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Why Aarfa in 'Sultan' Lets Down the Feminist in Anushka Sharma

Sadly, the next time Sharma speaks against sexism or equality, we will believe her a little less.

Runa Mukherjee Parikh | News18 Specials@tweetruna

Updated:July 11, 2016, 2:08 PM IST
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Why Aarfa in 'Sultan' Lets Down the Feminist in Anushka Sharma
Sadly, the next time Sharma speaks against sexism or equality, we will believe her a little less.
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Much has been said about Salman Khan in the last couple of months. From his beefed up avatar to a callously given rape analogy, his latest, Sultan, has been in the news constantly. And unsurprisingly, the ‘Bhai of the masses’ has yet again managed to enthral his audience and make big bucks. But this article isn’t about Salman Khan. It is about the smart and talented actor called Anushka Sharma who also plays a role in the film; a character that disguises as Bhai’s muse but is actually a hogwash.

Sharma has been hailed as one of the most outspoken heroines on the subject of gender equality and wage gap in the film industry. This is what she told film critic Anupma Chopra not so long ago – “If there is an actor at the same stature as me, who would be able to bring in only that much money to a movie, he would still be paid more than me because he is a guy. Nobody is even thinking about it. It is just ingrained.”

After uttering words that were so laden with purpose, Sharma went ahead and signed Sultan, a story that reeks of sexism in every reel. She plays Aarfa, a state level wrestler with no time for emotions like love that tie a person down. Aarfa, who runs a successful wrestling academy in Haryana with her father who is also a professional coach. Aarfa, who tells the typical Indian lover guy aka Sultan (and ironically what many opine Salman Khan is) what he really is, ‘a shit guy’. Aarfa, whose ultimate dream is to win an Olympic gold medal.

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The rest of the movie is basically a take-down of Aarfa, bit by bit. Sultan’s ego that is bigger than his biceps is hurt when Aarfa tells him he doesn’t measure up to her talents or ambition; so he becomes a wrestler in just one month, that too a state level one. He then gets an apology from her, marries her and together, they win tournament after tournament. Only, she has worked at it all her life and he has basically got it all in 60 days. But the worst is yet to come.

When both are selected for the Olympics, Aarfa finds out she is pregnant. Here, we pause to mourn the death of a so-called feminist shown to us in the initial parts of the story. From straight out rejecting Sultan’s advances, Aarfa goes to the other extreme by deciding to keep the baby by just looking at the happiness he exudes at the news of becoming a father (at this point of the movie, Sultan’s friends chant ‘Sultan ki bidi chal gayi.’ Ahem.) When reprimanded by her dejected father, she explains that the happy cable guy turned wrestling genius that is her husband, is the only gold medal she needs in life. So, Aarfa quits her Olympic dream, carries the baby and helps Sultan become an even bigger name in the field she dedicated her life to.

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We understand the lure of a Salman Khan film but when someone is as feisty as Sharma, one has to think aloud. Was being part of the commercial success that comes with any Salman movie so important to the actor’s resume that she willingly signed a story this hurtful to the very cause she fights for? A producer now, Sharma made NH10 last year, a movie that ran completely on her gritty shoulders. How then, did she take ten huge steps back and act in such a regressive film? Heck, why didn’t she at least ask for a few changes in the script – like where there is absolutely zero discussion between husband and wife after she gets pregnant. Sultan never stops to think that his wrestler wife’s biggest dream is screeching to a halt with the pregnancy. More importantly, Aarfa doesn’t waste a single screen second mourning the loss of a potentially huge future.

The movie has lines like ‘She is not married to me yet, and has already started sucking my blood’ and ‘Where we come from, we don’t divorce. We just fight a lot’. As the story progresses (or regresses) the ‘Indian wife’ who hadn’t spoken to her husband for years due to a grave personal tragedy, decides to forgive her husband for previously being a pompous ass and motivates him to fight the last, great fight. At this point, the husband goes back to being an ass – he chides her for shutting him out after the misfortune mainly caused by him. And amazingly, it is the woman who pacifies him and not vice versa.

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Defenders of the actress may term this a work related call in an industry that mostly churns out larger than life, hero-centric movies. But by being okay with this sort of patriarchal nonsense, even if it is just in a film, Sharma puts her strong image and work on gender equality and those of many others’ in jeopardy.

Sadly, the next time Sharma speaks against sexism or equality, we will believe her a little less.

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