Violence is fundamentally not something positive, but in self-defence or more controversially and with some ‘if’s and ‘but’s, in pursuit of securing one’s legitimate rights, it may even be justified. It is a part of human nature, and as per Darwin’s theory of evolution, the survival of the fittest is the law of nature, and so, physical strength, physical endurance and courage are indeed positive attributes even to lift heavy objects (funny as that may sound!), bearing physical pain on banging into something or facing other adversities like natural disasters (in the Kashmir floods, for example, other than army personnel, many local Kashmiris protected many people, including tourists from elsewhere and fellow Kashmiris, irrespective of religion, during the floods, and some Kashmiri Muslim women too played a stellar role in the same) or even fighting stray or wild animals in some scenarios! It is the spirit of fearless adventure that has brought humanity where it is, from, being cave-dwelling food-gatherers. Of course, there are also competitive contact sports, and competition in any context intrinsically is about the audience experience the thrill in one competitor outperform the other, be it a comparison of physical strength or mental capacity or both, depending on the nature of the competition, and in this, the contestants usually voluntarily participate.
It has often been contended that patriarchy derives itself from the basic notion of privilege based on physical strength, physical endurance and courage, making women dependent on men, which makes it easy for men to subjugate women. While subjugation of the weak is inherently morally wrong and deserves to be strongly opposed and condemned for its own sake, it is a fact that a changed perception of women in this regard even to an extent can help prevent such occurrences, and it is not as though physically strong and courageous women cannot be affectionate mothers (though even the necessity of compulsory motherhood as a defining trait of a woman or even the heterosexual family setup being a must for her has been questioned) or have what may be controversially described as feminine grace or beauty.
History has very many examples of women braving it out with remarkable skill on the battlefield, with many such examples around us even today, as discussed here.
In this context, it is indeed crucial that the existing stereotype of women as always weaker be challenged among both men and women if we are to challenge the foundational basis of patriarchy and in the most practical, on-the-ground context, prevent crimes against women (this article in the light of BJP politician Mahesh Sharma’s most recent controversial statement makes an interesting read in this context). In this regard, encouraging women’s sports is important, and there are many obstacles to the same to varying degrees across the globe, more so in Islamic states and even Muslim societies elsewhere despite impressive figurines in Islamic lore, though even the picture in Islamic states today is not all that gloomy, as you can see here. And action heroines in movies can play a positive role in the same, which haven’t been all that common in Bollywood as they have been in Hollywood movies like X-Men, Charlie’s Angels, Species, Ghosts of Mars, Payback, Alien, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, Daredevil, The Kingdom, Shattered Image, High Tension, Point of No Return, Matrix, Rush Hour, House of Flying Daggers, Martial Law, Prometheus, The Terminator, Hanna, Resident Evil, Underworld, True Grit, Planet Terror, The Hunger Games, The Missing, The Descent, Ghost in a Shell, Blue Crush, Snow White and the Huntsman, Domino, Brave, Everly, Salt, .45, The Messenger, Kill Bill, The Bone Collector, The Heat, 300 – Rise of an Empire and Star Wars – The Force Awakens or even Chinese martial arts movies. Of late, several such Indian movies like Mardani (feminists have understandably criticised the title of the film), Bahubali (though the heroine being a trained fighter becoming a “damsel in distress” and not going on the final mission at all may not have been the best idea from this point of view, other discussed in some detail here), Bajirao Mastani (which despite promoting religious tolerance, disappointingly grossly misrepresented medieval Indian political conflicts solely through the Hindu-Muslim identity prism), NH 10, Puthiya Niyamam, Revolver Rani, Gulabi Gang, Joe B Carvalho, Drona, Santa Banta Pvt Ltd, Durga IPS, Agent Vinod, Ek Tha Tiger, Deshdrohi, Don, Players, Baby and Baghi have been released in more recent times, as was Phool Bane Angaray in the early 1990s. Kahani, though really not largely an action movie but an excellent thriller nevertheless, had a rather brave and extremely intelligent female protagonist, who does, in one brief but powerful action sequence towards the end, eventually kill the villain.
Akira directed by AR Murugadoss and starring Sonakshi Sinha has been an interesting addition to this list. The fight sequences have indeed been quite brilliantly executed by Sonakshi and the movie is a fairly gripping thriller with good camera-work, acting and music (with no songs, a rarity indeed in Indian cinema!), though I would have preferred something more interesting towards the end. I, for one, found the ending dull and non-exciting. Also, it is noteworthy that the potentially violent Akira does not resort to violence in a protest of college students against the police and retains her composure unlike some of her fellow students, thus not showing the strong as necessarily being temperamentally violent, and Akira, in another scene, very sweetly and politely apologising to a bunch of college boys, explicitly stating that she is doing so owing to her refraining from wanting to bash them up for the sake of her own career, is indeed quite amusing.
But to see feminists complaining about the movie saying that she shouldn’t have been portrayed as having made a sacrifice towards the end to prevent communal riots (she does so, making a comparison with a male historical/legendary figure, Jesus Christ, and likewise, even in another Bollywood movie Black and White, the male character of Prof. Mathur played by Anil Kapoor swallows his tears to prevent communal riots on his wife’s brutal murder by some Muslim extremists, and later even courts imprisonment and the false stigma of being a terrorist-supporter for a cause known to few) or shown as becoming a teacher eventually (there are male teachers also shown in the movie) or her father having had her trained in the martial arts asking her when she was a little girl to practise or put to use her skills in real life with some goons eve-teasing another girl (it shows the confidence the father had in his daughter; hardly any feminist would have even taken special notice if a son would have been asked to do the same), saying that this undermines feminist values, I would say that this is simply bizarre, and just amounts to nitpicking to showcase some undefined, ultra-elitist kind of feminism. I am also critical of the ending but only on cinematic storyline grounds and not on any ideological grounds. Akira’s strong sense of self-worth in wanting to clarify the false charges of mental unsoundness, her not mindlessly following the crowd in every college strike, her presence of mind and her affection for children, especially disabled children, come out quite strongly, and no, she is not merely reduced to delivering kicks and punches with virtually no other characterisation, as some feminists have alleged. That she faces much adversity before rising like a phoenix has also been criticised by some feminists, though that’s also common in the portrayal of male action heroes.
In fact, the film does well to show that a seemingly regular female school teacher full of affection for children can also be a strong and bold person. The only valid feminist point of criticism that can indeed be advanced, which cropped up in my head while watching the film but which I didn’t encounter anywhere else, was how all the boys in a school in Jodhpur were shown as learning martial arts and girls learning dance, with Akira as a little girl being the only exception to the gender stereotype, which encourages the “despite being a woman” tendency unfortunately exhibited, among others, once by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a certain speech in Dhaka (when he praised Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh for her toughness against terrorism).
And yes, the characterisation of the female cop Rabiya played by Konkona Sen Sharma as an intelligent and upright police officer committed to her work even during pregnancy, though not very powerful (understandably because the character is pregnant), makes its mark and she is shown as heading a group of police personnel, both male and female, towards the end. Anurag Kashyap makes a brilliant acting debut in this movie as a villain.
Such misplaced critiques of films by some feminists are not entirely new. We saw that in the case of Sultan, in which the powerful character (she is that way all throughout the film) played by Anushka Sharma, who is a female wrestler, on turning pregnant, consoles herself into saying that her medal would be effectively coaching her husband played by Salman Khan (coaching is a serious and respectable thing in sports, and a woman imparting sports coaching to a man is certainly not something that fits well within patriarchal mindsets, though there are real incidents of that having occurred, as you can see here, here, here and here), who is also a wrestler, to win a medal, was misconstrued to suggest that she said that her motherhood was her medal by some feminists! And that twist in the story was important to later show that the character played by Salman loses his sense of human responsibility driven by ambition, and so, blindly chasing ambition even by a man hasn’t been hailed as a virtue. However, one can still understand feminist criticism of Sultan to an extent for it’s the woman whose dreams are left behind, with her consoling herself into believing that helping her husband achieve them is good enough, but with Akira, the criticism is largely forced and without solid foundations. Also, some ultra-leftist feminists like Kavita Krishnan seemed to echo xenophobic, right-wing tendencies on the eligibility of foreigners from the BBC in making a film like India’s Daughter.
Akira has indeed been doing fairly good business at the box office, and I would recommend you to watch it.
Would give it 7/10.