Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Review of "Bunty Aur Babli"

Upon its release in 2005, Bunty Aur Babli turned out to be a huge commercial success. This movie evidently borrows generously from the Hollywood classic Bonnie and Clyde, albeit displaying much less violence. Bunty Aur Babli can owe its success to the fact that it sheds light upon the impact of modernity on tradition, as well as the state of small-city residents in a country where technological advances are leaving many people behind. Additionally, it reveals how unevenly wealth is distributed in the country, and as such the fact that these smaller city residents cannot afford to realize their true dreams, and often settle for much less.

Bunty is the alter ego of Rakesh Trivedi, who hails from a small town in Gujarat. As the son of a ticket collector, Rakesh has no interest in wasting his life at a daily 9 to 5 job. On the other hand, Babli in real life is Vimmi Saluja, from a town in Punjab, who has no interest in becoming someone’s wife, and then being tied down by the responsibilities and expectations that follow. Out of the belief that their true calling cannot be realized in these small towns, both run away one night unbeknownst to their parents. However, Rakesh’s entrepreneurial dreams as well as Vimmi’s wish to become the next Miss India are shot down once in the city. Back in the railway station, as both contemplate their failures, Rakesh and Vimmi meet for the first time. Confiding in each other about the difficulties they are facing, both decide to try their luck once again in Kanpur. Here the situation only gets worse for the duo. Rakesh comes to find that the same person, who had initially shot down his business scheme and sponsors, took the same plan to his supervisors in Kanpur, telling them that this was his idea. Meanwhile, Vimmi is not allowed to register for Miss India through Kanpur because her home town falls outside of this district. However, the attendant informs her secretively that he could make an exception for her but only if she complies with his requests, which are of a sexual nature, to Vimmi’s utter digust. After this second failure, both Rakesh and Vimmi are truly fed up with the system, which does not hold the same consideration for people of small towns, as it does for people from big cities. They run into each other once more at a local Chai shop, and decide that something needs to be done. It is at this point that the characters of Bunty and Babli are created. Rakesh and Vimmi decide to con the man who stole Rakesh’s plan. In doing so not only are they able to exact revenge, but also secure money for their trip to Mumbai. However, after the con goes according to plan, the two realize how effortless it is to simply cheat people out of their money.
Bunty and Babli represent a great portion of the Indian population that sits between the obscenely rich and devastatingly poor. This portion experiences what is called “relative poverty”, which by some is considered even more demoralizing absolute poverty. Being in relative poverty means you are fully aware of the economic hierarchy that surrounds you. It also means that you are aware that the chances that are afforded to you will by no means make you the kind of money that the upper class sees. Realizing the disproportionate nature of distribution of wealth, Bunty and Babli decide to work the system to get their hands on a portion of this wealth as well. The impact of modernity on tradition is a big theme in this movie. Being in a country like India affords one the unique opportunity of being able to see technological progress right beside obsolete mechanisms. While I do not necessarily believe that modernity and tradition are mutually exclusive, I will still maintain that in this movie the two ideals have contrasting impacts.

Rakesh’s father can be considered one representation of tradition in this movie. He spends his whole life as a ticket collector, and furthermore wants his son to join the same line of work. Rakesh represents modernity, and the wide-eyed optimism for big time changes that it brings. On this matter, Rakesh and his father are unable to see eye to, symbolizing the struggle that takes place between tradition and modernity, ending ultimately with one taking the back seat to the other. As a ritualistic in his profession, Rakesh’s father seems to be setting the par for the highest that can be achieved within that particular socioeconomic status. However, Rakesh believes his father has wasted his life working away at a job that does not even recognize the services he has rendered for it over the years.

Vimmi faces the pressures and expectations of a young Indian girl that has come of age. The parents believe it is in her best interest to get her married, which again represents the traditionalist view. Vimmi on the other hand wants to be a model, which definitely implies modernity, as models are often considered loose women with no virtues. Before Vimmi runs away, her mother has a talk with her meant to prepare her for married life. She tells Vimmi that she must now live according the wishes of her in-laws, in order to be considered a good wife. This subordinate and all-suffering view of the women was reinforced in Bollywood with heroines inspired from the Ramayana’s Sita. However, according to Bhawana Somaaya, times have since changed and female protagonists have been created that are not constantly undermined by their male counterparts. The character of Vimmi represents these major changes that have taken place within the rhetoric of the Bollywood heroine.

At the same time, Gusfield’s argument that modernity and tradition do not necessarily need to be mutually exclusive also holds water in this movie. For instance, Rakesh and Vimmi wed each other according to traditional Hindu values. Another point of consideration is the dichotomy of Vimmi and Babli. Vimmi represents the more traditional value of the two, by always wearing the more traditional Indian clothing. Meanwhile, Babli often plays the role of a Western-influenced vixen when she is conning people alongside Bunty. Additionally, after her marriage to Rakesh, Vimmi dons those signs, discussed by Dwyer, that indicate her marital status. Conclusively, it is safe to say that it is not necessarily tradition that is being abandoned by Bunty and Babli, but simply those traditions that are holding the duo back from realizing their true potential.

While the movie makes a very strong point that especially resonates with people living in small towns in India, it also has greater implications. ACP Dasrath, the cop that is on Bunty and Babli’s tail is representative of many things. First of all, he is the maintainer of laws and regulations, which are being broken by Bunty and Babli. His name itself is an allusion to the King Dasratha of Ramayana who was a strict follower of the code of Dharma. Bunty and Babli’s actions are considered Adharmic, according to the Ramayana, because they do not follow the obligations of their own status, and in fact are trying to topple the present hierarchy. Under the reign of Dasratha, transgressors of Dharma are severely punished. Similarly, ACP Dasrath is attempting to punish these people that are also behaving Adharmically. When the duo decide to put these con games behind them after having a child, they are subsequently caught by the ACP. However, now that they two have decided to abide by their Dharma, ACP does not arrest them. This implies that now that Bunty and Babli are no longer threats to the existing system, they no longer need to be thwarted. Ultimately, the two end up working for the police force, helping them stay two steps ahead of conmen and women, which I felt was the biggest cop out for a movie that started out making such a brilliant point. Vimmi and Rakesh giving up con games for a normal life, and then ending up as part of the system that they hated so much is indicative of the rhetoric that these silly games played by people to get ahead will not be successful. Additionally, it would be in their betterment to join with the existing order than to oppose it. Summarily, while Bunty Aur Babli was the source of some contradictory ideals, it still stands out in its accurate depiction of small town life in India.

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