Sonam Kapoor’s sister Rhea Kapoor has produced a film adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma”, to be released this Friday. The publicity has started. It is nothing like what happens with films that feature the Khans or the Bachchans. The budget is probably not impressive compared to their films and, even more importantly, the film is woman-centred, which makes it just a cut above that other down-market category, the “regional” film.
However, what bothered me was not so much how women are seen by the market, but how they see themselves and their work. The headline announcing the film on page 1 of the Bombay Times, dated Monday August 2 said, “It’s chick-flick time say Anil’s daughters”.
In the story, Sonam Kapoor is quoted as saying, “It is a coming-of-age chick-flick that will appeal to women of every age and social strata.” She goes on to add, (and this statement defeats logic), “Not to forget, that it’s a Victorian love story that the guys will find equally exciting.” Does she mean guys are so soppy that they have to go back 200 years to enjoy a love story? Or does it mean, a little more cleverly, that guys are stuck in the Victorian age and will, therefore, find the story relevant?
Anyway, to return to the headline, what exactly does chick-flick mean? Let’s go to the origins of the phrase, to find out. The term originated with a certain kind of women’s writing. I’ve come across four definitions of it. One holds, rather fuzzily, that chick-lit is literature “written by women for women”. Does that mean the book jackets carry a warning that says, “Injurious to male health”? If it is proved that some men have read it, does the book lose its precious place in the category?
A certain Prof Suzanne Ferris holds that although the genre chick-lit was born in 1996 with Helen Fielding’s “The Diary of Bridget Jones”, the mothers of the genre were the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen. The idea!!! Students of English Literature at college, men and women, read the Brontes and Jane Austen as seriously as they read Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens. No student of English Literature has been called upon to do the same with Bridget Jones.
Amy Sohn defines chick-lit as being about women, ages 20 to 60, who can stand on their own two feet. That lets off poor Jane Austen, none of whose protagonists ever stood on their own two feet, cushioned as they were by personal fortunes. But it does not let off Charlotte Bronte whose Jane Eyre was a working woman.
The definition that describes the genre most clearly, ensuring that no work that falls outside the definition can assume the name of chick-lit, puts the main emphasis on the tone of narration. In chick-lit, says the unknown author of this definition, the tone is personal and light, like a friend confiding in you, and its defining feature is humour. That lets out the Bronte sisters too. We may accuse them of many faults, but never of humour.
Now let’s return to “Aisha”. If the makers themselves are claiming it is a chick-flick, then we may expect something giddy, giggly and soppy. So be it. But how can we make it up to Jane Austen who’ll be turning frantically in her grave? First “Bride and prejudice” and now this. Give the dead soul a break.