*This review includes spoilers*
My favorite romance movie? The one during which the girl dumps the guy at the end and walks off into the sunset fulfilled with the knowledge that she is enough and doesn’t need a man.
“Queen” is my favorite not-so-typical Bollywood movie. This movie shattered stereotypes and launched a new era in Hindi cinema. Of course, some of the credit for successful women-oriented Hindi films goes to my fav, Priyanka Chopra, for her iconic role in “Fashion” (a project of which actress Kangana Ranaut was also a part), but “Queen” was the movie that did extremely well at the box office and put Ranaut on the map. Ranaut has gone on to fearlessly call out nepotism and sexism in the industry ever since.
“Queen” tells the story of Rani, a woman whose fiancé leaves her days before their wedding. Despite her heartbreak, Rani decides to go on her honeymoon alone and ends up on a whirlwind journey of self-discovery and growth. This movie shattered stereotypes about desi women and what the trajectory of our lives should be.
“Queen” is also the least problematic Bollywood movie I’ve ever seen. This in itself is quite an accomplishment, considering the industry we’re talking about. Yet, there were still elements of this movie that bothered me — the tiny details that perpetuate stereotypes despite the fact that the director could have easily made different choices that wouldn’t be harmful.
First, there is a moment in the film when Rani is approached by a stranger who is trying to help her. Rani doesn’t know this and all she sees is a Black man standing near her and she screams in terror. It’s a rational reaction for her to be frightened in the context of the movie, but it was absolutely unnecessary for the director to choose the only Black character in the film to be the one who scares her. The image of Black men in India is permeated with the harmful stereotypes we see in U.S. media and accentuated by the fact that most Indians have never even met a Black person. Furthermore, Tim, the only Black character in the movie, has the least lines and isn’t given a backstory.
The last scenes of the movie are some of the best, especially the combination of the music and aesthetics. However, these are the only scenes of the movie where Rani’s hair is straightened. Throughout most of the film, Rani wears her hair naturally curly, and as a curly-hair girl myself, this is one of the many reasons I loved her character so much. However, the final scenes, when Rani is portrayed as her most badass and confident self, her hair is straight. This sends the subtle message that straight hair is more beautiful and somehow more closely associated with feeling empowered.
The most typical Bollywood element of this movie is the flashback showing how Rani and her fiancé Vijay fell in love — Vijay essentially stalked her until she finally agreed to have dinner with him. This is how most Bollywood movies go — women are pursued until they finally “wear down” and “agree.” In fact, sexual harassment and assault in Bollywood isn’t just limited to what we see on-screen. The industry itself is also rife with instances of well-known actors taking advantage of actresses. “Queen” was refreshing because Rani doesn’t end up with the stalker at the end.
Since I first watched it, “Queen” has become one of my favorite Bollywood films. Though there are details that I find troubling, the beauty in seeing a main character who is strong in her convictions and unwavered by society's expectations is hard to measure. A movie like this is rare in mainstream Bollywood, but it’s exactly the kind of high-quality cinema I want to see.