MY love keeps YOU (safely) preoccupied

The discourse and traditional ritualistic aspect of love, is it exploiting women? Particularly the image of a tamed-good-wife? How does it have any effect/affect on the collective economic (and other Bourdieuan) capital of Indian society? Does Bollywood type-of-love keep Indians economically and culturally poor? These were some questions that came to my mind as I wrote my last blog post.

Today I will attempt to explore some of the gendered aspects of distinction and domination in families from the classes with little to no cultural capital (Bourdieuan), and if love and ritualistic emphasis on its performance in society, have any consequence on the current globalised Indian society. Analysing the experiences of women (particularly house wife) and the particular insecurities, which they may face, as well as their strategies for resistance and survival, would be a good starting point. But it is also necessary to understand the Marxian conflict theory which claims that the society is in a state of perpetual conflict because of competition for limited resources, thus human relationships and social structures all experience inequalities of power. Underlining the idea that social order is maintained by domination and power, rather than harmony and agreement; – those with wealth and/or power try to hold on to it by any means possible, principally by suppressing the poor and/or powerless. In this way, some individuals and groups (including the dominant gender, i.e. male) inherently develop more power than others. Following from this, those individuals and groups that benefit from a particular structure of society tend to work to maintain those structures so as to retain and enhance their power. Max Weber further refined the conflict theory and stated: “it is these that underlie the power of religion and make it an important ally of the state; that transform classes into status groups, and do the same to territorial communities under particular circumstances…and that make ‘legitimacy’ a crucial focus for efforts at domination.”

This can be seen particularly through the dynamics in family. Distinction and domination in families from the classes with little to no cultural capital (here cultural capital refers to certain kind of education, openness to learning and knowledge without asserting preconceived judgement passed on through taste building within a certain habitus) also manifest through their socialisers (social capital). Here, knowledge through education enters in an ionic way, to contradict the skilled labour/proletariat, from the middle class or even the nouveau riche.  The latter (skilled labour/proletariat), by making judgmental decisions about families, – especially by devaluating the work of female labour (motherhood, housewife, are a few example of “free-labour”), – become individuals who benefit from a particular structure of family and society intended to maintain those structures so as to retain and enhance their power; and more often than not, these are enforced with the pretext of family-value, love, and culture – that evidently have a deliberately affirmed stake in power structure. 

The way women – and the young – are induced to work in-order-to create surplus-value for the head of the family (usually the male/patriarch) who happen to be the owners of the capital (economic capital of the family), and these dominated group (women, young and the retired old) do not get paid, proclaims that their work is non-work.[1]The institutionalisation of valid work as opposed to invalid or non-work, along side the invention of the ‘housewife’ and asserting that she is not ‘working’ but rather ‘keeping house’ (e.g. house cleaning, taking care of children, cooking, etc.), exempts them from the governments calculation of percentage of the active labour force who are employed, where ‘housewives’ are neither in the numerator or the denominator of the calculation. This sexism is a method of domination that also uses the ‘tradition’ rhetoric – where people are well positioned in relation to creating a barrier that encourages critical reflection on social practices perceived as prohibited and the dominating gender/class/race try to impose the same on others. In India, that is particularly seen as a method of taming young girls and women.

Recently, while travelling to Calcutta by Etihad Airways, I just happened to watch a 2014 film called Heropanti (transl. Heroic antics). Based on the Telugu romantic-action film Parugu (2008), the film is a double emphasis on what a woman is expected to be after she reaches a marriageable age; in this case somewhere between 20 to 22. The story goes this way… 

Chaudhary (Prakash Raj) a strict patriarch of the Jat family from Haryana finds out his eldest daughter Renu (Sandeepa Dhar) has eloped with her boyfriend, Rakesh. Chaudhary and his men bring them over to his place and one of them reveals Bablu’s (Tiger Shroff) name, and Chaudhary holds Bablu and the other two friends captive till they tell of the couple’s whereabouts. Back at Chaudhary-household, where the friends are held captive, Chaudhary’s younger daughter and Renu’s sister, Dimpy (Kriti Sanon) is featured as a dainty young lady, with no interest in her sister’s where-about, getting ready to hand-in a Home-Science project. Dimpy’s personal interest in this issue peeks as her father and uncles prohibited her from going to college with the pretext of  ‘what will people say’ to a girl whose older sister has eloped. At this point Dimpy talks to her handmaid Shaalu (Sugandha Mishra) and tells her that this house arrest is unfair; for all that she wanted to do was finish her studies, and while studying attempt to win the Miss. Haryana beauty contest, and then anyway get married to the man her father chooses and spend the rest of her life birthing, cooking, cleaning and being a good wife (to her bethrove Rajjo, Vikram Singh). But first she wants to live her life within the few years of college freedom that she so rightfully earned. Soon Dimpy takes an interest in the captives and tries to ask them where her sister is, but they won’t tell her. Through turn of events, soon Dimpy falls in love with Bablu. Dimpy’s uncle, Pappi (K. C. Shankar), comes to know that Bablu had helped them to flee when he overhears Dimpy. The entire group is beaten badly. When they threaten to kill one of his friends, Bablu tells them that Renu and Rakesh are in Delhi. Bablu and his friends (as well as Dimpy) accompany her father to Delhi to find the couple. At this juncture, Dimpy is kidnapped by some local goons, who attempt to rape her – and Bablu manages to locate her in time and beats up the goons, after a grand line of “a very tiny word, ‘Nahi’ in Hindi and ‘no’ in English and ‘no’ means ‘no’” (transl. ); thus winning the trust of Dimpy’s father. That night Bablu also induces individual agency (presuming that Dimpy has none) – “no one can save you Dimpy, your life is already over. I don’t get along with my own dad, he demands that I do one something and I refuse to do it. Have you ever said no to your dad? Never, right? Ever taken hold on your own life? Nope. In your family women are tied up like a cow to the stem, ever charged them with your horns? Fight at least! Equality will be given then. There’s only one life, do you get it? We only live once…” (transl.)[2]– after that they go to a nightclub and while dancing Dimpy falls in love with Bablu.[3]

Skipping towards the end of the movie, Chaudhary arranges Dimpy’s marriage with Rajjo– and Bablu tells him that he understands how Chaudhary felt when Renu ran way from home and promises him that he will not elope with Dimpy.Rajjo and Bablu end up fighting (as is the pre-conclusion to every classic Bollywood romance movie ever made… scarce female-commodity thus the conflict between the alpha-males), but stopped at the last moment by Chaudhary. He realises that Dimpy will only be happy if she is with Bablu, and tells Bablu to take her away. Bablu and Dimpy unite with a hug, while Chaudhary and the other people of the Jat community agree to permit inter-caste and love marriages and Chaudhary accepts Renu back as his daughter.

This movie, although like all Bollywood film highlights masculinity through ‘punishing’ the ‘open minded’, went a bit further by showing how love can validate the agency of a woman to become a good housewife. There is indeed a form of othering and gender domination that is played out at the level of patriarchal family intervention with precarious love allegiances to either the father, the families, or the new-found-love; schematised by screening actors from the point of view of social classes. Also, it must be remembered that institutionalisation of valid work in opposition to non-work (done by housewife, and in the above movie it is implied that Dimpy is a future-housewife) speak of social inequalities with moral categories (good vs. bad) of discourse, where the origin of the causes and effects of a diseased societies at the root of male domination (that the character of Bablu so adorably puts forward, but ends up acting on it). Domination through marriage, where the scarce commodity (marriageable girl) is acquired, is again establishing the conflict theory. Here, the idea of ‘love’ keeps the woman (gratified that her love is socially accepted) safely keeps the woman preoccupied.[4]

Nevertheless, parents or the person who remains in a position of power within the family (mostly father or husband) will usually be in conflict with the headstrong member of the same family. In Indian cinema, the conflict is usually with either the girl child, who wants to live her dreams, – or the boy child, who shows distinctive quality of taste and judgement that can help in class mobilisation. Basically, Indian cinema does not encourage any personal agency of the individual. And coax the agenda of domination of the weak through the rhetoric of ‘love’.

[1]Balibar, É., & Wallerstein, I.M., Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities, p. 35 (Verso 1991).

[2]Translating this cracked me up bad. But I promise it sounds better in Hindi. Personally, I find the movie entertaining. Entertaining only. Very entertaining. On a dark-humour level.

[3]There goes the big speech of individual agency. The dominated woman just changes allegiance. From being dominated by her father the Chaudhary, to being dominated by her new-found-love Bablu. 

[4]Remember what Mr. Bennet had said to his daughter Elizabeth in Jane Austine’s Pride and prejudice? “Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed in love a little now and then. It is something to think of, and gives her a sort of distinction among her companions.” That distinction is the love rhetoric that Hindi cinema still uses to full profit.

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