... again... I disagree. He falls for Meera for the same reasons why Veronica loves her: she grounds him, she keeps him real, she doesn't take any of his bullshit and she is, unlike Veronica, emotionally available. By the by, the moment when Gautam starts noticing Meera is not in her demure interactions with his mother but rather when she lets herself go and channels her inner Veronica, showing that there's more fun to her than what Gautam initially thought.

So technically speaking, it's not the virgin that gets the guy, it's the wild side of the virgin that gets him to notice her. But that's once again going into details. The point here is: any guy would fall for Meera. And any guy looking to settle down would choose her, not because she's a virgin but because she exudes stability. It really is that simple. Or to put it more plainly: why wouldn't he choose her?

Meera on the other hand is the hardest one to read. I think the key to her character is in a little scene when she is looking at Gautam and Veronica being lovey-dovey. She wants that, but because she's so insecure she doesn't really know how to get it. So when it comes to her in the form of a reformed Gautam, she falls for it against her better judgement. She almost falls for it because she doesn't know any better and, just like Veronica, she craves that kind of affection without knowing where or how to get it. As Gautam so brilliantly puts it: "You're lonely and I'm characterless." Of course when the butterflies kick in all reason goes out the window, which reminds me that my favourite kind of criticism has been stuff like "She's so dumb that she falls for him". Uh... yeah... because you've never fallen for the wrong person despite knowing better. Because love has EVERYTHING to do with reason. Everything.

Sarcasm aside, did you ever notice that despite being such a "good girl" Meera never once judges Veronica for her loose ways? She has a couple of moments where she appeals to Veronica's non-existent sense of decency (such as asking where her pants are), but she never attempts to change her. Same can be said for Gautam: she judges him initially and is proved wrong (in a scene that is played for laughs, but I think it's pretty important), after which she concedes to get to know him and accepts him as Veronica's boyfriend.

Generally speaking people's capacity to accept each other for who they are, warts and everything, is what makes Cocktail stand out from the likes of Mujhse Dosti Karoge and other gems from the early 2000s. And what separates Gautam's mother's generation from this modern one. Yup, I said modern. Now sue me for defending such a "regressive", "cliched" and "trite" movie.

Oh dear, I've done it again. I've written a long blog post just to say to Imtiaz Ali: it's ok, I still love you, I still get you. Let those square-headed journos blabber, you just keep doing your thing and being awesome.

Ahem... Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah. Cocktail. It's not a perfect movie, it's not free of plot holes and flaws. But there's more to it than the cliched love triangle that some reviewers are seeing it as. Way more to it.

Cocktail (2012, Hindi)
Director: Homi Adajania
Writers: Imtiaz Ali, Sajid Ali
Starring: Deepika Padukone, Saif Ali Khan, Diana Penty


Anonymous said...

Yay!! Love it! I think Veronica was such a beautifully written, multi-layered character that it made me really really mad to see her stereotyped as a "party girl".

And like you said, WHO CARES who got the guy?! That was so not the point, and even if it was, he didn't choose Meera because she was more desi or homely. His MOTHER had those notions - and that's understandable for her generation- not him.

Also, the scenes where Veronica wears the salwar kameez, cooks biryani - I saw those as her irrational, immature attempts to "find stability" - I didn't see it as her really trying to convert herself into being a sati savitri. They were just moments mirroring her childish notions of handling serious relationships - not an entire character change.
The REAL maturity comes later.

I didn't think she changed into a "desi" girl at the end, she just became more mature, sober, healed on the inside because of her frienships. I loved both Meera & Veronica. Gautam was another story. Frankly, he wasn't worth either girl's time. :p

As Anisha & Bhushan were saying on twitter - the audience was being more judgmental about the characters than the film was - that for me was the greatest tragedy.

Anisha said...

Cue light bulb going off and choir in my head belting out a resounding, "Ohhhhhhhhhhh."

Everyone needs to read this "un-review." :)

Filmi Girl said...

The more I hear about this film, the more I think I actually might like it! Thanks for this post. :)

I would add that perhaps the biggest tragedy of Cocktail is that Saifu seems to think that he was the reason it was a success when EVERYTHING I've read about it would disagree.

I wonder how the film would have gone over if they had taken the "happy ending" out all together and just ended with the girls being friends...

Anonymous said...

Yes! You've hit on several points that stood out to me as well about Cocktail, like the fact that I cared more about Veronica and Meera reconciling their friendship than I did about which one Gautam would end up with; the characterization of Meera who, shaken by what turned out to be a scam marriage, of course fell for the first guy to pay her lavish compliments; and the lovely fact of the straight-laced Meera never judging or trying to change wild-child Veronica. Poor, misunderstood Imtiaz Ali. At least he can know we've always got his back ;-)

Dolce and Namak said...

@ getfilmy - Hee! I love it when we agree on something! :) And yes, totally in agreement about Veronica's makeover as the desi girl, it was definitely not the solution and I was glad that it didn't end up working (which would have reinforced the real stereotype that is used in most movies).

And LOL @ your opinion of Gautam. I wasn't a big fan of him myself, but his choices made sense to me, so I guess in the end that's all that mattered for the movie to work.

Thanks for coming by and adding your thoughts here!

@ Anisha - you crack me up, girl! But I'm glad you saw it from a different point of view after reading this. :)

Dolce and Namak said...

Hey Filmi Girl, that bit about Saif Ali Khan got a really good laugh out of me!! Not that I have anything against him, I'm pretty neutral, and his age didn't bother me like it did others, but really, anyone could have played his role and the movie would have been just fine.

I love that idea of taking away the happy ending altogether, I was thinking while watching: what if they all just get over it, and it probably would have been really cool, but I guess the set-up was such that the couple kind of needed to get together in the end (in the spirit of true love only happens once bla bla bla). Was actually thinking that in real life everyone would take a break from each other and then revisit their relationships in a year or two, and THEN maybe get together. But oh well... movies are not real life. :)

Thanks for dropping by and yes, if you're not allergic to any of the leads, I think the movie is worth a dekho, if only for Deepika who kills it. :)

Dolce and Namak said...

@ Paayaliya - Hey girl, I love that! One day we really should get together and write a love letter to Imtiaz and say exactly that: we'll always be there for you. :) I felt a little bit bad writing this and mostly talking about him instead of the director and the co-writer but the whole thing just has such an Imtiaz feel to it that I couldn't help it. I mean even the songs and the little moments in them. Heh! I love him. :)

Wish I had seen it with you guys, it was pretty lonely not being able to squee about Deepika's clothes to anyone in the theatre. :P

Thanks for stopping by! :-*

Mette said...

I only read the beginning because I consider watching the movie now you said you liked it. After reading Dunk Dafts review I said I would never watch it, because he told me that the bad girl wouldn't get the guy. WHY does this always happen in Indian rom-coms?
Nevermind if the rest is okay, but still, I just don't get it.

Jenny said...

I read this post before I watched the movie, and today I read it again after I watched the movie. To tell you frankly, I felt the movie was a feel good movie, but I really really wished that instead of showing how much of a flirt Gautam is or showing how Veronica is always wasted, they would have concentrated on how thier backgrounds(meera and veronica) affected them. Meera husband abandoned her, she cries in the loo and then nothing. There should have been more to it. Also, I wish more time was put into how Veronica fell for Gautam, and how Gautam fell for Meera, and how Meera fell for Gautam. I felt, all that just happenned in like 5 scenes?

Rest I agrre, Gautam didnot fall for the perfect Indian bride, but fell for Meera when she showed a little bit of her Veronica side. And yes Veronica ending is perfect. And the relationship between the 2 girls was outstanding!

About you take Dolce, its indeed a wonder how you pick up the most subtle but important scene. I actually looked out for them after I read your review, and yes they are important enough.

Swati Sapna said...

I still havent wached Cocktail. Missed it in the theatres. But I heard so much about the film - good and bad, that I'm now dying to watch it!
I totally get what you are saying - we always fall in love against our better judgement. men all over the world fall for 'good' stable girls over free-spirited ones. So lets not be hypocritical.
And your point abt Cocktail being more about the 2 girls and their relationship had me going "Aaah!!".... because you know what? Thats what everyone has been saying (yet missing the point, strangely). Reviews and opinions that I have heard - all talk about Meera and Veronica - how sexy they are, how everyone was waiting for girl-on-girl action, how deepika is the hero of the film, how Meera is so good, and how Saif is just an appendage!! :D

Madźa (Red) said...

You have right about Veronica. I feel the same. And Deepika acted so good. Damn, this girl keeps better and better. But I have one big problem with "Cocktail"... If it's more about friendship why so much trivial love? Nice post, anyway.

Reema Sahay said...

Wow, what a post. Even Imtiaz would not have been able to do better than this! You certainly 'get' his movies. But anyways, I loved Cocktail.

Dolce and Namak said...

@ Mette - so... have you watched it yet? :) What did you think?

@ Jenny - I have to agree with you on the underdeveloped scenes, I think it could have been much better balanced out if, like you say, they hadn't wasted 5 scenes on Gautam flirting and 3 songs on Veronica drinking. It's not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination. But I am glad you also enjoyed the relationship between the girls which was IMO the best part of the movie (and the point of it all).

And thank you for the compliment, I never realized I did that, I just try to look for the turning points in stories and characters, so I guess that's why I always mention random little scenes that strike me as influential, if that makes any sense. :)

@ Swati - wondering if you've seen it since you posted? Curious what you'll make of it. But glad we agree on the hypocrisy of the reviews/criticism. ;)

Dolce and Namak said...

@ Reema Sahay - LOL Thank you! I keep trying to make him see that I'm his soul mate. Haha! Just kidding. But I do love Imtiaz Ali, always excited about what he's gonna do next.

@ Red - Good question: why so much trivial love. I suspect the answer is: because if it were a story about two women and their friendship the Indian audiences would never pay attention? But I could be wrong...

Anonymous said...

Dunno Dolce, maybe you're reading too much into this?

"That's the way the world is" could be used as an excuse by many of your current average Indian film full of patriarchal BS and 'traditional' gender roles.

I like the fact that it gives much more importance to the bond between two lead women, so that's a Kudos for passing the Bechdel test! :)

However the whole polite 'traditional' Indian woman getting the man, I can't just past that, however you might dress it up. I actually don't mind much Veronica being selfish, and "slutty" (i.e. no longer qualified to be a good Bahu). But what bothered me is how Vanilla nice and 'patriarchally perfect' Meera is - it's just your one dimensional Bahu crap. Polite, self sacrificing, virgin, and hell, she prays too! OMG, isn't that awesome - just a flawless one dimensional puppet full of our 'sanskar'. It really irked me. I just couldn't put myself through that. The only decent thing was their friendship/bonding part, refreshing to see, but Meera's character ruined it for me.

To each her/his own, I suppose.

Dolce and Namak said...

Hey there, Indian male feminist,

Yeah, I guess I never looked at the movie much from Meera's perspective. Though I'm not sure I'd label her as unidimensional. Surely a lot of complex people do pray and are polite, no? :) And as far as the self-sacrifice goes, I'd expect any friend who is worthy of the name to do exactly what she did rather than jump into the guy's arms. I do think the movie needed a contrast between the two female leads, so her goodness may be exaggerated a bit, but then so is Veronica's "badness", so it didn't bother me at all. I'd much rather have a movie where the bad girl doesn't turn into a saint than a movie where the "good girl" smokes and drinks (gasp!) just to prove to the audience that she's "not perfect" and that she is "multidimensional". Too many of those out there as it is.

But like I said, I never looked at the film from the point of view of "whoever gets the guy is the winner", so from that perspective it seemed somewhat irrelevant why Meera got him or how perfect she would be as a wife. Not sure if that makes any sense, but her future role as a bahu just never entered the equation for me.

And the point about "that's the way the world is" was that it's like that everywhere. Not just in India. When the rest of the world is still not accepting this premise, I think it's unfair to ask India to be more progressive than anyone, especially given how far behind they are on much simpler gender role problems. Again, not saying it's right, just being realistic.

As far as the Bechdel test is concerned, I can think of a lot of great movies from all over the world that don't pass it, so don't see the need to measure everything against that, but like you say, kudos for passing it, if you think it's important for a film to pass it.

Thanks for dropping by and reminding me that I need to rewatch this at some point to see if I still feel the same way about it. :)

Deepti Sharma said...

A lot has been discussed in the comments already, but some more points from my viewpoint:
1) I get what you say about this being a film about the women. In some ways, it is reminiscent of those bromances from older movies, in which the girl would be the catalyst for the movie's central conflict, and sometimes even manipulated by the evil forces to drive a wedge between our heroes.
Quite often, midway through the film, the girl is reduced to mere arm candy for whichever guy gets to keep her, and the focus is on how our heroes get back together.
Classic example: Dostana (Amitabh Bacchan, Shatrugn Sinha, Zeenat Aman)
Gautam here serves more or less the same purpose.
2) Let's suppose for a moment that the film had ended differently, with Veronica "getting the guy". Wouldn't we have then complained that the film is regressive in that once you bonk someone, the right thing to do would be to marry them?

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