I saw the movie ‘Turning Thirty’ yesterday, five days after it was released and at the unlikely time of 3:30 p.m. It felt sort of appropriate considering that the movie seemed to showcase the absolute freedom of the urban Indian woman.
The movie was strictly okay. The songs made me cringe, especially the one just following the opening scene with its done-over-to-the-point-of-nausea ‘couple in a convertible’ picturisation. It also felt a little too Sex and the City in a desi setting. And yet, I didn’t walk out of the theatre. I guess, it’s not the kind of movie I’d take someone on a date to, not one that I’d want to watch with my parents and not one I’d arrange a weekend plan around. But it is the kind of movie that I wouldn’t mind catching on an unexpected free weekday afternoon, by myself just like I did.
I don’t think the problem was the story itself, even if I did overhear a guy tell another, “It should have had a board saying Only For High Profile Women”. That just strikes me as typical Indian male horse-blinkeredness. We do drink and cuss. We are ambitious, ruthless, confused and non-committal. And yes, casual sex, sex-without-feelings, revenge sex, premarital sex, illicit sex, gay sex…all of these things and more are a realistic part of our lives. Maybe this describes only one kind of Indian woman but that kind definitely exists, and not just in the high society pages.
But I thought the dialogue and the acting left much to be desired. It wasn’t like anybody was wooden. However the theme was fairly complex and new in the purview of Indian cinema. None of the actors really seemed convincing. They just looked…awkward. Except for Tilottama Shome (remember Alice from Monsoon Wedding?) who I thought carried every moment of even her very limited footage with ease.
Something struck me only towards the end and I don’t know if the makers even intended this. Naina, the protagonist faces the standard issues that one would expect from this movie – break-up, heartbreak, parental pressure to get married, societal perceptions towards ageing. But the one subtle issue that underlies the story and the only one that really satisfactorily reaches resolution, both in the situation and in her mind, is her career.
It got me thinking. The world has always struggled with integrating women and ambition. The generation before ours had jobs and within overwhelming barriers like lower pay, stereotyped roles and automatic prioritizing of family over career. My generation has careers but still within standard norms of what will impress the marriage market, what will be conducive to the partner’s own career and eventually, motherhood. Even today, it’s hard for us to admit that we worry about our jobs, employability and career path as much as, if not more than the way our relationships are going.
The boy often points out how hard and cynical I am about many things about my past. It stands out that he seems a tad more understanding about my bitterness over failed relationships than he does about my dashed hopes at the workplace. But maybe that’s not the typical male dismissal of my ambition, as I’d like to think. It is possible, just a wee bit at least, that I’m more bothered by the lows of my career than my love life.
This is not to say that I’ve loved any less or that my relationships mattered less to me than my career. But when I look back, I’ve more or less made my peace with the relationship failures, even the ones that were disasters. I’ve been able to do so by finally accepting that people, emotions and relationships are uncontrollable and that there’s no logic or rules or framework to follow. They happen and if they happen well, I count myself as lucky.
Career on the other hand, seems a lot more logical and structured, which means my expectations are nearly higher. Pettiness, politicking, theft, sabotage are each more difficult to forgive (and impossible to forget) when it comes to my workplace. And whether this is actually true or not, my expectations are still that I’d be able to right such wrongs or seek justice in some manner, when it pertains to work-related issues.
The same obviously doesn’t hold for relationships. Leading someone on, cheating, stealing another woman’s boyfriend and lying are not crimes punishable by law. And hence, my only hope for resolution is to accept and move on.
I’m heartened to note that popular culture (even it if is a somewhat offbeat movie like this one) portraying such issues. Pop culture does reflect how we are, how we think and how we behave, after all.
My favourite words in the movie were in the very last scene.
“Turning thirty is something I learnt to accept and appreciate only after I turned thirty-one.”
That means a helluva lot more than I can say. I’m tiptoeing towards the end of my 31 and I’m still learning to articulate what the big three-O has brought into my life.