When Queen was released last year, the character of Rani, the sheltered Delhi girl who is ditched at her wedding and decides to go on her honeymoon alone, was unlike anything Hindi films had seen in a while. Rani travels, meets people, has adventures no really scary or unpleasant experience— which gave her story a fairy tale touch. Still, for Bollywood she was revolutionary, a young woman who gets over her own fears and emerges a more confident and wise woman, who will never fit into the homemaking, kitty-partying lifestyle expected of a married woman in her social circle.
But, when Jean-Marc Vallee Wild comes along, with Reese Witherspoon giving a career best, Oscar-nominated performance, you realise with a twinge, that when it comes to creating unique parts for women, Hollywood is way ahead. There is still the inbuilt sexism that keeps out woman over a certain age – only Meryl Streep is beyond slotting—and forces pre-determined appearance and body-type guidelines on to actresses, so that anyone who doesn’t conform has to struggle to keep a foothold in the industry.
Based on the book by Cheryl Strayed, the film is by the director who made the heart-wrenching Dallas Buyers Club for which Matthew McConaughey transformed himself. Reese Witherspoon and Cheryl Strayed are listed as producers, which is perhaps why it was possible to make the film with minimal compromises.
Wild is about an emotionally fragile woman who, after the death of her mother and the break-up of her marriage, decides on a whim to take a 1,100 mile hike through mostly rugged terrain. She strapped on an oversized rucksack on to her back and set out, without having an idea about what was in store on the journey. As Strayed wrote in her book, “I hadn’t factored in my lack of fitness, nor the genuine rigors of the trail, until I was on it.” Yet, no one who undertakes such a journey can emerge unchanged or unscathed by it.”
“The film, perhaps because it is a true story, does not turn into a fairy tale. The character goes through all physical, mental, emotional, sexual crises that she comes across on the way. As Justin Chang’s review in Variety Magazine commented, the “insistence on presenting their protagonist as a fully formed sexual being is one of the film’s most refreshing qualities, and the truest mark of its fidelity to its ardent and lusty source material. As an attractive woman in her 20s traveling alone, Cheryl is acutely aware that every strange man she encounters is a potential predator — whether it’s the kind farm worker (W. Earl Brown) who offers her a hot meal and shower, or the fellow traveler who turns out to be a very real threat. But Cheryl is neither a passive victim nor a saint, and in a film of quietly understated moments that often prove more impressive than the whole, few are as telling as the one where she casually spies on a male hiker (Kevin Rankin) emerging nude from a dip in the river — a rare example of the female gaze at work in American movies.”
It will take Bollywood a while to catch up!