17 September 2018

Interview: Neeraj Kabi

An interview I did for India Today.

Actor Neeraj Kabi came into the limelight with Ship of Theseus (2013). His work has since been appreciated in content as different as Hichki and Sacred Games. He spoke with India Today about the stage, films and streaming TV.

For film audiences, you burst onto the scene as the ailing Jain monk in Ship of Theseus (2013). Tell us something about your life before that.

I'm from Jamshedpur. My father is Oriya, my mother Parsi. I finished college from Pune and came to Bombay in 1991. I did all kinds of work for survival. In 1997, I did an Oriya feature film called The Last Vision, by AK Bir. It won a National Award. But nothing happened till 2010. I did form my own theatre group. Veenapani Chawla's Brihannala lit a spark in me. I directed plays; I did a Hamlet which drew on Yakshagana and Dhrupad. But I don't like to discuss that 'struggle' period much. What I went through is my strength.

Do you see film and stage as different kinds of acting?

In theatre, you're there from start to finish; you understand context, subtext. In films, you might shoot Scene 56 today and Scene 1 tomorrow. Actors who've never done theatre can end up with a mishmash. My training in theatre helps me stay centred, to produce continuity of character in a film. You have to be larger than life to be on stage. In films, you can get by without. Everything I did as a theatre actor was defined by physicality. It was stylised. I was not in the realist zone. I played Hamlet in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, where I was on stilts. Another time I did a Moliere play, all jumps and somersaults, landing on the knees. When I came into films, it became all about realism, getting deeper into the psyche of the character.

What inspires you as an actor?
I have this madness of falling into character when I'm outside, in public. Say, if I'm limping right now because I've hurt my leg, can I add a limp to one of my current characters? Maybe a character has a psychological limp: can I can translate that into something physical? The set or the stage, that's my office. But I'm living as an actor all the time. Like you have a way of the warrior, you have a way of the actor. If you do this, nothing in your life is a waste. You don't crib about it. You use it. Life and acting cannot be separated. You can't perform by reading books on acting!

Any books ever seemed useful?
[Shakes his head dismissively]

Do you miss the physicality of the stage?
I do.

Is a different kind of performance needed in an independent film like Ship of Theseus versus a Hichki or a Byomkesh Bakshy?

Thankfully, not yet. Maybe because the directors have been people like Meghna [Gulzar] or Dibakar [Banerjee]? And our audiences are not so insensitive that they only understand flamboyant acting. Both coexist: entertainment films and parallel films. I am a fan of all the Khans. For my entertainment, as Neeraj, I love it! And Imtiaz Ali, Zoya Akhtar, Aditya Chopra, Abhishek Chaubey make great entertainment films, which I'd love to be in as well. But for an industry to make only entertainment films is to numb an audience. It misrepresents Indian cinema to the world. Asked about actors, we name entertainers. With all due respect, they're not actors: they are stars. If you seem the same on screen as in real life, you haven't used the craft of acting at all.

Any trends in the Hindi film industry that look exciting to you?
One, audiences are transforming. It's slow, but they're starting to accept everything. There's no formula any more that guarantees a hit. Two, entertainment content is becoming slightly better. Films like Raazi, or Vishal Bhardwaj's work, these are somewhere in between, written to appeal to a larger audience.

Is streaming allowing for different kinds of content – aesthetically, socially, politically?
Absolutely. One, the format of cinema is two hours: you can't say everything. The web series format allows more space and freedom. Also, there is no censorship, so people are trying every damn thing they can do over here. It's like a new school has opened, where there's no principal. It'll settle down soon. But yes, right now that fire is there.

You've done many grey roles. Did playing the romantic lead exercise different muscles?
I was very excited. I'm a diehard romantic, I'll be that until I'm 90. But I came into the industry in my 40s, and the love stories are written for 25-30 year olds.

Unless you're Shah Rukh Khan.
All the Khans, even the Kumars have an audience that's seen them at 25. They can do this till they're 70. People will still accept them. But I'm doing this mature love story; I wanted to look good! Ship of Theseus, I was a monk in a dhoti; Byomkesh I had a massive beard; Talvar, I had a paunch; twice I've played Gandhi with head shaved: I thought a change would be nice. I'd like the audience to love me, even fall in love with me.

Do awards matter to you?
When you're acting, no. Critics and awards are the cherry on the top, after it's done. I used to get excited about award nominations. Now I don't care as much. I'm more keen on getting my audiences in place. I plan to create a theatre residency soon. I want to direct my own kind of films. I don't want to feed the audience what they say they want. I want to give them what I think they deserve.  

A shorter version of this interview was published in India Today, 15 Sep 2018.

Old School Romance

My review of Kanwal Sethi's film Once Again, now streaming on Netflix:

A few minutes into Once Again, we see the middle-aged female protagonist Tara Shetty (Shefali Shah) patting her face carefully with her hands. The deliberateness of her gestures suggest a nightly ritual: she seems to be putting something on, perhaps an invisible layer of cream? Almost immediately after, there is a mirroring, when we see the film's middle-aged male protagonist in the midst of his own cleansing ritual. But Amar Kumar (Neeraj Kabi) is a famous film star called Amar Kumar, and his smoky black eye make-up is being gently dabbed away by someone else. The addition of an invisible layer versus the removal of a visible one; the woman's actions hoping to stave off the inevitability of age, while the man has just shot for an erotic dance sequence with a bevy of much younger women: of such contrasting details is Kanwal Sethi's film made.

Creating characters who share your sensibility is the oldest trick in the fiction writer's book, and writer-director Sethi unapologetically takes this route, making both Tara and Amar agents of the film's unhurried tactility. It makes perfect sense that Tara's cooking, all slow marination and hand-ground masala, should appeal to Amar, the sort of man whose first gift to her is a fragrant, creamy- white gajra.

The premise -- of a connection fostered through the daily delivery of a freshly-cooked meal -- is bound to invite comparisons with The Lunchbox (2013). Stylistically, too, both films are redolent with old-school romance: the anonymous pleasures of Mumbai's streets, and nostalgia for handwritten notes and landline appointments. Unlike the plotted safety of Ritesh Batra's film though, Tara and Amar do meet, and meet several times, letting the charmed flame of their phone banter flicker into unscripted disappointment. “What are you thinking?” Amar asks Tara after one tense moment. “Just that it's all so easy on the phone,” says Tara.

Women have long cooked to express love. The film recognizes both the intimacy of the act, and the unequal gendered labour of it. Tara's response when Amar introduces her as someone who cooks for him is not that different from Sridevi in English Vinglish when her husband declares “My wife, she was born to make laddoos”. But Sethi's glancing, atmospheric style doesn't delve too deep, sometimes leaving us with more suggestion than substance. 

The protagonists' relationships with their respective grown-up children – Rasika Dugal, Bidita Bag and Priyanshu Painyuli – never feel fully fleshed out, coming off like distractions from our main focus. This is particularly so because Shah and Kabi are both fine actors, and Shah's trademark intensity makes her chemistry with Kabi a live, smouldering thing. We could really do with more of her.

An edited version of this review was published in India Today magazine, 15 Sep 2018.

9 September 2018

Backing and advancing

My Mirror column:

Has the mature woman with a marriage in her past finally become a legitimate recipient of romance in Hindi cinema?

Irrfan Khan and Parvathy in a still from Qarib Qarib Singlle (2017)
Tara (Shefali Shah) runs her own small Mangalorean restaurant, drives herself around Mumbai, and has been a single mother to her two children since her husband’s death twenty years ago. But when this highly capable, independent woman gets home at the end of the day and her grown-up daughter asks her if the restaurant landline is working, Tara feigns ignorance, brushing the question off quickly. The phone relationship she has struck up with the almost-divorced actor Amar (Neeraj Kabi) is, for some reason, a guilty secret.

The idea that their desires are illegitimate is buried so deep inside most Indian women’s heads that even to acknowledge them can feel like taboo. To want companionship, romance, intimacy — and yes, sex — is perfectly natural, but still fraught with the possibility of social censure, especially for a woman past a certain age. So Kanwal Sethi’s atmospheric film 
Once Again, released last week on Netflix, gives us in Tara a rare Indian heroine: a woman who has walked the slow path towards recognising her needs.

And yet how little it takes to propel her back into guilt. Caught on camera by a paparazzi photographer while out walking with Amar, Tara finds herself to be the target of childish anger from her adult son as well as humiliating barbs from his prospective mother-in-law.
Once Again eschews melodrama for piercing looks and pregnant pauses, but Tara’s samdhan manages to get in her critically frosty line: “In our family, we place our children’s desires far ahead of our own.”

Watching even the self-possessed Tara crumble under the pressure, I thought of another recent film in which a woman finds it hard to tell a judgemental world that she’s dating again. Released in 2017, Tanuja Chandra’s romantic comedy
Qarib Qarib Singlle starred the well-known Malayali actress Parvathy as Jaya Shashidharan, a 35-year-old woman who’s been alone for so long that she’s forgotten she has the right to move on.

Unlike Tara and Amar in
Once Again, whose relationship is conducted through lovely old-school means such as as landline conversations, handwritten notes and home-made meals, Jaya meets her suitor Yogi (Irrfan Khan) via a dating website. As a match for the tastefully turned out, punctual Jaya, Yogi seems an eccentric and unlikely choice at first: a self-published shayar with a fondness for mangoes, banter and running — invariably running late. But Chandra’s idea of romance is all about entertaining unlikely possibilities: before we know it, Jaya has joined Yogi on a tripartite journey to visit his three ex-girlfriends, and romance is afoot.

Despite many dissimilarities between the two films, it struck me that both the female protagonists are widows, not divorcees. And the films imply —sometimes humorously, sometimes with pain — that neither woman has been in any sort of intimate relationship since their husbands died. These social double standards are acknowledged by the way the characters are written, too: Irrfan has no compunctions chattering on about his exes to Jaya, from the sweet, quasi-familial terrace romance of his childhood to the sultrier adult one (with Neha Dhupia) — but he is rendered speechless when Jaya digs up an adolescent boyfriend of her own.

The figure of the still-youthful, attractive widow has a history in Hindi cinema — though much less of a history than proportionate reality would demand. Off the top of my head, I can think of Nutan as the translucently lovely widow Mahjubi in the 1973
Saudagar, whom a duplicitous Amitabh Bachchan marries for her talent in making the best palm gur, and Padmini Kolhapure as the exploited young creature whom Rishi Kapoor takes it upon himself to save in Raj Kapoor’s 1982 social melodrama Prem Rog (interestingly, Kamna Chandra — who is Tanuja Chandra’s mother — has partial writing credits for both Prem Rog and Qarib Qarib Singlle).

A much more radical portrayal of a widow who has desires was, of course, last year’s
Lipstick Under My Burkha. Ratna Pathak Shah brought both comic flair and a tragic edge to the 55-year-old Usha Parmar, whom the world knows only as the stentorian Buaji, but who yearns to be recognised as someone altogether more tender. Usha’s secret life involves not just reading steamy Hindi romance novels and learning to swim, but also falling for her buff and youthful swimming instructor. Her secret phone conversations with him, unlike those between Shefali Shah and Neeraj Kabi, are unabashedly sexual. And yet when the veneer of anonymity is shattered and Usha suffers public humiliation, it is hard not to think of all those dozens of Hindi films we grew up on, in which the illusions of romance cultivated by the spinsterish figure of Lalita Pawar would turn out to be nothing but illusions.

It will be a while yet before Buaji swims free.

Published in Mumbai Mirror, 9 Sep 2018.

8 September 2018

A sympathetic spirit

My Mirror column:

Do the men haunted by a female ghost learn any lessons in Amar Kaushik’s affable small-town comedy?

One, don’t leave the house alone, especially after dark. Two, if you absolutely must go somewhere, find a group to go with: there might be some safety in numbers. Three, if you encounter an attractive personage of the opposite sex, assume the worst. The more charm the person displays, the more dulcet the tones in which they approach you, the more determined you must be to avoid their advances. Grit your teeth and keep walking — for if you so much as turn around and look at them, your very life is on the line.

These instructions, given to young men in the fictionalised town of Chanderi in the new horror comedy Stree, will seem powerfully familiar to young women in real towns across India. Only here, it is men who must lock themselves into their houses, bidding their wives goodbye as they leave for the sandhya aarti at the temple ghat with a plaintive, “Come back home early, I feel scared.” Director Amar Kaushik and scriptwriters Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK seem to thoroughly enjoy the role reversal. And so, I’ll wager, will most women — even though these instructions are only applicable for four days in the year, during the annual puja, when the town is said to be visited by a female spirit who preys exclusively on men.

The female ghost (or she-demon) who lures men in with her seductive charm only to reveal her true horrific form later, is a ubiquitous figure in sex-segregated societies that are also profoundly patriarchal. The cupboard of Indian folk belief is crammed unsurprisingly full of monstrous female creatures with highly specific attributes: the chudail, the rakshasi, the petni, the shakhchunni, the pishachini, the yakshi, to name just a few. At least some of the sharpness of Stree is that it takes this premise, so familiar to us as to be completely unremarkable, and turns it — partially — on its head.

The film is based on a clever but simple idea, and its viewing pleasures are simple, too. The first of them is that the particular ghost of Amar Kaushik’s film bears the generic name ‘Stree’: The Woman. This stroke of genius enables some of the best lines in the film, because all references to the scary lady in question can also be heard as statements about women in general. So that Pankaj Tripathi — in top form as Rudra Bhaiya, the town’s bookish authority on all things — has plenty of occasion to advise his quaking townsmen on “Asli stree se bachne ke asal upaay (Real ways to escape the real woman)”. No man, Rudra Bhaiya tells our ‘unspoilt’ bachelor heroes in one hilarious scene, can resist the voice of The Woman — by which he also implies any woman — calling out his name more than twice in a row, in a “swapnasundari” sort of voice. “‘Lag ja gale ki phir yeh haseen raat ho na ho’ waala bhaav aayega,” he warns them, in a nice little in-joke about the 1967 ghostly mystery film Woh Kaun Thi in which that song is sung.

But while never denying this world’s predictable gendered norms (“Suhaag raat ke baad hi fight shuru hoti hai”), Stree tries to stretch its audience in directions empathetic to women. One of these involves the ghost’s reasons for ghosting: she was a tawaif robbed of her one chance at love, on her suhaag raat.

There is something quite charming about the fact that the film’s hero Vicky (played with his usual flair by the brilliant Rajkummar Rao) is a tailor. He may believe that he hasn’t been put on earth to loosen blouses and shorten petticoats, but he has magic in his hands — his father, watching him at the sewing machine, sees in him nothing less than the perfection of Shiv Bhagwan. But it is significant, too, that Vicky is a ladies’ tailor — and a self-proclaimed ‘modern’ one. In the one scene in which we see Vicky interact with an older woman customer, he encourages her, with just the right touch of flirtatious appreciation, to get a slightly deeper neck for her sari blouse. (We have had another tailor-as-sensitive-hero for the modern Indian woman in the recent Hindi film past: Irffan Khan’s character in the Delhi-set Hindi Medium, who managed to marry ‘up’ into the somewhat English-speaking classes by virtue of his open-mindedness about women’s clothes — and thus, bodies and minds.)

Unlike its ghostly star attraction, however, this is not a film interested in floating several inches above the ground —it wants to remain rooted in its milieu. It is keen to suggest that the vrats and pujas on one hand, and all manner of black magic on the other, can happily co-exist in the same world with ‘azaad’ women — and azaad views about women. They may still be suspicious of the girls that rupture their bromances, and puzzle over whether “friendship” is code for sex — but in Amar Kaushik’s affectionately hopeful vision, the boys of Chanderi are on their way to a brave new world — and not just by means of the Ludo apps on their mobile phones.

27 August 2018

The Sharpshooter

My Mirror column:

Ismat Chughtai
 would have turned 107 on August 21. Who was she and why should she be the subject of a column on cinema?

The Urdu writer Ismat Chughtai (right) in a still from Shyam Benegal's 1857-set drama, Junoon (1978). Also seen: Jennifer Kendal Kapoor (left) & a very young Nafisa Ali

It was in 1942 that Ismat Chughtai wrote what still remains her most talked-about story. ‘Lihaaf’ (The Quilt) first came out in an Urdu journal called Adab-e-Lateef and then in a collection of Ismat’s short stories published by Shahid Ahmed Dehlvi.

In December 1944, Ismat and her literary contemporary Saadat Hasan Manto were charged with obscenity. The second and definitive hearing in the case took place in Lahore in November 1946. Here is Ismat, in her autobiography Kaghazi Hai Pairahan, recounting with not a little relish how the case fell apart in the courtroom:

The witnesses who had turned up to prove “Lihaaf” obscene were thrown into confusion by my lawyer... After a good deal of reflection one of them said: “This phrase ‘… drawing lovers’ is obscene.”

“Which word is obscene, ‘draw’ or ‘lover’?” The lawyer asked.

“Lover,” replied the witness a little hesitantly.

“My lord, the word ‘lover’ has been used by great poets most liberally. It is also used in naats, poems written in praise of the Prophet. God-fearing people have accorded it a very high status.” “But it’s objectionable for girls to draw lovers to themselves,” said the witness. “Why?” “Because… because it’s objectionable for good girls to do so.”

“And if the girls are not good, then it is not objectionable?”

“Mmm… no.”

“My client must have referred to the girls who were not good. Yes madam, do you mean here that bad girls draw lovers?”


“Well, this may not be obscene. But it is reprehensible for an educated lady from a decent family to write about them.” the witness thundered.

“Censure it as much as you want. But it does not come within the purview of law.”

The issue lost much of its steam thereafter, writes Ismat. The implied sexual relationship between an aristocratic woman and her devoted maid which made 'Lihaaf' so controversial in its time still remains a hot-button topic. Abhishek Chaubey’s Dedh Ishqiya (2014) made a sidelong reference to Chughtai’s story while depicting the bond between Begum Para (Madhuri Dixit) and her maid Muniya (Huma Qureshi). A proper film adaptation by Rahat Kazmi is also in production, starring Tannishtha Chatterjee.

The division of the world into good girls and bad girls had always been of abiding interest to Ismat. The ninth of ten children, she grew up learning to ride and shoot and climb trees alongside her six brothers and three sisters. Her father, a deputy collector in places like Agra and Aligarh, was a remarkable man who gave all his children an education and the freedom to speak of anything under the sun. In a 1972 interview, Ismat attributed her early success as a writer to her frankness, and that frankness to her upbringing. “We were all frank, my father, my brothers, all of us. We never used to sit in separate groups, women in one place, men in another... We were all considered bold, rude and quarrelsome,” she told the Mahfil interviewer.

But her autobiography makes clear that her forthrightness was highly unusual for a young woman, getting her “bashed up often for telling the truth”. “Purdah had already been imposed on me, but my tongue was a naked sword,” she writes. Here is an example of Ismat’s sword, piercing through the hypocritical veil of 'decency': “The apparently shy and respectable girls... allowed themselves to be grabbed, hugged and kissed in bathrooms and in dark corners by young men who were related to their families. Such girls were considered modest.”

Ismat’s first visit to Bombay was as an inspector of municipal schools. She took the opportunity to reconnect with Shahid Latif, whom she had met in Aligarh and who worked in Bombay Talkies. Upon her urging, he took her to watch a film being shot. The lure of the cinema was a powerful one, and Ismat soon began writing scripts for films. Her first script — Ziddi — was bought by Ashok Kumar, then helping to run Bombay Talkies, for the highly impressive sum of Rs 20,000. To offer a comparison, Ismat tells us the heroine Kamini Kaushal, then already a star, was signed on for Rs 20,000, while Dev Anand — for whom this was one of his first roles — got Rs 6,000.

Between the late 1940s and late 1950s, Ismat went on to write scripts for many other films in Bombay. Of these, Aarzoo, Sheesha, Buzdil
, Fareb, Darwaza, Lal Rukh, Society and Sone ki Chidiya were all produced and directed by Shahid Latif, who was by then her husband. But while some of these (Buzdil, Aarzoo and Sone ke Chidiya) were both commercial and critical successes, it is clear that Ismat's screenplays were necessarily a toned-down version of her literary self. (Asked by the 1972 Mahfil interviewer if there was “any adverse effect on writers who get involved in film writing”, Ismat burst out, “how can I say anything against films because it's through films that we’ve been fed!”)
The one film through which one can experience the unexpurgated Ismat is MS Sathyu's Garm Hava, whose portrait of a Muslim family remains the most nuanced cinematic depiction we have of the effects of Partition.

But Ismat also wrote about the film world. Her novel Ajeeb Aadmi ('A Very Strange Man') is about the talented director-producer Dharamdev, his Bengali wife Mangala who is a talented playback singer, and his affair with the actress Zarina which ends up devastating all their lives. The central characters were entirely recognisable, embedded though they were in a sharply realised fiction that shows exactly how power works in the film industry. They remain recognisable today, even though two of the three are long dead. Perhaps some day soon, someone will make the film, and Ismat’s naked sword will again shine in use.

Published in Mumbai Mirror, 26 Aug 2018.

21 August 2018

At what price beauty?

My Mirror column:

Women struggle to feel beautiful in an intriguing television series called Dietland, and a new comedy called I Feel Pretty.

“Apart from Steven and a few other people, I’d learnt to live deep inside myself... My body was just a thing I used to move my head around,” says Alicia ‘Plum’ Kettle early in the first season of Dietland, the ongoing television series of which she is the heroine and sometimes narrator. The thought isn’t a complicated one. But Plum’s description of her inner life as a fat person also encapsulates what seems to me to be a most universally resonant thought: a split between the body and the mind, the feeling that one’s visible outer self does not really represent one’s inner being. Based on Sarai Walker’s novel of the same name, Dietland’s aim is simple: it places a woman’s struggles with obesity at the centre of our consciousness, forcing us to engage with our prejudices and pity-parties, even — perhaps, especially — when they come couched as concerns about the fat person’s health and happiness.

As she moves hopelessly between her friend Steven’s cafe and her lonely Brooklyn apartment, her thankless weightwatchers meetings (where she is lectured by annoying thin women) and her freelance gig as ghostwriter for teen zine editor Kitty Montgomery (where, too, she is lectured by annoying thin women), Plum gets sadder and angrier. Still, she continues to suspend all her present-day desires in aid of a future Day of Fulfilment, pegging her meagre savings and oversized hopes to a gastric band surgery that promises to unveil her 
thin person within”.

So in Plum’s case, the split sense of identity is based on being fat. But Dietland makes it clear that what it’s really targeting is much larger: a world of impossibly precarious standards for what counts as female beauty, held in place by what it refers to as the “dissatisfaction industrial complex”. “They get us to tell them how broken we are and then get us to buy things to fix it,” says the wonderfully savvy Julia, manager of the so-called ‘Beauty Closet’ that’s part of Kitty Montgomery’s media empire — who also enrols Plum into a secret project to subvert it. Meanwhile, an anonymous female vigilante group by the fantastically normal name of Jennifer starts to claim responsibility for the grisly murders of rapists who have escaped the law. Their violence is effective and media-grabbing — it shuts down Fashion Week and kills off a female porn star associated with rape porn — and even as Plum is adopted by a peaceful ‘anti-diet’ philanthropist, the connections she’s making seem to lead her closer and closer to Jennifer.

A few weeks after I watched Dietland, I came upon a 2018 film that seems to engage with very similar concerns. Called I Feel Pretty, it stars the influential stand-up comic Amy Schumer. Schumer’s Renee Bennett is by no means obese, but like Plum Kettle, she struggles with insecurities about her looks. 

If Plum slaves away secretly over her laptop in her apartment, Renee leads her work life in a dank Chinatown basement. Both are wage slaves employed by insanely posh women in the youth and beauty business, who gradually start to see the value of our anonymous, non-posh heroines. Where Plum had Kitty, Renee has Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams in a memorably excessive performance), heir and CEO of a cosmetics corporation called Lily LeClaire that’s looking to branch out from high-end to mass products. Most strikingly, Renee yearns to know what it’s like to be “undeniably pretty” — which, in both Plum’s and her minds, is what will make them worthy of being desired, and thus — at least potentially — loved.

I began by being struck by how similarly Dietland and I Feel Pretty set up their scenarios. But I ended up amazed by the different routes they take to resolve them. I Feel Pretty uses the old knock-on-the-head device to create a version of amnesia: Renee wakes up from a gym accident convinced that she has been transformed into a woman of stunning attractiveness; a babe by mainstream standards. That illusion kickstarts her lifeless dating life and career, as romantic partners and snobbish bosses alike are first bemused and then charmed by her self-confidence. As feel-good comedy, this premise walks a bit of a political tightrope — because, of course, the reason everyone (including us, the audience) is so amused is because Renee’s new confidence is misplaced, incongruous, delusional. And there are moments of annoying obviousness when Renee befriends the beautiful people — her gym friend or her boss — only so that we can be told that hot people have problems, too.

What I Feel Pretty’s makers want us to concentrate on, however, is that feeling “undeniably pretty” is enough to make the life we want. If we feel it on the inside, it’ll start to show up on the outside.

Meanwhile, in Dietland, we watch Plum being treated badly, by strangers and by potential dates, because fatness has been declared not just unattractive but inferior, worthy of fetishising but not respect and love. But then we also see women with the most flawless of bodies being objectified. “They’re perfect,” says an acid attack victim with a disfigured face. “How’s that working out for them?” In fact, Dietland wants us to arrive at the same place as I Feel Pretty —just via a darker route. The most beautiful body is no guarantee of anything, if we aren’t feeling pretty on the inside.

Published in Mumbai Mirror, 19 Aug 2018.