Bollywood through a feminist lens

“Ladna Jhagadna” (Duplicate, 1998)

“Keh Rahi Hai” is set in a nightclub and features a man dancing with a snake. Yet it’s a rather boring item number: the gangster’s girlfriend dances in skimpy clothes, and eventually he joins her on stage. They both wear a lot of black leather.

But “Ladna Jhagadna.” Here is a showstopper.

Duplicate has a bit of a cult following (it’s one of my favorites!). Released in 1998 as Shahrukh Khan was taking over the world, but the movie has a slight plot, and is both a parody and overly serious. Khan plays a dual role, a good guy and a bad guy who look alike and wind up trading identities. It gets sorted out in the end and there’s a happily ever after for the good guy.

“Ladna Jhagadna” takes place after the good guy and bad guy switch places. The love song contrasts the two characters and how they act with the other’s love interest.

The bad guy, Manu, wears tight clothing, aggressively chases the “nice” girl, tries to kiss her, remove her sari, and is otherwise a creep. The good guy, Bablu, tries to avoid the advances of the “bad” girl; she wears tight clothing, aggressively chases him, tries to kiss him, and actually succeeds in removing his clothes.

This song allows the audience to see the behavior side-by-side. What does it look like for a man to do it (be aggressive, be shy, etc) and what does it look like for a woman to do it? And how do our own expectations, as an audience, influence our perception?

As a piece, not connected to the rest of the movie, the song simply depicts the characters’ actions. No judgement is offered, other than what the audience might know from the rest of the movie.

When I watch it, with the baggage of my culture and upbringing, I see the “bad” guy as scary, aggressive, violent. Manu genuinely seems like he will rape or otherwise assault Juhi Chawla’s Sonia. But the “bad” girl, Lily (Sonali Bendre) seems silly, fun; not a threat. Despite Bablu’s clear discomfort, I tend to think “oh come on, just kiss her.”

All this reveals more about me than about the movie.

Really, the song shows us how aggression in men and women can be frightening when the other party doesn’t want it. And that both men and women should have the right to say “no.” Lily, as a woman, should be less of a threat, but she actually succeeds in removing Bablu’s clothes. He ends the song in his underwear. Sonia keeps her sari on.

The song itself is a pretty generic love song (“let’s not right,” essentially), but the video suggests: hey, don’t be a jerk. Respect the other person’s wishes. Bollywood romance is often about pursuit; here’s what that looks like when it’s pushed a little too far.

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