Meenakshi Sundareshwar is mainly about how women keep sacrificing in order for marriages to survive.
Last Updated: 11.41 AM, Nov 17, 2021
Meenakshi Sundareshwar is one of those movies which promises you the moon and offers you not even a shadow of its glory and beauty. Right at the very beginning, we meet two bright-eyed youngsters who are all set to take the biggest decision of their life. Barely in their early twenties, it is quite a mystery of how with all their modern education and career ambitions, they decide to take the ultimate plunge so early on. But that's the least of the problems. Given that both Sanya Malhotra and Abhimanyu Dassani look adorable, we are somehow ready to suspend our reasoning. The fresh pairing wins our heart from the word go and we want things to work out for them as viewers. We are all set for a heady romance, an engrossing family drama, weaved together by a progressive narrative around arranged marriages. But never underestimate the power of a promising movie going down the drain because of lazy writing.
Meenakshi Sundareshwar could have been a coming-of-age story for a generation that has started to question the institution of marriage. Well, one can counter that claim given that most people on our social media feeds are getting married, but there is no denying that there is an increasing sense of dissatisfaction and disillusionment among the youth about the institution of marriage. Marriage continues to be a necessary evil. Even the most progressive among us secretly want to experience it because modern society hasn't quite figured out other acceptable modes of coupling. Pakistani Nobel peace prize winner Malala, who had earlier questioned the regressive nature of marriage, did eventually tie the knot recently. We all go through that phase of questioning the basics of marriage and then one day go weak in our knees looking at a Sabyasachi Lehenga and commit to what we all along questioned — marriage and the huge sacrifices it requires us to make, disproportionately on the woman's side.
Then to make a movie entirely on the nitty-gritty of arranged marriages, and to throw in the prospect of a long-distance relationship between a newlywed couple (because of professional reasons) could have been the ultimate coup in terms of storytelling. Yet Meenakshi Sundareshwar is testimony to the fact that an idea that looks so unique and fresh on paper has unlimited potential to go criminally wrong.
The film not only loses the plot halfway down the line, but it also slacks on the promise of telling a modern love story around arranged marriages. It fails to break the barriers it primed us to believe it would break. For example, when we see Meenakshi interviewing Sundareshwar and role-playing as a fun-loving, fiercely straight forward and intimidating woman. We hope that we will get a feminist heroine who would choose herself when the marriage starts to do its usual thing — making life difficult and asking for tremendous sacrifices on the woman's part. You hope against hope with a dramatic voiceover going on at the back of your mind — "Oh! Marriage, you tamed many a woman, killed their ambitions. But this one, this wild child, you won't be able to break her. Let's see what you do with her." Alas! Our heroine isn't able to battle the remnants of patriarchal upbringing and the onslaught of unrealistic expectations in an arranged marriage.
What was supposed to be a story of a married couple navigating a long-distance relationship even before they consummate their union, turns into a one-sided affair of continual sacrifices. The other party is simply inert. One person in the relationship is forced to do all the emotional and logistical labour to make it work. Not just that, soon Meenakshi begins to sacrifice bits of herself to fit into the role of an ideal bahu (wife). On more than one occasion she gives in to her father in law's demand of giving up on her career. In the end, the playful Meenakshi becomes the martyr Meenakshi, all for her husband to give a speech on how she is her ultimate inspiration. We again fall for the trope — the woman being a medium for a man to achieve his calling. The ‘calling’ is always primary. Only when the man has accomplished his life goals, does he even acknowledge this woman’s existence. She is a source of strength and support in his journey to becoming successful but never a recipient of love and comfort in hours when she needs it the most from her husband.
How do we manage to tell the same story over and over again despite so much discourse on gender roles and stereotypes is a question only the director and the writers of the film can answer.
We have seen far better and more progressive stories around the theme of arranged marriages. Be it Haseen Dillruba (2021) or Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015). Pagglait (2021) too makes the cut, with the exception that its heroine suffers from the same martyrdom syndrome as Meenakshi.
Meenakshi Sundareshwar disappoints because it tries to package itself as a progressive, empowering story for young couples, especially for young women who choose arranged marriages. But it miserably fails to give us a good love story underlining a socially relevant message.