How bitchy is “My Bitch” vs. “That Bitch” in Love?!
Love is one of the most profound emotions we experience as humans. But even more profound is the meaning we anoint to love. When we say, we’ve fallen in love, we invite this idea of what we think love is, – right into our lives without exerting any control over the how, the when and the where, – as love starts to express itself.
In my last blog-post I was trying to explain how Bollywood cinemas and media confirm Indian-male entitlement of women he fancies (or is in love with). And I couldn’t help myself but ask, what is this “love”, where does it reside, how does it manifest? And how is it that the one you love, when chooses not to love you back, is immediately nullified (or signified) as a bitch?
Communication can breakdown at any point, be it in a casual date, a serious relationship, or even between friends; but it doesn’t have to signal the end of what was/is being depicted as a happy love-story. However, the rhetoric to turn “my bitch” to “that bitch” literally depends on a flip of an emotional pancake. In Bollywood, “my bitch” or even the lovable “wife bitch” is the pushover character (a sort of property) who does everything for her man/male love-interest without them ever having to demand it. While “that bitch” or the “bitch wife” is that often powerful/independent woman who commands others to get things done and won’t stand for any excuses. “That bitch” is usually the go-getter/ambitious woman who needs to be tamed. Doesn’t matter if her actions are deemed ethical enough, but the fact that she can show a man that she is strong or even can manipulate situations to her benefit – makes her “that bitch”.
A bitch is a female dog.
Cinemas and media depiction of Bollywood stars are active elements of Indian culture. With millions of social media follows and the snooty “mightier than thou” attitude of these extremely talented (and absolutely stunning) men and women who are literally worshiped by commoners (these commoners being the same people who are active participants in the various processes of daily communications, of which human nature tries to make sense of what it sees and what it perceives), – Bollywood defines societal norms through the basic performative visual aspects of its cinematic discourses.
This social interaction between person and persona – in this case through visual communication, – is used to determine more than just the social characteristics of the participants. Our communicative proficiency allows us to express the same ingrained repetitive idea of love-bitch-love discourse in many different ways of ritualistic/performative authority.
You might ask how is it all related? You see, we denote meaning to everything around us to understand it better. For example: when you read “Calcutta” – depending on your socio-cultural, and even to some extent religious upbringing, – you imagined Mother Teresa, and/or faded postcards featuring pictures of the feminist goddess Kali, and/or old photographs of street urchins, and/or the Victoria Memorial, Howrah Bridge, or simply the British East India Company. You could somehow make a mental image of a city, its scape, architecture, food, people, and how these people look like, and all of this can either be traced back to an original story or image that your memory uses to simulate a visual scene or through (what Steven Pinker calls) Mentalese.,“This mental language would need to have a lot of the stuff that a real language has – it would still have to be able to refer to things in the world, as well as properties, relations, actions, events, and so on – anything that we can think about and understand [about] language. In other words, we might be thinking using something like a language of thought or Mentalese.” [sic.] (Bergen, B.K., p. 8, 2012).
In-order-to illuminate the idea of this language of thought, but in a reversed pattern as seen in media, where visual communication as a language becomes“thinking made visual”(rev. Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design, The Guardian)and visuals affecting our way of thinking (thinking is cognition and cognition can form design), I shall try to explain how “my bitch” and “that bitch” is acting as a tool for thought-colonisation through subconscious or conscious practice of problematic (e.g.: capitalist, racist, sexist, othering, etc.) image consumption.
You see, today, a dominated woman is as responsible for the domination of which she is the victim as she is of the idea of liberation.The idea of being a woman, or women in general is socially constructed and socially conditioned. As we have seen before, the multiple layered visual information, – revolving around sociable attributes such as that of a good vs. bad woman, – works as a process of acceptance (or rejection) due to ethos as well as our habitus and taste within the society. This thought-colonisation, although has a trickle-down effect on the common man and woman in the society does not, however, leave the person without any agency. The scope of rebellion is as high as the scope of submission and performing within the normative social standards.
Given the example of the film Judaai (1997), when Kajal (Sridevi) marries an engineer – an orphan by the name Raaj (Anil Kapoor), – Kajal and her father (Kader Khan) assume that Raaj is rich. Kajal, depicted as ambitious, is disappointed by her new house, as Raaj does not have any air-conditioner, car, or refrigerator. This infuriates Kajal, and in her mind she creates a separate world, where she is a rich woman living in the lap of luxury. Even after the birth of a son and a daughter, several years of marriage did not change her love and hope for a better life. Thus, when Kajal meets her friend Nisha (Poonam Dhillon), she lies to her as she depicts Raaj as a business magnate, owning several cars and that she lives in a big bungalow. Nisha, on the other hand, is actually wealthy. Impressed by her friends good fortune, Nisha offers to give Kajal a lift. Kajal lies about where she lives and this is exposed when the bungalow she points at (as her own) turns out to be Nisha’s. Nisha tells Kajal not to take her life or her husband for granted and that no matter how little she has her husband matters more (morally inclined “rich bitch” persona).
When NRI Jahnvi (Urmila Matondkar) Raaj’s boss Sahni’s (Saeed Jaffrey) niece comes back, she meets Raaj at the airport and assumes that he is the driver. Jahnvi was visibly rude to Raaj, that’s when he showed his integrity and individual agency by leaving her stranded in the middle of the road with her luggage without caring about what his boss would say (ref. to Foucault’s theory on discipline and punishment). Jahnvi reaches the office well in time and praises Raaj’s attitude (masculinity praised), but when she learns that he’s an engineer working for her uncle’s construction company, she apologises to him and falls in love with him. One fine day Jahnvi accidentally meets Kajal at a shop where they are both about to buy a cassette player for Raaj. Not knowing Kajal is Raaj’s wife; she (“rich bitch” persona) offers Kajal (“bitch wife” persona) the money to buy a more expensive set, while she humbly buys the smaller one. Kajal agrees. Now the family (somehow) gets to listen to the tape Jahnvi had given, where she confesses her love for Raaj.
In an attempt to marry Raaj, Jahnvi meets Kajal (“greedy bitch” persona) inside the city’s Ganesh temple, where she offers two crore rupees in exchange for marrying Raaj. Kajal, seeing this as her opportunity to gain wealth and an easy life, accepts the proposal. Kajal forces Raaj into the agreement and gets a reluctant Raaj and Jahnvi married after a hasty divorce; with hope that thinking that she and Jahnvi will happily live together and share Raaj. While Kajal moulds herself into a socialite, Jahnvi transforms herself into a typical middle class type Indian housewife. She gets up early, does her prayers and then cooks tasty food for her family. She does not mind tiring herself all day experimenting with new dishes and rituals as she finds solace in this quiet, peaceful life of a housewife. Raaj initially feels rejected by Kajal and does not get close to Jahnvi, feeling objectified at the thought of being bought and sold between his two wives. But the children and Raaj find companionship with Jahnvi, who showers them with love and affection. After a long tug o’ war between a suddenly in-love Kajal and transformed house-wife Jahnvi, finally the movie ends with Jahnvi leaving for New York forever, and Kajal getting her family back, learning of the importance of family over money.
Here Kajal embodies both the “bitch wife” (nagging persona) and “that bitch” (a person who is ethically wrong). On the other hand Jahnvi transforms form “rich bitch” (a high-nosed superficial person) to “wife bitch” (someone who quietly accepts and does everything for her husband and the household she loves) to “my bitch” (the empowered individual who does something ethically correct and makes a drop-mic-exit).
You see, throughout the film one feels sorry for Raaj, as these two “bitches” just does whatever they want and Raaj embodies a man who has no other agencybut to provide like a humble dear man, who is exploited to love (including have sex) with two absolutely stunning women who are fighting over him. Let’s not focus on the fact that it is every cis-gendered-heterosexual-Bollywood-influenced Indian-man’s dream – but let’s look at the visual representation of Raaj, that clearly communicates him as a man robbed of any say!
This is where I feel pity, cause his image is that of a person without agency – aka a vegetable (arguably even vegetables have some agency, but that’s a debate I’m not getting into yet). Apart from the obvious moments when he had to use his phallus to prove masculinity (“nom de Dieu! il a un gros bitte pour rendre ces femmes fou!”– remarked a gay buddy of mine who saw the film with me).
So, to answer my question: what is this “love”, where does it reside, how does it manifest? It seems in Bollywood “love” is a “phallic symbol”of ethos (residing in post-colonial Indian culture, thwarted masculinity, homogenous masculinity, and toxic masculinity) that determines the cinematic “bitch” persona. This brings me to my next question – is love exploiting women? Particularly the image of a tamed-good-wife, how does it have any effect/affect on the collective economic (and other Bourdieuan) capital of Indian society? Does Bollywood type-of-love keep Indians economically and culturally poor?
Note: Here the word “perceives” entails the notion of “perception”. Perception (noun, Belief): a belief or opinion often held by many people and based on how things seem. Perception (noun, Sight): the quality of being aware of things through the physical senses, especially through sight; someone’s ability to notice and understand things that are not obvious to other people. (Cambridge English Dictionary). https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/perception; Visited: 3.3.2019.
Narasimhan, R., Steven Pinker on ‘Mentalese’; World Englishes. 16. Pp. 147 – 152 (2003). 10.1111/1467-971X.00055.
Bergen, B.K., Louder than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning, pp. 1-222.
French, P., “Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design by Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham – review” (The Guardian, 30 Oct. 2011); https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/oct/30/saul-bass-life-film-review; Visited: 3.3.2019. “The ideal trademark is one that is pushed to its utmost limits in terms of abstraction and ambiguity, yet is still readable. Trademarks are usually metaphors of one kind or another. And are, in a certain sense, thinking made visible.”
A response of Pierre Bourdieu during his interview in Barcelona: « La femme en tant que dominée est responsable de la domination dont elle est victime… Les femmes sont plus dociles, gentilles, effacées… » https://youtu.be/7L-VVvFluf8; Visited: 28.05.2017.
An individual agency is when a person acts on his/her own behalf, whereas proxy agency is when an individual acts on behalf of someone else (such as an employer).
French: “God’s sake! He must be having a big one to get these women crazy!”.