Recently there was a discussion on a Facebook Group called “The Balcony” on the Bollywood movie “Cocktail” and its portrayal of the two leading ladies – the uber cool Veronica, played by Deepika Padukone and the traditional Meera, played by Diana Penty who, after a lopsided love triangle, eventually ends up with the playboy Gautam, played by Saif Ali Khan. The whole discussion, instigated by a piece by Chetan Bhagat (www.chetanbhagat.com/columns/home-truths-on-career-wives/),veered around the regressive portrayal of women and the distinction it draws between the “girl friend material”, Veronica, and the “wife material”, Meera.
Reading this discussion made me revisit my own reactions to the movie. First things first, I loved Deepika as Veronica in it. Honestly, I do not care too much about any one Bollywood’s current leading ladies. The best that anyone of them seems capable of is a random good performance. Consistency is clearly not their hallmark. “Cocktail” is probably Deepika’s one such performance. Her portrayal of the hot, wild, spoilt party girl Veronica who lives life king size; her emotional meltdown at a night club after Gautam and Meera confess their feelings for each other; her rabid outburst thereafter and desperate, pathetic attempts at winning Gautam – not Oscar material but definitely laudable. The movie is fun, breezy made for Gen Next and broke several new grounds- Gautam, Meera and Veronica sitting across a table and trying to sort out the messy love triangle being one.
Having said that, the movie eventually does fall into clichés in its portrayal of both Veronica and Meera. Veronica, good enough to sleep with but not to present to “Mummy ji” and Meera, the Miss Goody Goody who cooks, cleans, prays- in a nutshell the ideal Indian Bahu- both are characters we have seen before in Bollywood. I was reminded of a Salman Khan, Karishma Kapoor, Sushmita Sen starrer called “Biwi No.1” which showed both the leading ladies in somewhat similar light. Karishma Kapoor is the wife who, post marriage changes from being a smart, independent chick into a saree clad woman taking care of children and household. The husband, Salman Khan, bored with this “gharelu” wife flounders into Sushmita Sen’s arms, the hot model who is anything but wifely. In short, she is the “girl friend material” personified.
There was however, something that I found more disturbing than the “girl friend material” and “wife material” divide in both the movies. And that is the portrayal of the female psyche. Veronica in “Cocktail” is a perfectly happy, independent woman of the world, picking up men as she goes along. A rich spoilt brat, she nevertheless has a heart of gold and that is how she ends up befriending Meera to begin with. Living life on her own terms, she can have any man she desires. Her relationship with Gautam is also nothing more than a casual live-in. She just seems to be taking in strays! As for Meera, she starts out as a helpless damsel in distress alright, but with Veronica’s support, she not only finds her feet but also becomes a source of stability for Veronica. Gautam to her is worse than the bacteria living on the scum of a dirt pool and she makes no secret of the fact that she is putting up with him only because of Veronica.
Now for two such women, who are the best of friends, to fall out over a man who is clearly a rake with no moral compunctions whatsoever- that to my mind is the most disturbing thing. How and why Gautam becomes more than a fling for Veronica that she ditches her rising hemlines and plunging necklines for a salwar-kameez remains unclear. Similarly, how Meera’s aversion is replaced by love for the scumbag is rather unconvincing. And even if for the sake of argument one does believe that love hath no rhyme or reason, should the two best friends be ruining their friendship over it? Even if Gautam is just a fling for Veronica, for Meera to overcome her little qualms and have a relationship with him is nothing short of a stab in the back. Is this how men perceive female friendships and psyche? That along comes a man- any man- and it all goes straight out of the window? Veronica’s acidic vitriol after her breakdown reminding Gautam, that he has seen more of her body that he is now, in his new avatar as Meera’s boyfriend willing to admit, should drive home the point. Meera should have left Gautam not because her friend loved Gautam but because the friendship meant more than a man who wears his heart on a sleeve. In similar vein, why should two independent, self reliant women like those portrayed by Sushmita and Karishma in “Biwi No.1” be fighting a game of tug-of war over a philandering man?A more befitting climax for “Cocktail” would have been for both women to leave this man and carry on with their lives as the best of buddies until the right men came along. That would have been a truly new age movie for Gen New!