In this patriarchal society, where everyone is supposed to fit in a box made or defined by the ancient and obsolete norms laid down by our predecessors, this Hindi film attempts to hit it in the guts. ‘Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare’, can be seen through multiple lenses, not just as a women but also as a member of the queer community, as an oppressed minority. The film is riddled with themes surrounding expressions of desire, rough sex, slut shaming, sexual harassment, gender stereotyping and queer childhood. It brings out the misogynistic wrongdoing and immorality intricately woven deep into the social fabric of Indian society.
The movie circles around two working class cousin sisters and their unplanned or haphazard expedition towards obtaining freedom or breaking the societal cuffs that bind them. Radha ‘Dolly’ Yadav (Konkana Sen Sharma), a government employee, mother of two boys, living in Greater Noida, feels trapped in a loveless marriage. She was also estranged from her mother who had left to live her life, stepping outside of the bonds of marriage. Kaajal ‘Kitty’ Yadav (Bhumi Pedneker), Dolly’s cousin sister, who is in search of a job in the city to gain some freedom from the parochially limited life in her hometown Darbhanga. She is harassed by her brother-in-law, Amit Yadav (Aamir Bashir), and when she tries to tell her cousin about it, she gets a superlicious reaction. Amit’s, Dolly’s husband, abusive and offensive behaviour forces Kaajal to leave her sister’s house and take refuge in a group home for surrogates.
While Dolly is navigating through the dormancy and awakening of her sexuality due to her desirous feelings towards a food delivery boy, Osman Ansari (Amol Parashar), Kaajal is trying to maneuver and explore the world of a phone sex app, where she works, which requires her to ‘sweet-talk’ to her lonely male clients. She views this job as a basic channel to achieve her wants from life and to fill the void or vacuum of her absent love life. While she gets swayed by the charm, thoughtfulness and kindness of a male nurse, Pradeep (Vikrant Massey) and struggles to separate desire from work, Dolly attempts to balance her desire and longing for Osman along with her younger son who is “not boy enough”.
Both the central women are on their respective journeys of self-discovery and independence, however, they are repeatedly constrained with the dilemmas surrounding ‘duty’ and ‘desire’. Kaajal is constantly slut-shamed by her cousin while Dolly is labeled as ‘frigid’ by her husband due to the lack of desire as she is unable to harbour sexual feelings for him, hindering their sex life. Aside from the aforementioned themes, this film also addresses communalism, which is concealed abstrusely in the acts of moral policing that is similar to the current functioning of the patriarchal Indian state, bringing from reel life to real life. Furthermore, the notions of ‘virginity’, ‘wifely duties’ and the perpetual eve-teasing are linked in a way that brings to light the everyday struggle faced by women and the control this patriarchal system attempts to exercise on their bodies.
Gender Nonconformity and Transgression:
This film has touched upon or highlights many themes, however, they are not addressed enough. Due to the variety of relevant themes that were picked up like gender issues, everyday misogyny, intolerance, moral policing stereotypes, sex for money, child sexuality, incompetence, sex outside of marriage, harrasment, alliteration of caste and class, and religious intolerance, Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, fails to do justice to any of them. But the one theme that stood out, which is usually not taken up by the Indian film industry is of queer childhood. The substantial change or shift in the way in which Bollywood is maturing by vocalizing issues concerning gender dysphoria, trans identities. The display of these struggles on the screen provides hope that the public discourse will also catch up with the same.
Gender Dysphoria, according to DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), is the distress or anguish felt by the people whose gender at birth is contrary or different from the one they identify with. Gender nonconformity, in itself, is not a mental disorder, rather it is the presence of distress related or affiliated with the condition, which can lead to deterioration in social, occupational, emotional or other areas of functioning.
Dolly’s younger son, Pappu, is transgressing unapologetically, rejecting the ‘masculine’ epithets like sports, boy clothes or playing with toys which ‘he’ is ‘supposed’ to, where ‘he’ is not ashamed to express the gender ‘he’ identifies with. ‘He’ gravitates towards the things that are traditionally or conventionally regarded as ‘feminine’. ‘He’ admires dolls, make-up and dresses, and is punished for ‘his’ gender non-conforming behaviour, in the form of physical violence because even today, after so much awareness, gender sterotype still strongly exists in India. Dolly’s son is ostracised by his peers and school for wearing his mother’s bra under his shirt and is banned from entering the Doll Museum for being a ‘boy’ and not a ‘girl’. Dolly blames herself for her son’s ‘odd’ behaviour and tries to ‘fix’ him. However, ‘he’ expresses his desire to feel like a girl in an unrepressed, unapologetic manner.
In this patriarchal discourse which conforms to binary gender forms, queer children find it really difficult to find a place for themselves. Children are seen as beings whose minds need to be conditioned in a ‘socially accepted’ manner regarding the complexities of gender and expression of desire, as they are considered to be too immature and young to differentiate between what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’. Under this pretext their individuality, sexuality and their identities are suppressed. Queer children are more than often covered in a taboo like treatment as they digress from the trail of normativity laid down by society. Although there are many shortcomings in Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, it is an important film as it provides hope and space for women and queer people to express themselves wholly. It shows that just a little encouragement and acknowledgement can make all the difference.
Here at Pause for Perspective, our ideology is that the person or the individual is not the issue but rather the system that we live in. We believe that mental health counselling is intersectional, hence our approach is mindful and affirmative of LGBTQIA+, neurodiversity, social justice and transformational justice based. The movie was one to note as a move away from transphobic, patriarchally informed romantic comedies on lives of children,and women that mainstream movies generally are.
This article is written by our writer Insha Fatima