Enough with the saving already!

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There is no denying that Bollywood has become more sensitive towards women. Yet, one thing remains unchanged – the eagerness to ‘save’ them. This week’s release, debut director Amit Sharma’s Tevar is an entertaining masala movie with a lot hidden away in terms of gender roles, even though the film doesn’t offer much freshness in terms of plot.

Agra boy Pintu is a young rebel, straight out of a middle class family where a stay-at-home mother pampers him while a disciplinarian father, also a police SP, pesters him for good old ‘settling down’.  He’s a typical dil-ka-achha­ boy who crosses paths with the Home Minister’s brother Bahubali Gajender Singh, in his attempt to rescue a girl from being dragged into a car.

Pintu owns the streets of his city. He drives the scooter through hawker spewed gullies with efficiency and indulges in free running to save time. He helps his mother in the kitchen and he is a hulk at the Kabaddi match. But when he beats up a local goon to teach him a lesson for eve-teasing, he emerges as the new age hero. One who respects women and does not tolerate misconduct towards them.

While the lead male character of Tevar has had such a paradigm shift, the female characters continue to be burdened with age old stereotypes.

The new age heroin is one who is financially independent with a career of her own. She has dreams for herself and the power to choose her own partner. Yet she is one who is highly obliged to the man and must show gratitude by offering love.

As Radhika is relentlessly pursued and finally captured by Ganjender Singh, her only defense is a threat that Pintu will come back to save her. And what happens if a Pintu is not there to save a Radhika who is being dragged away from liberation? That is an answer Tevar is not looking for.

In fact, this film chooses to keep women in the personal zone. Running through the alleys of Arga at night to try and hide from Gajender’s men, Radhika is busy falling in love with Pintu. She looks at him with devotion while he watches out for the baddies and worries about ducking at the right time. Despite being involved in all the action that is happening in Tevar, Radhika is hardly conscious of any of it. It’s very clearly not allowed to be her domain and she must not even try.

It’s not the female lead alone who has been defined through the male gaze in Tevar. Deepti Naval’s fine performance as Pintu’s mother, graces the screen only momentarily in a few scenes to spoil her son and is later reduced to an interestingly negligent blur in the background when the ‘man’ of the house is having a talk with the goons who have barged in.

Even more symbolic is the portrayal of the sister. Despite being a character of the same generation as her brother and Radhika, Pinky leads a very different life. She day dreams about love and men, she hardly ever goes out of home, in fact, she doesn’t seem to have any life beyond being a cheeky but entertaining sister to her hero of a brother Pintu. And she does consider him to be a hero. Despite her calling him ‘Pintey’ and talking insolently with him, she is quite docile and leaves the room when asked, delivers the phone leaving her favourite TV soap unwatched and even becomes partners-in-crime.

Yet, Pinky is not dignified with an official name, while her brother rises from Pintu to Ghanshyam. Neither does she get the serious lectures from her father about career and life. And she is not even allowed to be a background blur when the goons come in as a dutiful mother quickly hides her away from the dishonourable gaze of the outsiders.

It is curious to see such domestication of the female characters in a male-centric film like Tevar which has a prominent theme of woman’s freedom. But it is equally curious to see male-centric films have woman’s freedom as a theme at all. Hopefully someday soon we might have a macho film where the female characters don’t need to be hidden away and saved.

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