For many Americans, Bollywood movies mean wild spectacle and endless song-and-dance numbers. But modern Bollywood movies are secretly feminist. Possibly even more so than Hollywood films. Take Jab We Met.
Jab We Met (When We Met) is a 2007 movie starring Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor (no relation) and directed by Imtiaz Ali. It was on Netflix Instant for a long time, but now it’s available DVD-only.
The film begins as a meet-cute between a depressed businessman and a flighty, talkative, free-spirited woman. From all appearances, this is the standard Manic Pixie Dream Girl come to save some lonely guy. But the film is much smarter than that.
The MPDG, Geet, has motives and agency of her own. She is running away from home to marry a man her family disapproves of. When it turns out he actually isn’t interested in her, she becomes depressed, and takes a teaching job far from home.
The businessman, Aditya, is ultimately energized by Geet, but he is not saved by her. The focus of the film is not how she makes him better but how they make each other better in a relationship of equals. In the beginning of the film, Geet seems to save Aditya from suicide but in the second-half, Aditya finds Geet and helps bring her home (and tries to work out a reconciliation with the man she wanted to marry).
Besides turning the MPDG idea on its head, the film has a lot to say about women’s bodies. Geet gets stranded at a train station at night, in her pajamas. A group of men follow her around, commenting that she’s alone. The station manager chastises her for being alone. But the movie doesn’t. The movie portrays these leering men for what they are: terrible. Geet is not leading them on or inviting their commentary. Later, a man tries to pick her up as a prostitute and she says to leave her alone. Again, the problem is his for ignoring her, not her for being out, alone, at night.
Later in the film, Geet learns that she’s been engaged, without her consent. She has no reason to think there’s anything wrong with the arranged match (some Bollywood movies go out of their way to show how awful the arranged fiancÃ© is, but not this one), but she had no choice in the matter. The movie shows that this is part of the same spectrum: just as rape is about non-consent, so, too, are arranged marriages. She is right to resist and feel upset, not wrong to disobey her parents.
While the movie opens with Aditya and his issues, the film is really about Geet. She shows that being talkative and positive does not mean one is shallow or empty. She accepts the consequences for her actions and actively works to solve her own problems.
And all against a colorful backdrop with fantastic music.