Friday, September 18, 2015

The Retrogressive Amitabh Bacchan on Sakshi Salve’s Book Release

(Sakshi Salve's Book (the Big Indian Wedding) release function)

When it comes to Indian wedding, one need not necessarily add, it is big. Modern Indian weddings are big, arrogant and show off of one’s (or the families’) political and social influence. These flaunt wealth and make one think of wealth as filth. In Delhi, I have seen bridegrooms landing by helicopters. I have seen the kith and kin of the bride or bridegroom moving around the city with revolvers and guns. Accidents too happen when these guns go off in the drunken stupor of the guests. Even the slightest of provocation could turn the wedding hall into a tavern brawl. There are elegant ones where in the five star facilities guests who are the who is who of the city queue up patiently making polite talk between each other, hand over the gifts to the newly-wed couple, move on to the dinner tables and leave silently amidst guffaws and sinister display of self importance. Being the most important occasion of one’s matured life, none can criticize this heavily. This is a domain of have’s and have nots. Those who have it flaunt it and those who do not have it, beg, borrow, steal and yet flaunt it. That is the problem of our marriage industry. Once it is commercialized, mental corruption has set in. A youngster no longer thinks whether his or her parents could afford such a big fat wedding. Marriages have become crime scenes of greed, avarice and self importance. From the marriage arenas, angels bow out, leaving the angelic bride to fend for herself and Mammon and Moloch take over. It is Paradise Lost.

Yet, books are written on Indian marriages. These books are not fundamentally academic studies (though there are a number of them around) but they are the books that endorse such weddings. The latest one being Sakshi Salve’s ‘The Big Indian Wedding’ released in Mumbai yesterday by none other than the patriarch of Indian movies, Amitabh Bacchan. In most of the movies where Bacchan had played the lead role, one cannot see this doyen of filmdom overtly endorsing wedding scenes. Perhaps one wedding/family story, Bagban is where Bacchan appears as a patriarch. However, our erstwhile angry young man has now turned to be a Manu Vadi, pathetically endorsing the age old Indian mindset that a girl’s job is nothing but getting married once she has accomplished quite a lot or moderately. May be Bacchan is a father who has sired a girl and his paternal instincts work when he sees a young girl unmarried. That’s exactly why he said during the releasing of Sakshi Salve’s book, curiously not about the book itself but about the author herself, the following statement: “A business management background, culinary arts, fashion and now this. I think it is time you got married Sakshi, you have all the requirements.  I wish you the best.” (Quoted from the Hindu Daily dated 18-9-2015)

(Amitabh Bacchan)

I would like to problematise Bacchan’s statement vis-à-vis the author’s subjectivity, her ability and right to choose a life and a partner and also her reasons to be single or be in a stay in relationship. There must be some oohs and aahs going on amongst the readers as they would not like to believe that as the daughter of the famous legal expert, Harish Salve, Sakshi could do nothing but abide by the rules of her great Khandan (illustrious family). Here my views are purely academic and I do not have any personal issues either with Bacchan or with the author, Sakshi. Before I go into the critiquing of Bacchan’s statement and blessing loaded with patriarchal meanings, I would like to see Sakshi as an author in context. Sakshi is raised in Delhi before she moved to London to pursue a course in Business Management. From there she started working with the corporate groups and she knew her calling was elsewhere. She came back to Delhi and being smart, well groomed and erudite, her eloquence earned her a name as a very articulate and pleasant MC (master of ceremonies) in the big fat weddings in Delhi. With the Delhi marriages turning into event managed ‘programs’ where the sahelis of the bride break into a well rehearsed dance to some stereotypical Bollywood number, an MC job also has become very lucrative. As Bacchan thought it right to say, Sakshi had everything when she started off as an MC in Delhi. She had an MBA, work experience with the corporate, family name, affluence and influence, and above all a knack to handle the crowd with wise cracks.

Before we go further, the sociological reasons for turning the marriages into an event managed programs should be seen in context. Bollywood movies have played a great role in homogenizing the marriages as opulent and extravagant events. Most of the film producers being Punjabis, there point of reference is the Rurban Punjabi marriages. These Punjabi marriages also take a lot from the customs of the royal families once ruled the north Indian states in general. Hence, the kind of marriages that we see in the Bollywood movies is a combined version of marriages that have been prevalent in North Indian states in general. A little bit of Rajasthani marriage thrown in there, a little bit of Bengali here, a little bit of Himachal Pradesh marriage there, a little bit of Delhi marriages here (which are the offshoot of the Baazar version in art historical parlance because the marriage customs are developed out of mixing the British customs and Indian ones) the Bollywood marriage became a bench mark for the marriages in general. During the pre-television era, it was restricted to the places where Bollywood movies were accessed and enjoyed by people. But things changed with the arrival satellite television and now by the new technologies.

(Sakshi Salve with her book)

Photographers had been the event makers once upon a time. They were replaced by the videographers. A marriage was confined to the albums moved slowly for occasional reviews when family members go together in their drawing rooms. VHS tapes and VCPs played a big role in taking the marriage event to a different level; a repeatable event. Then came the influence of the Bollywood movies. During our modern times, the benchmark for marriage was primarily set by the movie ‘Hum Aap ke Hai Kaun’(1994). The film that established the careers of Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit, came out of the Bajatya stable who gave a lot of importance to the Punjabi customs. The success of the movie, which is a stretched marriage function in a family and the events around it- even HAHK had a model elsewhere in which Balraj Sahni had done the lead role- made people aware of the marriage related customs, both traditional and designed. But the HAHK marriage was an affair between two families. It was yet to become an event. This tradition more or less went on with the Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995).

Marriage industry was slowly growing with the opening of the Indian economy. Mira Nayar was the first one to catch it in its own context and in her ‘Monsoon Wedding’ (2001), Nayar actually portrayed a wedding, which was more less event managed. But the existential issues related to a marriage still hung around and the character done by Vijay Raz who ate the marigold flower became the first emblem of the crude event management arrival in Indian films. In 2009, marriage became a proper story to be pursued in Tanu Weds Manu and in Dev D, the event became an occasion for the hero to play out his frustration. Indian mainstream movies became a bit more realistic by creating a counter narrative to the DDLJ. It is not necessary the bride is always carried off by her former lover. With Band Baaja Baarat (2010), it became quite evident that the event management in a marriage function could also become an event in itself and the real marriage could be a reason for two youngsters to hook up each other in life. In this movie, the event managers who are behind the show of opulence in an Indian fat wedding, push the real people behind and take over the narrative.

 ( a scene from Hum Aap ke Hai Kaun)

So here is the moral of the story; event management in a marriage has come of age in India. It is an industry in itself. Right from the make up to the venue, from the order of invitation to the numbers to be played during the marriage, the menu to design of the stage everything is today decided by the event managers. They get a hefty pay packet and they are stars of their own industry. A successful industry collapses its own boundaries and holds hands with the other industries. Hence, Sakshi, an author and event manager herself could share stage with Amitabh Bacchan and other luminaries from the film industry. But unfortunately, the event manager and author who is egalitarian in approach to the whole thing is not spared from the traditional mindset of the chief guest of the evening.

Amitabh Bacchan’s comment on Sakshi, saying that it was the right time for getting married, as mentioned must be coming from an avuncular stance or from a parental concern. The feeling behind his statement is not critiqued here. However, the essence of the speech, as quoted in the Hindu newspaper becomes a bit debatable because Bacchan takes away the agency from the author’s hand by stating that she should get married. She should get married because she has ‘it all’. What does she have? She has a good education, she is beautiful , she is an event manager, an MC and now an author. Now replace these qualifications with, good and moderate education, beautiful, culinary skills, management abilities and the ability to be Lakshmi at home. Doesn’t Mr.Bacchan repeating the same traditional lines that say that a marriage worthy girl should have education, culinary skills, management abilities (to look after home and her man) and beauty (to entertain him sexually at bed and please his guests by presence).

(still from Band Baaja Baarat)

By taking away the agency to decide her life, Baachan pulls the whole progressive façade several centuries behind. He almost repeats the Victorian chastity concept. A girl who has achieved the basic skills of reading, writing (when her husband is away she should write pining letters to him), knitting, crafts making (child care and beautification of home) and management skills (that includes money management), besides having the ability in fine arts. Sakshi Salve, in Bacchan’s eyes, has ‘all of it’. Hence she should get married as early as possible. Doesn’t it sound a bit retrogressive? Why should her marriage be a pivotal issue for Mr.Bacchan on the day of her book release? Why should her book be secondary to her single status? May be Sakshi Salve is okay with that blessing. She might have laughed it off. It might have actually brought goose pimples to the parents of Sakshi as the god of Bollywood plays a parental role on the auspicious day. But Mr.Bacchan’s statement takes us several centuries behind. It makes parents once again think that they need to educate their daughters only to marry off, obviously in big fat Indian weddings, event managed well. 

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