Annapoorani, ‘love jihad’, and being farhan

As far as patriarchy is concerned, the film does well in showing a male character who is able to own his mistakes and correct them. And that too, by setting the characters in a Brahmin context.
Annapoorani, ‘love jihad’, and being farhan
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Annapoorani is back in the news. After all, for how long can a film that shows a Muslim man with a Hindu woman go without a case being filed about ‘love jihad’? But if there’s one thing that the film and subsequent events do shine a light on, it is that we need to wage love. Love, that the American author bell hooks says should be defined not as a noun, but as a verb; defined not as a feeling but as intended acts. To this end, Annapoorani offers an interesting opportunity: the film’s four male characters – the father, the friend, the mentor, and the villain – are far more interesting than the protagonist herself. They offer a chance to examine the ways in which Brahmanical patriarchy and patriarchy in general mould people. Of the four male characters, Farhan stands out. For all the right reasons. 

The father

Rangarajan is the classic example of how caste and gender play out within dominant caste families that see themselves as “progressive”. Rangarajan, a Brahmin man, loves his daughter, encourages her to pursue what she likes (because a girl who likes to cook is hardly a threat to patriarchy, Brahmin or otherwise), and is even willing to delay marriage so that she can study further. She can study anything she likes, but that permissiveness ends when she makes a choice that strikes at the heart of his pride, standing, and respect in the constituency he values most — the men of his caste. 

Naturally, in a feel good film – that only superficially raises questions about caste or patriarchy – Annapoorani achieves her dream, and thanks to paati, the stage is set for a resolution of the conflict between father and daughter. Whoever wrote the lines for Subbulakshmi’s character when she calls out her son’s hypocrisy is a total rockstar. For whatever reason, he is able to see himself as he really is when she shows him the mirror, and in the end realises that he was wrong.

This is where the film gets really interesting, and you can split the ending into two patriarchies — a general one and a casteist one. But in an Indian context, the two are closely linked when they are not indistinguishable. So, Annapoorani and Rangarajan can have their cake and eat it too: A Brahmin man and his Brahmin daughter can transgress their caste – while leaving the Brahmanical roots of patriarchy intact – and still not only lose nothing, but go on to claim that they are not really sexist, etc. After all, they’re players in a game that was designed for them to win, no matter what course of action they took.

Still, as far as general patriarchy is concerned, the film does well in showing a male character who is able to own his mistakes and correct them. And that too, by setting the characters in a Brahmin context. It’s anybody’s guess whether Brahmin and other dominant caste men will see themselves in Rangarajan and ponder the (limited) point Subbulakshmi is trying to make when she tells her son that she sees through him and that he didn’t oppose Annapoorani competing in the cooking show because if she won, he knew he would get his caste pride back.

Where the film is interesting is that for once, talk of caste is aimed at a dominant caste audience in a different way. It invites dominant caste men – through paati’s lines – to ask why Rangarajan values his caste more than his daughter. The answer lies in Subbulakshmi’s analysis of her son’s actions: Rangarajan derives his primary identity from his caste, and it is clear that he does not know what or who he is if not his caste. Society has socialised men and women into valuing their caste and deriving pride from it. That identification with their caste and therefore sense of superiority is the cause for their own happiness and violence against others. 

Subbulakshmi’s repartee also has something for Brahmin and other dominant caste women to ruminate on. She says, “What did I get by holding on to this orthodox tradition? All this was crammed into my head by someone. I’m still burdened by this dogma, not knowing why I’m still stuck here.” If dominant caste women honestly seek answers for why their lives are so stifling, then they will see that the answer is Indian-flavoured and unpleasant — Brahmanical patriarchy. 

The father and son

With the father-son chef duo, the film ventures into general patriarchy. Caste background unclear, the pair is just father and son. As Annapoorani’s mentor, Anand encourages her and stands by her for her skills, and her gender does not prejudice him towards her. But there are hints in the film that Anand was somewhat lacking as a parent, at least in Ashwin’s eyes. It appears that his father, and not Annapoorani, was the real target of Ashwin’s actions. It was Annapoorani who had his father’s attention, while Ashwin desperately wanted it. 

Ashwin’s character should prompt us to think about what patriarchy does to boys. In her books All About Love and The Will to Change, bell hooks talks about how parents show affection to boys when they are little, but that gradually changes as they grow older. To boys, parents, society, and the whole world in general, say that they are “men” and men are aggressive, dominating, not sentimental like girls, that they’re always right, they deserve whatever they want, they should get what they want, etc. 

hooks talks at length about how women and children ultimately pay the price for the damage done to boys and men by patriarchy. Women too absorb patriarchal notions of what it means to be a woman, and that in turn affects their relationships with themselves and with men.

If gender-based, caste-based, and gender+caste-based violence is to end, we need to raise children, especially boys, with a lot of love.


For once, a male character in popular cinema isn’t extravagantly declaring intense feelings for a woman. We see him doing things for her, isn’t threatened by her, nor is there any hint of wanting to dominate her.

Farhan is the kind of man that women wish for. Heck, any person would wish for someone like this in their lives — someone who supports you, encourages you, and pushes you when you’ve hit a dead end or when trapped by your own inhibitions. In short, he practises love. The kind of love that the American psychologist Scot M Peck defines as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. 

Peck defines love not as “feelings” but as intentional acts. “Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” When hooks talk about love, they mean all kinds of love —  for friends, children, adolescents, family, strangers, colleagues, neighbours, social communities, political communities. Just about everybody, actually.

Whether or not Farhan and Annapoorani end up together is a political statement (and even though the film was cautious, a case was still filed, Netflix dropped the film, and Zee apologised to the VHP). But showing a character like Farhan is also a political statement. The kind that can show men a different way of being and women a different kind of attractiveness. 

We should all be farhan. It means happy, joyous, blessed in Arabic.

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