2 States (2014)

Posted on April 21, 2014

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At the end of 2 States, Krish (a dull Arjun Kapoor) and Ananya (a just about tolerable Alia Bhatt) tell us that cultural difference was not the real problem; the real problem was that their parents couldn’t accept that their children found a life partner on their own. If that was indeed the case, one wonders what exactly was the point of the film.

It seems the film was made with the sole purpose of parading all the Punjabi and Tamil-Brahmin stereotypes to get some cheap and easy laughs. Ananya’s parents walk with a Tam-Bram signpost above their head: They are taciturn, wear a constant glum expression, sing Carnatic music, serve food on banana leaves, and live in a sparse house. Krish’s mother is the sort of Punjabi lady most Tamil Brahmins would cross the road to avoid: she is loud, crude, ignorant, racist, and money-minded. Only three characters escape this blind stereotyping. Krish looks and behaves less like a Punjabi and more like a Tamilian, while Ananya looks and acts like the typical Punjabi girl we get to see in our films. Either this is a case of muddle-headed casting or the consequence of trying to flesh out their characters, which only goes to show that when you make the effort—however little—to write believable characters, stereotypes tend to disappear.

The third character is Krish’s father, who exists in a cultural vacuum—his sole purpose in the film is to add some gravitas to the proceedings and conveniently clear all the misunderstanding so that the marriage can finally take place, the film can end and we can all go home. Poor Ronit Roy, it seems he is doomed to forever play the troubled father, a role which he essayed brilliantly in Udaan (that’s Bollywood typecasting for you).

One would think that the IIT-educated Krish would not be so parochial or regressive but it is he who says some of the most offensive lines in the film: from making fun of Ananya’s house to refusing to walk with her because she is wearing shorts to mollifying his mother by telling her that he will get Ananya to toe the line once they get married. When Ananya overhears Krish say that to his mother, she breaks up with him and tells him “problem culture nahi, problem tum ho”—one of the truest lines spoken in the film.

What is deeply troubling is how the film normalizes racist and sexist behavior in the name of cultural differences. When Krish’s mother says that 90% of Tamilians “kaaley bhi tou hotey hai”, you expect someone to object, to say something, instead all we get is Krish unsuccessfully trying to steer the conversation away to other subjects while his mother continues with her insults. Later when the two are alone, he doesn’t confront his mother about her appalling behaviour; instead, they discuss Ananya’s temerity in talking back to her future mother-in-law. The racist remark goes unchallenged (and is in fact used as a joke in the film’s trailers!). Later in the film, in an even more disturbing scene, Ananya’s parents ask Krish’s mother if they would like some “gifts”. Krish’s mother refuses but the fact that her parents show their softened stance and acceptance of Punjabi customs through their willingness to give dowry is extremely shocking. While racism and dowry are an unfortunate part of Indian life, how can a film let such attitudes go unquestioned? Didn’t someone tell them that offering dowry is also a legal offense?

The film does not show us how these two families with completely different cultures arrive at a mutually acceptable wedding arrangement. The discussions, negotiations, and compromises from both sides on the rituals and customs would have provided enough material for an engaging film (if handled with sensitivity and wit) but that would have been too much work for the writers and so instead they pack off all the Punjabis into a Chennai-bound train and show them participate enthusiastically in a proper Tamilian wedding. Perhaps Chetan Bhagat did not write about it in his book (haven’t read the book so don’t know for sure), but this would have been the perfect opportunity for filmmakers to invent.

The film’s narrative structure is contrived to mimic the first-person narration of the book. The film is from Krish’s point of view and yet oddly, we get voice-overs from Ananya towards the end. It would be interesting to watch the story of an Indian love-arranged marriage from the girl’s point of view. But Ananya, obviously, doesn’t have an independent opinion and merely echoes Krish’s observations and conclusions.

2 States is clearly not a very ambitious film. I suppose it merely wanted to be entertaining but all it manages to do is be offensive and it succeeds exceedingly at that.

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Posted in: Reviews