QUEEN'S ROAD: Rebecca Ferguson in a gold gown, climbing towards a precarious vantage point so that she can disrupt an opera with a stray bullet. Yes, the camera lingers on those sculpted legs, the sinewy shoulders but it is to drive home the fact that this woman is liquid steel. When someone calls Tom Cruise the manifestation of destiny in Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation, you think of her too. This woman, poured into a body suit, glued to a bike, flying through walls of enemies and certain death, unharmed. Rescuing the hero twice and in a face-off to beat all face-offs, fighting a villain in a dark alleyway till one of them has been vanquished. And no prizes for guessing, who.
Ferguson plays Lisa Faust and like a part of her name, she is a beguiling moral question, someone who could be heaven or hell, an angel or the door to eternal pain. In a staggering stroke of scripting genius, her character has been released of the constraints of a temptress who can be bedded conveniently and forgotten, a disposable moll or an idealistic, distressed ingenue who must be rescued from bad men and a terribly dysfunctional world.
She breaks all perceptions about what women in most action films are supposed to be when in her introduction scene, she lines up a little torture kit and then in a sudden volte face ends up (spoiler alert), rescuing the hero, not because she is supposed to because she is a woman with conscience. Someone who can kill for a reason bigger than her but also put her own life at risk to save another person. Even when she emerges in a bikini, you don’t see her body but her will power that made her put six hours in a gym, six days a week to keep up with the energy of Tom Cruise who she famously called as the Michael Schumacher on legs! To top it all, she has the face of the women we adored in the 50s. She reminds one of the languid power of Ingrid Bergman and she moves restfully, with the grace of a living poem.
This has been a good year for sheroes in Hollywood as well as Hindi films. We have seen Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa and stealing a lot of thunder in Mad Max: Fury Road. Back home, In NH 10, Anushka Sharma channelled the furious spirit of the Bride in Kill Bill and the grit of single-minded revenge to carry a film on her shoulders. There was Kalki Koechlin surmounting all odds to live a full life despite cerebral palsy in Margarita With A Straw and Bhoomi Pednekar getting over cliches of beauty to claim love and full-bodied life in Dum Laga Ke Haisha. But beyond these instances of physical courage and mental grit was the extraordinary moral valour of Devi in Masaan. This Varanasi girl played by Richa Chaddha is possibly the most extraordinary of women we have seen on cinema in recent times. Despite being dehumanised by a sex scandal and the loss of love, she negotiates with her pain on her own terms, refusing to carry the burden of her father’s shame, the unwanted attention of predators, the hatred of those who know her story and blame her for it. She squares her shoulder and faces everything without flinching. Only in moments of solitude, she grieves but then refuses to be sucked into a morass, finds a job and in the end, sits on the banks of Ganges to let go of an unopened gift to cry one last time and move on. She is pure dignity and integrity in a culture where a woman is blamed for everything. Things that happen to her. Things that happen because she exists. In a culture that has no qualms about objectifying her like an item or idolising her so that she ceases to be human, Devi is both unapologetically sexual and pure.
Pure because her integrity cannot be beaten. Because she cannot be forced into dalliances of convenience or jobs not worthy of her. She thinks she is worthy despite what has happened to her and that is a hugely empowering statement made by any Hindi film in a long time. That a woman is worthy of all that she wants, aspires to. With or without approval.