Review: A Gentleman (2017)

A Gentleman asks its male lead: What do you want? He replies: someone to love, children, a house, a minivan, a family.

A Gentleman asks its female lead: What do you want? She replies: A bad boy, to drive fast.

A Gentleman reminds me, once again, that I cannot enjoy a movie without qualifying it. I really liked this movie, particularly the editing and the narrative structure. But. But wow, the heroine was flat and one-dimensional. And what makes it worse is that Kavya (Jacqueline Fernandez) is actually an interesting character, as far as action films go. She does have a presence and helps to save the day; she doesn’t exist only to be kidnapped and to serve as a reward.

But she primarily exists as a reward. The hero, Gaurav (Siddharth Malhotra) checks all of the action movie boxes, and so earns the heroine. Her own desires are barely acknowledged, at best.

We suspend disbelief every time we go to the movies. I’m willing to accept an action movie will have an all-male, or nearly so, cast. The Marvel Cinematic Universe films are some of the biggest movies in the world, and until 2015, there was just one female Avenger and just a few other women with speaking roles. And despite the popularity of characters like Black Widow, none of the female characters have solo movies. We might dislike this practice, but we accept it and we watch these movies. And in my case, anyway, I imagine where female (or non-binary) characters could fit.

Kavya is present throughout the entire film, always in context of Gaurav: his best friend, the woman he has loves, the woman he wants to marry, a nuisance, someone to save, someone to sleep with, a prize. She plays video games, drives a cool car, dances on a stripper pole at karaoke. Do we learn anything else about her desires? Does it matter?

You might say, “Well, if it was flipped, if Kavya was the one saying she wanted a husband, children, family, house, wouldn’t you criticize her for being traditional/stereotypical?” Probably. But. If she expressed interest in those things, at least that would tell us more about her character. And those aren’t the only things one can desire. They make sense for Guarav’s character withint the context of his past. Kavya’s desires could be to become a video game pro, to become the manager of her department, to find an apartment building with an elevator, to open a pole dancing studio.

I enjoyed this film so much, in part, because we learn a lot about the hero, more than we usually do in action movies. Guarav’s motivations and desires make sense within the logic of the film. Kavya is cool from a masculine perspective (she’s sexy but likes the things guys like!) but her desires are poorly defined, her motivation glossed over so we can get from Point A to Point B. Kavya does what all women must do in these movies: be beautiful, admire the hero’s abs, be sexually available.

Likewise, there are some unfortunately racial politics at play, as well. The leads are light-skinned and the enemies have darker skin. There’s an African-American character (part of the movie is set in Miami, FL) named “Koko Puf.” That feels kind of outrageous for 2017.

On the plus side, I suppose, there are some gay “jokes,” but ultimately the idea of being homosexual is shrugged off with a “live and let live” attitude. In a bar, a man kisses a woman; she slaps him and calls him shameless; the same man kisses a man, and the man, too, slaps him and calls him shameless. The joke is how gross men can be in general, not about homosexuality specifically.

Speaking of sexuality, Kavya’s body is constantly on display. Her mother comments that “I can see your lingerie.” It’s tempting to say that Kavya is simply owning her looks and dressing how she wants to, but ultimately she is the creation of male writers and directors. Still, other than her mother’s comment, no one shames her for being sexual.

A Gentleman asks: What do you want? I reply, a fun, thrilling, violent, sexy movie that showcases not just the hero but the heroine as well.

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