Minority Report | Heavy duty


Minority Report | Heavy duty

Close on the heels of last week’s most heated debate on the Indian government banning the BBC documentary, India’s Daughter, made by a British journalist on the 16th December 2012 gangrape-murder in Delhi, I found something else very resonant as the subject of the week.

It is the character of the fat wife, Sandhya, in Sharat Katariya’s recently released film Dum Laga Ke Haisha, played compellingly by 25-year-old actress Bhumi Pednekar.

Leading up to the film’s release and even after it, most articles—and there are a good few in the Indian media—focused on the plus size of Sandhya. She is a “heroine” after all; that, too, in a Yash Raj film, a production house which makes slim and stunning heroines look even slimmer and more stunning.

Commentators wrote how, finally, Bollywood was battling its size zero obsession and how our extreme fascination for thin and tall leading ladies was wearing itself thin.

Pednekar, who was asked to gain weight for the role—she reportedly put on 12 kilos—plays a girl caught in the trials of an arranged marriage in the temple town of Haridwar. Being educated, with a potential to earn a living as a school teacher, she is thrust on a young, semi-educated and poorly employed husband, who finds her repugnant from the word go. He berates and insults her.

But when I watched the film last weekend, I didn’t find Pednekar’s plus size as the central point of the narrative. A pretty young woman, the actress is neither obese nor ungainly in a manner that would give us sufficient reason to make a strong case against the thin-win favouritism in Indian cinema. The reason to watch the sensitively made film is to see how some couples grapple with the frightening problem of marital incompatibility.

In arranged marriages, where the groom or the bride’s likings are slapped aside by insistent, even if well-meaning, families, the frustrations emanating from a strong dislike for the wedded partner could be shattering. Even today, so many arranged marriages in India simply ignore or rule out issues of physical incompatibility that could lead to a breakdown of the partnership long before familiarity begins offering some comfort. The groom, played very well in this film by young actor Ayushmann Khurrana, dislikes “fat girls”, so we get to justify the plus size theme but actually the problem is about a marriage without consent.

Anyone can have an inherent dislike for a certain kind of skin, body type, body language, even body odour. What happens then? I can’t remember a Hindi film realistically dealing with the issue of disliking a partner’s body, though marriages of compromise were beautifully explored even 25 years back in films like the Amitabh-Rekha-Jaya Bachchan starrer Silsila or Ijaazat, in which Naseeruddin Shah and Rekha play an unwilling couple.

Marital incompatibility is a relevant issue as more and more marriages run into trouble in India. It is time a relationship writer from India invested serious research to write on incompatible marriages within our cultural specifics. Is compatibility just about obvious aspects—me Tamilian, you Punjabi—or does it rise from reasons that we can be warned of in our cultural grid and, thus, avoid a potentially disastrous marriage?

Two years back, I signed up with Random House (now Penguin-Random) to write a book, tentatively titled The Closure Report, to study divorce in India. I planned to get into the complexities of marital issues, thus providing a map to those contemplating marriage and offer introspection to those who had divorced. I couldn’t complete the book, and the contract had to be cancelled. In the six months of my research, I realized that none of my subjects, who had agreed to speak to me candidly about their broken marriages, were able to tell the truth about what actually went wrong. Each saw himself, or herself, both as a victim and as a hero. They weren’t lying to me, but when I began to cross-check stories—a necessary part of non-fiction work—I figured that incompatibility had at least two interpretations, and telling a one-sided tale would harm the truth behind the divorce. My research subjects were being politically, sexually, socially correct all through. Not one person said, for instance, that she disliked her husband for the way he smelt or someone hated his wife because she was fat, even though such observations played a dangerous hide-and-seek in the breakdown of a marriage.

Before writing this, I listened to some freely available excerpts on the Net from the audiobook Give & Take: The Secret to Marital Compatibility by Willard F. Harley. There are quite a few insights there. But nothing about what to do if you don’t like a fat spouse. My point, too: the issue cannot just be fatness. It is about the heavy hearted drag of a poor match. How to shed that weight?