I found the representation of gender in Namak Halaal to be predictably patriarchal. The female characters are often objectified, and presented as untrustworthy and helpless, while male characters are presented as masculine and clever.
In the scene where Arjun is singing to Poonam at the event, he tells her,”You are desirable…You are like a statue…Where you’re from, who you are, what your name is…Oh forget all that! We don’t care!” While I am sure the intention is to describe how much Arjun admires Poonam, his words and perceptions of her reduce her identity to that of an object to be admired. Her true identity and personality are disregarded at the whims of Arjun who, however unintentionally, finds it easy to place Poonam into a small box that reflects his (and society’s) idealistic views of femininity.
Much of the drama and confusion in the film stems from Dashrath’s distrust of Savitri. Despite her continued devotion to her family and her husband’s wishes, Dashrath refuses to believe that Savitri didn’t kill Bhim. While this does give the film an opportunity to emphasize Savitri’s strength and loyalty later on, the idea of women being untrustworthy is later reinforced with Nisha’s character. Nisha, a character that is also objectified throughout the film, is hired to murder Raja through the use of her seduction. In this way, not only is Nisha presented as an untrustworthy character, she is being used as a pawn, an object of blame, and an object of desire.
Overall, the portrayal of men and women in Namak Halaal reinforces several patriarchal ideals, not only erasing the female perspective and voice but also setting unrealistic expectations and representations of men. The men were often portrayed as unthoughtful, making remarks such as, “I want a room that’s as beautiful as you are,” to complete strangers and requesting women be sent to their rooms. They are also portrayed as the masterminds to all attacks, counter-attacks, and schemes, in which they often use women as side characters and objects. Going even beyond that, men are expected to keep “their women” safe – again reinforcing the idea that women need to be kept safe and that men are the only ones who can save them.
The representation of family in Namak Halaal is complex and intertwined with the ideas of sacrifice, debt, and loyalty.
The film sets the tone for complex family ties as Girdhar, Seth Raja’s step-brother, organizes an attack to kill Seth Raja and his son Raja to gain wealth. As the attack happens, Bhim Singh sacrifices his life to protect Seth Raja due to a debt and a sense of loyalty. Continuing this sense of loyalty to his employer, Bhim makes his wife Savitri promise to raise Raja as her own son and to protect him at all costs. It is because of this promise that Savitri, Arjun’s biological mother and Raja’s adopted mother, sacrifices her relationship with Arjun, her perceived innocence in the death of her husband, and her home. This promise also led to Dashrath, Bhim’s father, to become Arjun’s guardian, as Dashrath was convinced that Savitri had betrayed her loyalty to Bhim and killed him.
In the film we see the main character, Arjun, following the footsteps of his father to protect Raja. While Arjun is not in “debt” to Raja as Bhim was to Seth Raja, he was brought up by Dashrath to be loyal – a consequence of Dashrath’s perception that Arjun’s mother was unloyal. It was in this way that Raja and Arjun began their relationship as friends, which is later recognized to be a sort of brotherhood.
While I have attempted to describe the situations which led up to this complex sense of family, it is difficult to do without the use of a chart or visual. The overall theme in the film regarding family was that family is not always made up of those who share your blood – that family is ultimately constructed by trust, sacrifice, loyalty, and love.