Why Glenn Close’s The Wife Feels Tailormade for Indian Wives

Pop Culture

Why Glenn Close’s The Wife Feels Tailormade for Indian Wives

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Recently, while watching the Oscar-nominated The Wife, there were moments when I could see my mother, aunt, or myself in Glenn Close’s titular Joann Castleman, the wife who sacrifices her dreams to ghost-write her husband’s success. So much about the film is universal that it feels like the story of just about every woman. The casual sexism that women invariably endure isn’t something that makes headlines in India but in The Wife, we have an entire film dedicated to what this persistent, toxic behaviour does to women.

There is a potent scene in the film where Professor Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), the celebrated author, wants to thank Joann in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. His wife hates the limelight that falls on her as an afterthought for every glory that finds her husband. So she asks him to refrain from going overboard with his praises but Joseph eventually disregards her request, which culminates into a fight that comes with dire consequences.

The reason why the wife doesn’t want the praise however, has more layers than her preference to thrive behind the scenes. As The Wife unravels, we find out that Joann has done almost everything for her author husband – from breathing life into his characters to rewriting his lines and even giving up her own writing career to serve his. And yet, the laurels and fame were reserved only for her husband – she was merely a footnote.

The reel story couldn’t have been more real.

The other day, my husband came home from work unusually excited. He had spoken to his mother on his way back and memorised the recipe of masala mamra, a popular Gujarati snack that involves puffed rice and spices. The moment he was at home, he stood hunched over the kitchen counter, cooking up a storm to satiate his cravings.

His wife hates the limelight that falls on her as an afterthought for every glory that finds her husband.

Just to be clear, there were no vegetables or gravy involved –  just some masala and mamra. Yet it looked like he had won a battle by the end of a measly 20 minutes. The whole family tasted his preparation and went nuts in praising their accidental MasterChef: some hailed it as a “perfectly balanced dish” while others incessantly congratulated him for nailing the snack in the first go itself.

It took me a few more minutes to start wondering the last time I was congratulated for cooking anything. For the sake of perspective, I cook twice a day, everyday; I also prep for the dishes in advance and clean up behind everyone. Yet, my efforts are undermined because they’re expected. Like Joann, I’m just doing my job to ensure the happiness of my family. You know the scales are tilted when a hashtag called #husbandswhocook enjoys way more popularity than the everyday dal-chawal or spaghetti-making wives.

On a slightly different yet familiar note, a former colleague readily upended her life and moved around the world because her husband kept getting promoted. She quit her job and took to freelancing in a new country. As educated as her partner, she has now decided to take up the next promotion that comes her way instead of letting her husband’s professional achievements dictate her moves. But this time, the elders in her family are ironically questioning the need for moving countries just for a job. The layers of patriarchy are hard enough to peel in our society especially if you also take into account the subtle snubs that are reserved for women in each of these layers.

In Netflix’s I Am Not an Easy Man (Je Ne Suis Pas un Homme Facile), the French comedy’s lead, Damien is a sexist man who whistles at women and makes objectionable apps at work that endorse the idea of male conquests. It is when his world flips to a matriarchal society and he falls in love with a woman who believes men are nothing but sexual objects that Damien understands – furiously enough – what it feels like to live with constant sexism thrown your way. The scenarios are brilliantly subverted: Damien’s best friend transforms into a stay-at-home dad when his wife delivers a baby and then goes back to work immediately. Later, when Damien slowly starts to realise that only women reign in the world, he gets labeled a a “masculist” or a “militant” only because he suggests that men should have equal rights.

Our roles in our homes are considered our duty, not an achievement.

Reality, however, is no French film. No matter how educated or urbane we get, women are still asked in professional interviews whether they plan to get married or start a family soon. We are unanimously chosen – without any official decree – to keep house and be the primary caregiver for our children, preferably the one quitting work to offer home our undivided attention. Our roles in our homes are considered our duty, not an achievement. And like Joann, we’re mandated to serve our husbands, not our dreams.

In about a week, the Oscar statuette may very well go to Glenn Close for what is possibly her career best performance in The Wife. It makes even more sense that the film arrives in an era that’s tackling a hurricane like the Me Too movement and critiquing traditional gender roles. But for all the other women out there whose roles as the archetypal “wives” doesn’t end in one and a half hours, the road ahead is uphill as fuck.