‘Govinda Naam Mera’ Shows Men Being Let off the Hook for Doing the Bare Minimum Yet Again
This article contains spoilers.
Govinda Naam Mera released today. However, it belongs in the 1990s and 2000s — in the era of Saajan Chale Sasural (1996), Masti (2004), No Entry (2005), and Sandwich (2006). But that argument probably falls flat on the face of movies like Thank You, Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon, and Pati Patni Aur Woh recovering their budgets at the box office as late as 2011, 2015, and 2019, respectively. The poster of Govinda Naam Mera had indicated that its story was going to be yet another misogynistic iteration of a married man juggling multiple heterosexual relationships. But the trailer that followed hinted at the female characters having greater agency than the aforementioned movies. In hindsight, it was misleading.
Govinda Naam Mera rehashes the trope of the man whose marital vows conveniently grant him immunity against the consequences of his actions, even though he may have consistently and deliberately failed to honor them until the time he needed to use them to his advantage. Women, however, aren’t extended the same exemptions.
The titular character, Govinda (played by Vicky Kaushal), had been cheating on his wife, Gauri (played by Bhumi Pednekar), for over three years. In a twist that suggested she wasn’t a helpless homemaker longing for her philandering husband’s affections, it seemed like Gauri was carrying on with an affair of her own. Not to glorify cheating, but given how rarely Bollywood portrays women in non-negative characters breaking their marital vows, this seemed like a progressive narrative. Moreover, since Govinda and Gauri were frank about each other’s extra-marital affairs, perhaps, their liaisons wouldn’t even qualify as adultery.
Except, soon enough, we learn that it was all an elaborate lie — at least, in part. Govinda was indeed cheating on Gauri with Suku (played by Kiara Advani). But Gauri wasn’t — in fact, despite her husband’s disloyalty, she loved him and had secretly appointed him as a nominee on her insurance policy. She was simply pretending to have an affair, so she didn’t feel like a victim à la Daphne (played by Meghann Fahy) from The White Lotus. The moment Govinda finds out Suku isn’t really in love with him, Gauri is happy to take him back.
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In this mishmash of a thriller and a romantic drama, though, dowry — a social evil that reportedly cost more than 6,700 people their lives in 2021 — becomes a source of comedy. Throughout the first half of Govinda Naam Mera, Gauri seems enraged at the outrageous amount of Rs. 2 crores that her family had given Govinda as dowry — in fact, it is presented as the sum she demands to grant him divorce by mutual consent. However, the dowry appears to be forgiven as soon as Govinda is willing to reconcile with her. In essence, then, the filmmakers justify the payment of dowry — be it willingly or unwillingly — as a fair price for a man’s loyalty to his wife. The moment Govinda does the bare minimum of treating her with respect — and not as a “mistake” — he’s let off the hook for every wrong he committed.
And so, Govinda Naam Mera isn’t vastly different from the movies where women are quick to forgive their husbands the moment they realize the error of their ways and appear before their wives with their tails between their legs and apologize. What’s striking about Govinda Naam Mera, though, is that Kushal’s character is granted forgiveness without even apologizing.
“[M]arital duties often become a tool to subjugate women — and that’s precisely what this trope, perhaps unintentionally, communicates… According to this trope, a man’s marital vows aren’t nearly as enforceable as a woman’s. The message it puts forth, then, is that unbound by their promises and commitments, men will be men — when they’re not being petulant children, that is. And women, as their wives, must coddle and forgive every wrong of theirs, just as a mother would,” notes another recent article on The Swaddle. “It’s hardly surprising, then, that in real life, women often feel guilty for leaving even abusive husbands.”
Suku, on the other hand, isn’t so lucky. Although she committed almost as many crimes as Govinda — often in partnership with him — he “teaches her a lesson” for being unfaithful. Ironically, his wife, who he himself had been unfaithful to until recently, assists him in this endeavor.
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But this isn’t unexpected for Bollywood. “Her character is bound to go through extreme negative emotions like regret, guilt, humiliation, shame, remorse… Even if she chose to be with her husband in the end, she certainly bears an indiscernible label of being a woman with [an] ‘unscrupulous’ character in the minds of the audience… Worse, the fate of her character is, in most cases, tragic — alienation or death, or both,” wrote Aakanksha Bhatia, a counseling psychologist, commenting on movies like Jism (2003), Murder (2004), and Aitraaz (2004), where the female protagonists strayed. “Mercy, or forgiveness, is not something that her ‘unsympathetic’ and ‘disloyal’ character should expect.”
That “a heroine’s first shot is slow motion, seductive, hypersexualized dance,” in the words of film critic Sucharita Tyagi, makes the filmmaker’s misogyny apparent. But then again, given that Shashank Khaitan, the writer-director of Govinda Naam Mera, is also credited with Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (2014) and Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017) — both sexist works of art, with one even glorifying stalking — it’s not prudent to expect otherwise. It’s hardly surprising, then, that its primary female characters — including Gauri, Suku, Asha (Govinda’s mother, played by Renuka Shahane), and Manju (Govinda and Gauri’s domestic worker, played by Trupti Khamkar) — either titillate, or scheme to defraud “innocent” men, or do both.
What the movie does venture close to getting right is the disposable manner in which the rich treat the poor, who are forced to cut their losses and move on because they have no recourse. Govinda and Suku — two aspiring choreographers — are denied payment by a rich gangster despite fulfilling their part of the deal and delivering him a music video for his spoilt, untalented son’s auto-tuned single. However, they’re unceremoniously discarded because the said son was too intoxicated to appear in multiple shots of the video, forcing them to reduce his screen time. Driven to debt, this pushes Govinda to attempt suicide.
This adds to Govinda Naam Mera‘s attempts at depicting the sad state of behind-the-scene performers in the movie industry — from stunt directors to background dancers — who are denied their dues both socially and financially. But as film critic Anupama Chopra puts it, “Govinda Naam Mera pokes fun at the delusion and the mediocrity of the entertainment business, but the irony is that the film itself is so mediocre.”
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