By Sagar S Jun. 23, 2018
This month, I learnt two very different female bonding lessons from Ocean’s 8 and Veere Di Wedding. If Veere... taught me that all women want are one-night-stands with lovable creeps, then Ocean’s 8 educated me that women can have dreams and fun without men.
June has been the kind of month where the semi-polluted air contained a peculiar virus that has forced filmmakers to do what they keep finding an excuse not to: back movies with an all-female star cast. The first film, Veere Di Wedding, boasted an ensemble of actresses who are otherwise asked to be happy performing item numbers for Indian audiences. And the second, Ocean’s 8, that released in India yesterday, is powered by a group of diverse, outspoken women who are tired of taking a backseat while Hollywood’s leading men reap benefits. It was a revolutionary month for the movies, comfortably hashtagged #girlpower, even though both these movies were directed by men. Of course, that’s just me nitpicking.
Veere Di Wedding was panned for a variety of reasons, but few right ones. Critics took exception to the outspoken Swara Bhaskar, who is in the crosshairs of right-wing forces around the country, even though she looked super ill-at-ease throughout the film. And then there was the “lewd” masturbation scene she featured in, that embarrassed grandmothers around India. But for an industry that focuses so little on its leading women, Veere… was considered a step in the right direction, even if the vehicle was so… pedestrian.
Veere… is possibly the most unrealistic depiction of female bonding we’ve witnessed in recent times. The women seem to have been mandated to swear every five minutes, someone named Rishabh is integral to the plot of a women-led film, and an impromptu soul-searching girl-cation is the solution for every fight. Ocean’s 8, on the the other hand, faced backlash for borrowing heavily from the all-men heist franchise Ocean’s 11-13, which is in turn is a spin-off of the 1960s Ocean 11 starring Frank Sinatra drinking alcohol and playing golf. And, also for not being as fun as Ocean’s 11.
Even though both these movies depended on some serious female bonding, only one of the two – you’ll never guess which one – actually sticks to its word. Ocean’s 8 centres around the ladies acquiring a giant necklace that costs a fuckton of dollars, while VDW revolves around a game called “Will This Wedding Happen Or Not?” in which the participants are four South Delhi besties.
In Ocean’s 8, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), sister of George Clooney’s Danny Ocean, sets out to exact revenge from an accented fuccboi who framed her and sent her to jail. She gets in touch with Lou (Cate Blanchett), best described as a badass Brad Pitt-type. The two then assemble a group of Women Avengers with superpowers like being good at tech (Rihanna), stealing from the back of trucks and being a good mom (Sarah Paulson), impeccable fashion design (Helena Bonham Carter), jewellery-making (Mindy Kaling), and magic (Awkwafina). As Daphne Kluger, Anne Hathaway plays an airhead ditzy Hollywood actress, the target of the heist perfectly for most of the film. If the VDW girls would have wanted to be friends with anyone from this crew, it definitely would be her.
On the other hand, Ocean 8’s leads are – shockingly – passionate about something other than men: their own dreams.
Although, both these films are similar because they let their women have fun, they are also immensely different because of how they define “fun”. VDW’s leads are either crying about men over drinks, liberating themselves by having casual sex, or breaking up with said men. In other words, they are complete failures at the Bechdel test. On the other hand, Ocean 8’s leads are – shockingly – passionate about something other than men: their own dreams. In the film, Mindy jokes about how she’d rather attend the MET Gala than rob it, Anne secretly wants to direct films, and Sarah seems to actually just enjoys stealing – almost no one’s passion involves marriage.
There is also hardly any friction between these eight women as they split 300 million dollars between them as nonchalantly as they’d split an Uber bill. The entire time that they’ve worked together, not once has any protagonist consider running off with all the money. My sixth sense informs me that the sisterhood is definitely strong in this one, even as the women of VDW dramatically fight with each other, because one of the girls didn’t consult the others on their WhatsApp group before deciding to break up with her fiancé.
It’s interesting to note that the men of Ocean’s 8 assume background roles, either doing the heavy lifting, or playing the bumbling investigator (James Corden). Even the only male love interest in the whole film is labelled “desirable” because he’s an excellent chef. If the film wanted to make me think about how it feels to be a woman in male-centric films, I’d say they’ve succeeded. Meanwhile, in VDW, the men command attention when the clothes don’t. Once all the Veeres are done proving how cool they are and enough champagne has been consumed, you bet they’re gonna find the right guy or the nearest lovable creep from a South Delhi neighbourhood.
If VDW made me learn that “female bonding” is about having bhujia and complaining about men, then Ocean’s 8 shows that women are capable of holding lengthy, stable discussions about robbing the MET gala without needing to swear constantly or devolve into hysterics.
Because Ocean’s 8 isn’t congratulating itself on pulling off the masterstroke of getting eight women together in one film. Unlike Veere Di Wedding, it’s frothy and fun, regardless of the gender of its leads.
Sagar has lived in Mumbai for most of his life. You can often find him complaining about potholes and local trains when he isn't out having a mediocre time.