Ashwini Dabadge

In an industry that is notorious for producing commercial films with either stereotypical female characters, or those that objectify them with the male gaze, a mainstream film like Ki and Ka, which has a female protagonist who is ambitious about her career and a man who wants to take care of the house, sounds like a breath of fresh air. Such gender role reversals, when done on the screen, are often comedies and Ki and Ka is no different. However, neither does Ki and Ka flip gender roles successfully, nor is it a funny film that some might expect it to be.

Kareena Kapoor’s character Kia, is a woman who wants to be the best at what she does and see the pinnacle of success in her profession. Marriage and children are constraints for her, as she knows how career often takes a backseat for women for some time when they have to shoulder the majority of the housework and family responsibilities, with respect to kids and elders. Arjun Kapoor’s character Kabir, on the other hand, doesn’t have any conventional career ambitions but wants to stay at and look after the home like his mother. At the surface, both look like the perfect couple who have balanced out their roles and responsibilities in the marriage. They are made out to be so in the film as well, despite the glitches they face. But look a little deeper and you find that they are a dysfunctional couple, with Kia displaying a sexist streak right from the beginning. They have fights, but Kia’s borderline abusive behaviour towards her husband and her internalized misogyny are never truly resolved.

The gender-role reversal is superficial. There is a tangible attempt to make unpaid housework respectable and dignified, deserving of being viewed as an arduous, difficult and creative profession like other professions. The film also emphasises that work, be it in the office or at home, can be done by any gender. This is completely fine, but this is also accompanied by sexist humour when the term ‘wife’ is often used derogatorily by Kia. While it fits with the kind of character she is playing, a lot of the time it is used to generate humour to make the subject matter of the film more entertaining and palatable for the audience. The film doesn’t outwardly endorse her views, but the tone of humour and derision in which she casually makes some of her remarks makes us believe the opposite. The tone of the film is important here, because it takes one step back when it makes fun of what a conventional housewife is supposed to be.

This is classic misogyny. One of the main reasons why housework and childcare are looked down upon and taken for granted is because they are performed by women. Sample this fact – A woman wearing a man’s dress does not generate as much humour as a man in drag. This is because anything feminine is automatically considered inferior and worthy of ridicule as compared to anything masculine- which is the ideal that humans aspire to be in a patriarchy.

The film does indeed reverse gender roles, but does so without questioning patriarchy, and the former is incomplete without the latter.

If a film, which claims to be progressive about gender issues, falls in the same pit of punch down humour, where stereotypes are peddled and the victims of that stereotype are made fun of to elicit a few laughs from the audience, then it’s not really doing anything new. And it’s not really different from those distasteful husband-wife jokes doing the rounds on WhatsApp, except that a man is playing the ‘wife’s’ role and a woman the husband’s.

While these are the issues with the content of the film, the film in itself is haphazardly edited, with many sequences showing problems of continuity. The premise of many scenes seems promising, but they fall flat on their face as we move on from one ineffective scene to the next. The only thing that stands out is Rajit Kapoor’s brief but genuinely funny performance as Kabir’s father, who has better comic timing than any of the lead actors, showing us the seasoned actor that he is.

The sequence that jolts us to the reality of marriage in India is the one with Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan (playing themselves in the film), where Jaya Bachchan casually asks her husband whether he would have compromised on his career for their home and marriage like she had to. This scene is done in a seemingly flippant way, but is quite poignant underneath when Bachchan indirectly points out the plight of millions of women who never had or have the power to choose to stay at home as Kabir did.

The author is a Research Associate at Prayas Energy Group with an education in Economics, a liberal in terms of outlook and a film buff at heart.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind