A Bollywood movie about a man that is actually about women?
Ostensibly, I, Me, aur Main follows Ishaan’s (John Abraham) maturity and acceptance of his responsibilities. Ishaan is the typical modern romantic hero: handsome, charming, cool media job (music producer), spoiled, selfish. The women around him are active, vibrant, and sick of his shit.
The movie ends with a hackneyed trope: I have a child, and now I will grow up and be responsible and be a good parent. (The baby is a girl, but the story doesn’t quite dip into “now that I have a daughter, I view women as people.”) The movie is almost self-aware enough to address this; earlier in the film, before she is an ex, a girlfriend says that even though Ishaan is commitment-phobic, marriage will fix him. The audience knows she is being foolish. But fatherhood does actually seem to “fix” Ishaan (as well as some hard truths from Mom).
Ishaan has been spoiled by his mother his entire life, and while his sister Shivani (Mini Mathur) resents that, she has participated in covering up for and protecting him. He’s coasted on being Mr. Cool and expects everyone will bow to his wishes, because they always have. “Women will do anything for me.”
But finally reality and responsibility come crashing down on him: Anushka (Chitrangada Singh) wants a real commitment; Anushka breaks up with him and kicks him out; Anushka is pregnant with his child; his new, incredibly competent co-worker Beena (Raima Sen) is not interested in his ideas; his neighbor Gauri (Prachi Desai) refuses to just give in to his advances; his protege Amala (Sheena Shahabadi) wants to remain true to herself; and Mom (Zarina Wahab) has left Dad and moved in.
While painted lightly, each woman has a different identity and interests. Ishaan never gets much characterization beyond “handsome cool guy,” but we know Anushka is a successful lawyer, Shivani was a lawyer who decided to be a stay-at-home mom, Amala just wants to sing, and Gauri loves electronics and design.
The climax is a meal at his sister’s house. Ishaan finally learns Anushka is pregnant. Mom and Shivani describe the ways they’ve spoiled Ishaan, simultaneously taking responsibility for their role and also pointing out that he needs to responsibility for himself. And Ishaan cracks, lashes out, loses his confidence. . .and realizes the truth.
And the movie ends not with Ishaan rewarded with a woman, but with the women rewarded with happy lives on their own terms: Anushka with her baby and new husband, Gauri studying in Paris, Amala successful in her career.
The movie received mixed reviews and flopped at the box office. It’s easy to understand why: it’s not a typical happy ending, and the plot isn’t particularly original. We’ve seen the “immature man who must grow up” before. But this time, the women don’t just help him on his journey; they have their own lives. And while he’s learned what he’s supposed to, he is alone.
My ideal movie would focus on one of the women, Anushka or Gauri maybe. But for a typical romantic comedy that focuses on a guy, I, Me, aur Main is feminist and enjoyable.