From Sulu to Mrs Maisel: The Middle-Aged Star is Born

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From Sulu to Mrs Maisel: The Middle-Aged Star is Born

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

T

he most interesting character in Season 2 of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel is an unlikely one – Rose Weissman, Midge Maisel’s mother. Even as Midge, the titular Mrs Maisel, continues to rule our hearts by making round eyes and scarlet pouts at patriarchy, Rose outshines her daughter effortlessly. All she does is leave.

She moves to Paris on a whim – frustrated at being underappreciated – and finally becomes conspicuous by her absence. What follows is a delightful track where the hapless husband and daughter discover a totally new side to the older woman: Her admiration for all things French, her love for dogs, and a life that is far removed from her New York, Upper West side world. Nope, there are no extra-marital affairs here. Only extra-marital interests.

Separated by time and many cultures, Mrs Weissman might have something in common with Sulochana Dubey, aka Sulu of Tumhari Sulu. Both women have an ability to pique our interest and make us laugh and cry with them.

The world has so far cared so little about the seemingly ordinary, older and much married women, that they have almost always remained invisible. But now, with the arclights trained on them, every little story that comes out of the kitchens and salons, subways and suburban homes, feels so refreshing, compelling, and relatable.

Women who so far were either too uninteresting or reduced to caricatures, often the andhi behen or vidhwa maa in Bollywood.

Rose and Sulu are cut from the same cloth as Mildred Hayes of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Shashi Godbole of English Vinglish, Reena in Dibakar Banerjee’s segment in Lust Stories, and Simi of Andhadhun. Each of them command our attention for their individual and remarkable stories.  

Shashi is the mother we have all known, often taken for granted. While Reena, played by Manisha Koirala, is that glamorous wife who we see air-kissing at high-profile parties, while nurturing a delicious disregard for convention in her private life.

This sisterhood of formidable fictional and not-so-fictional women are giving the world a taste of what we’ve missed all this while – a slice of the wild, wacky, disturbingly dark, and delightfully irreverent inner life of the older woman. Women who so far were either too uninteresting or reduced to caricatures, often the andhi behen or vidhwa maa in Bollywood.

For nearly two decades we have painted the married woman in broad brushstrokes. She was either the kind who stirs up the pot of conspiracies in kitchens, dressed in the brightest Lokhandwala bling. Or in a different world, hosts botox parties and high teas around pink floral centrepieces. The laughs were occasionally brought on by the vernacular aunties, who were happy rolling out theplas and churning out homegrown wisdom. Someone out there had decided that women, who were the biggest consumers of entertainment in single-screen households, did not really care about nuances.

It seems as though collective amnesia had wiped out the memories of Tara and Priya (Neena Gupta in Saans): Women who were deeply flawed, fabulously feisty, and full of surprises.

The world has so far cared so little about the seemingly ordinary, older and much married women, that they have almost always remained invisible.

When we do delve into the interior lives of older women, it is only from the perspective of sex. Think Ekta Kapoor’s Gandi Baat, or Karan Johar’s “liberating”, “progressive” segment in Lust Stories about a mature, married school teacher (Neha Dhupia), who masturbates in the school library. We are so enamoured by this theory that we have tricked ourselves into believing that a mature woman’s sexual life, or lack of it, is the only thing that makes her interesting.

The thing is, people who scoff at women at kitty parties or nail spas, have no idea how much fun is had over organic tea, falafel, and scones. How reputations are decimated with a sweet smile or the power of the tongue that remains firmly in the cheek. Check into any Mommy WhatsApp group – and you’ll be surprised by the range of emotions that are on display on every screen.

It is the unexpected twists and turns in a women’s story, the naivete and the homegrown canny with which she negotiates life, and the way she keeps on proving everyone wrong, that make Shashi, Mrs Maisel, or Priyamvada (Badhaai Ho) command a whole new fan following. Learning how to speak English, mastering stand-up comedy, or simply having a baby in her 50s – ordinary women make for extraordinary stories.  

From the pages of a gritty crime novel to a frothy film set in New York or a political potboiler inspired by true events in Washington – the school ma’ams and aunties, the harried housewives and the ladies who lunch – are turning out to be great grist for entertainment. Ladies, take a bow.

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