Alankrita Shrivastava’s film, Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamaktay Sitaray, does a couple of things which no other Bollywood movie has done so far: it normalizes sex (especially awkward sex) in ordinary relationships, and deflates the ridiculously overblown representations in mainstream Bollywood of manly hunks and hot babes being transported to some nebulous heaven by the act. It also normalizes the notion that women, especially married women, are as deserving of sexual satisfaction in life as their male partners.
These are pretty revolutionary ideas for Indian culture, and the secret of this movie’s appeal.
Shrivastava has established herself as a sexual anarchist in Indian cinema. Her previous offering, Lipstick Under My Burkha, was a fierce jab at the patriarchal, social and sexual norms that still govern most Indian women’s lives. Dolly and Kitty push the envelope further and bring us the mundane realities of sex and sexual liberation, not in a big, glamorous neon-lit city, but in the sprawling, congested, middle class suburbia of Noida.
Radha Yadav, known as Dolly (Konkona Sensharma) is a housewife who lives in a tiny, unattractive Noida flat with husband Amit, and who works in a tiny office, where one of her principal duties is making tea for her boss and her coworker – the infamous patriarchy is shown reflected in these innocuous, everyday things. Her cousin Kajaal (Bhumi Pednekar), who has fled her small town home to escape a stifling arranged marriage, comes to stay.
The movie hooks you rightaway. At a local fantasia land, Amit’s straying hand fondles Kajaal, who tells Dolly about her lecherous husband. When Dolly dismisses it as a misunderstanding, Kajaal insists, “Woh meray saath sex karna chahtay hain, Dolly di.”
That line sets the tone of the film. It’s about women who recoil against being abused or exploited or disappointed in their relationships, sexual or otherwise, and are not afraid to say so or take the risks associated with their boldness.
Kaajal moves out and finds a job with Red Rose Romance, a company which offers soft-porn phone companionship to lonely men. Her cover name is ‘Kitty.’
Meanwhile, Dolly juggles her dreams of owning a beautiful, brand new flat by employing a little skullduggery at her office, to help fund installments on her future home. Matters are further complicated by a frigid sex life at home and a budding romance with an attractive, young Muslim college student who is the local food deliveryman; she has a potentially trans-gender son and a mother who abandoned her when she was eight, but who now wants back into Dolly’s life.
If that isn’t enough, events take an exhausting turn as Kitty makes friends with a bold, sexually opportunistic coworker from Red Rose who introduces her to a sleazy world of sex and money, where she narrowly escapes being deflowered by paunchy, alcohol guzzling, real estate developers.
Kitty ends up ‘falling for’ a phone-sex client, Pradeep (Vikrant Massey). She begins to explore her first real relationship with a man, whom she imagines is her boyfriend and decides to give her precious, patriarchally protected virginity to Pradeep.
From then on, the movie tumbles through a series of concocted situations which try to make points it just keeps missing. The problem is it tries to address too many social issues at once: a parent trying to deal with her child’s transgender proclivities, sexual dissatisfaction in a marriage, abandonment by her mother and lecherous behavior in her husband. Thrown into the mix are repressive gender roles in the workplace, sexual chauvinism and double standards in Indian men, a sexual coming of age story, religious chauvinism and bigotry, and the ugly, entitled, violence of Hindutva advocates.
The movie lingers fleetingly on these subjects, like loose threads unwoven from the larger tapestry of a meaningful message about sexual liberation and the average middle-class Indian woman.
Perhaps that’s because Dolly and Kitty are far from average. They are strong women, trying hard to fulfil what they imagine are their dreams, except that their dreams reach into the murky depths of social prejudice and pulls scum out into the damning sunlight.
They’re bold enough to take sexual risks and live with the consequences of their actions, while still trying to retain what they value as good and real. Kitty cries to Dolly when she confronts her with her promiscuous behavior, “I’m a good person, Dolly Di. I really loved him. I didn’t take a paisa for the sex.”
There are some wonderfully nuanced moments in this film, which highlight the mundane ordinariness of everyday, middle class life and love in suburban India – one is when Kitty’s lover helps wash bloodstains off a sheet in a bucket of water after she loses her virginity. Another is a drunk session between Kitty and Dolly on the rooftop where they touch on almost every defining issue in Indian sexual hypocrisy.
“I said tata, bye bye to my virginity and I didn’t feel a thing,” Kitty tells Dolly, and her honest, reflective disappointment deflates the sexist virginity myth as surely as air hissing out of a balloon.
“Wouldn’t it be great if there was a Red Rose Romance site for women too?” Kitty quips.
Konkona Sensharma and Bhumi Pednekar bring their usual excellence to their respective roles. Amol Prasher as Osmaan, Dolly’s younger lover, and Vikrant Massey as Pradeep, Kitty’s Red Rose boyfriend, fit in perfectly as supporting cast to this very female centric movie.
I would give Dolly, Kitty Aur Woh Chamaktay Sitary four Chamaktay Sitaray out of five for its entertainment quotient, but two and half for the muddled feminist message it tries to deliver.
Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.
Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing Editor at India Currents