I was watching the latest Karan Johar magnum opus "Ae Dil Hai Mushkil" in which Ranbir Kapoor once again tries to convince us after "Rockstar" that the only way to unleash the artist inside a person is to put him through a heartbreak.
Now this is fairly familiar territory. From "Sindhu Bhairavi" to "Iraivi", the male artist wallowing in depression and alcohol has been treated with kid gloves, his creative genius becoming an excuse for bad behaviour. We may tut-tut and shake our heads at his excesses but when the man opens his mouth to spout words of wisdom about his art, we're willing to forgive him instantly.
In "Iraivi", SJ Surya is a filmmaker whose film is stuck in the cans. He therefore becomes a drunk. In one emotional scene, his long-suffering wife, played by Kamilini Mukherjee, asks him why he cannot make his next film in the meantime (a sensible question if there ever was one). For this, her husband's response is, "Would you be able to have another child if our daughter was still in your womb?"
I nearly burst out laughing. This appropriation of a uniquely female and often painful physical experience to justify a behaviour that is excused only because of male privilege was atrocious to say the least. It's true that "Iraivi" attempts to look at men and their thoughtlessness but at this particular juncture, the scene is built to get the audience to sympathize with SJ Surya's character and his genius.
The absurdity of the big baby male artist and our indulgent response to him can perhaps be best brought out if we were to imagine a female artist in his place, behaving in the same way that he does when confronted with reality.
Let's take Kamakshi from "Karagattakaran", one of the few films which have depicted a female artist (pitted against a male one, but still). There's plenty of dil and mushkil happening for her, so what would have happened if Kamakshi inhabited a world where it was all right for a female artist to behave in the way in which a male one does? Note: The following piece has a different story arc from that of the film.
Kamakshi woke up with a hangover. She'd been out drinking sarayam (arrack in Tamil) with her friends because one of them was getting married. Kamakshi was of the opinion that marriage was a waste of time. She was a Karagattam dancer and an ambitious one at that. Men, in her opinion, were unnecessary. They complained incessantly about everything. And expected her to laugh at their silly jokes, too.
Kamakshi had made fun of the to-be-bride all night. "You'll lose your freedom!" she had laughed. "You'll have to take his permission if you're ever to go drinking with us again!"
The girls had then made a ribald song about it. "Become wife and lose life," Kamakshi hummed, grinning at the memory.
There were many men in the village who wanted to marry her. After all, she was talented and famous.
Especially that Chinnarasu. He was the head of the village panchayat board and loved her. His clothes showed how characterless he was. Kamakshi had heard that he drank and smoked too. What sort of man with any shame did all that? Who would marry him? Not her, certainly.
The temple festival was coming up. Kamakshi would, as usual, perform. But something was bothering her. She knew she was the best dancer for miles around her village. There was nobody who could do what she could. And yet, there was something missing. There was no soul to her dance.
The thought depressed her. Her head pounded. Kamakshi took a swig of whiskey from the bottle she'd hidden beneath her bed. Ah, that felt better. She wore her anklets, placed the Karagattam pot on her head, and began dancing. Her feet tottered, the pot fell to the ground.
In rage, she smashed the mirror in her room. Her family watched her with fear and respect.
A few days later, Kamakshi came to know that Chinnarasu had schemed to keep her out of the temple festival. He'd invited another dancer - a man named Muthaiya - to perform in her place! The insult was unbearable. When Kamakshi's father served her a plate of idlis, she flung it out of the window. Then, she stormed out of the house.
Kamakshi went to the riverside and boxed a tree till her hands were covered with blood. She collapsed into the bushes and cried her lungs out. Her loyal friends brought her all the alcohol that they could lay their hands on. "You're the best, Kamakshi," they assured her. "After all, Muthaiya is a man. Do you think a man can ever win against a woman?!" Kamakshi knew they were right. She hated Muthaiya even before she'd seen him.
Muthaiya was surprisingly handsome. From the front and behind. Kamakshi couldn't get over his taut body, his curly hair and his full, red lips. She felt her heart swell when she watched him dance. Desire burned within her to own him. She told Muthaiya this and he said he wasn't interested. He said he didn't know her at all. "Who are you?" were his precise words.
Kamakshi smiled a bittersweet smile. Silly man, what did he know? She'd ask till he'd say yes.
"Love is a wretched thing," she said in a letter to her now married friend. "And men are the devil."
The pot sat heavy on Kamakshi's head when she practised. Her mind was full of Muthaiya. She whirled like a woman possessed. Her family watched in awe. Since that day, Kamakshi had asked Muthaiya several times to marry her. But the idiot didn't know what was good for him. He mumbled something about "not being that type of guy" and kept dancing with his pot.
Kamakshi's eyes were red. Her mind was black with depression. Suddenly, she knew what to do to prove her love to him. She ran to the kitchen and took the knife.
"Tell Muthaiya what I've done for him!" she screamed, stabbing herself in the leg.
When the news reached Muthaiya, he came running. NOW he knew that he should have said yes to Kamakshi...but it was too late, she'd maimed herself. Muthaiya realised that he loved Kamakshi but he didn't tell her that -because if he did, how could she become a real genius?
Muthaiya declined to dance at the temple festival, citing ill health. His true love, Kamakshi would dance instead.
Kamakshi came onstage limping. She placed the pot on her head. Her body was filled with pain. Her bandage was soaked with blood. She knew what it was to have a broken heart. The black wing of depression had touched her. She was thoroughly drunk as usual.
Her performance, as a consequence, was mind-blowing. In the end, there was not a dry eye in the audience. Even Chinnarasu cried.
And when it was over, Muthaiya came running towards her in slo-mo. "I love you," he said, with his full red lips. Kamakshi slapped him twice and then hugged him.