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Sorry, Imtiaz Ali’s short film ‘India Tomorrow’ has no plan!

IMTIAZ ALI’s short film India Tomorrow almost seems to suggest that women can have a ‘plan’ only if they do ‘manly’ things. Would this movie have gathered appreciation if a sex worker had discussed education of her children? By RITU PANDEY

India Tomorrow

A still from India Tomorrow/YouTube

Eye-opener, mind-blowing, progressive, empowering, masterclass in film-making – Imtiaz Ali’s short film India Tomorrow chronicling a conversation between a sex worker and a stock broker seems to have garnered some hyperbolically positive reviews. As if a prostitute with a plan is a first-time discovery. Really? If dreaming for a better life is the idea of India tomorrow, clearly none of those raving Ali’s pretentious take on women’s empowerment have ever heard of feisty women, who once lived on the margins. Women such as Jaddan Bai, a tawaif and a pioneer of Indian cinema who made a prescient shift from Allahabad to Mumbai in the wake of the declining kotha culture. Jaddan Bai not only acted in films but also became one of the first women to produce and direct movies. Or Begum Samru, another tawaif, who rose to become the ruler of the principality of Sardhana. Or Gauhar Jaan, India’s first recording superstar who even raised funds for the Congress Party despite severe opposition. None of these women had it easy. But they surely must’ve had dreams (plans as you say), which they worked upon and manifested better lives for themselves as well as for many others after them.

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But Ali and his ilk refuse to look at these real stories of dreams realised. Instead they choose to create stilted stereotypes and then go about breaking them through contrived storylines that only tend to reinforce those further. Ignoring inspiring stories of real women, if his predecessors for years plied us with tragic sob stories of virginal whores and tramps who could be easily eroticised, commodified and used as passive sex objects, the Tamasha director as gone the other way: creating another kind of fanciful sex worker who rattles stock figures. Because intellect can be measured only through ‘manly’ things such as stock numbers? Really?

India Tomorrow’s problem actually is its far-fetched protagonist. The film almost seems to suggest that women can have a ‘plan’ only if they do ‘manly’ things. But the filmmaker appears so taken in by his big idea, a prostitute with a plan, that he couldn’t care about fixing the loose ends. You can only wonder if the short film had garnered such overwhelming number of “likes” and made such an online talking point on breaking cliches if it chronicled a conversation about rising daal prices or education of their children between two women sex workers. Would it have been any less a measure of their wisdom or their hopes for an improved life? And what sort of a pretentious future does the film raise their aspirations in which the ultimate stamp of approval even on their intellect (their body needs it already) still has to be sought from a man? If this is Ali’s vision of ‘India tomorrow’, I’m not sure how many of our sex workers would want to share it, all those visuals of them in smiling selfies notwithstanding.

Watch the movie India Tomorrow here:

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She is a New Delhi-based senior journalist who has worked with various print and online publications

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