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CINEMA CURRENT: I love my job

Office flirting is usually portrayed as a fun thing but workplace winking is boringly sexist and one-sided
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First Published: Fri, Jan 18 2013. 05 54 PM IST
A still from the movie Secretary.
A still from the movie Secretary.
Sudhir Mishra’s Inkaar pretends to be an exploration of sexual harassment at the workplace, but just because a filmmaker is trying to bullshit himself, it doesn’t mean you have to play along.
More bored-room drama than board-room expose, Inkaar is a love story about two seriously hot people with communication issues. It could have been so many other things – a film actually about sexual harassment, for example, or a drama about a couple for whom climbing up the corporate ladder is the same as crawling into bed. In 1991, journalist Dilip Thakore wrote the novel Succession Derby about a bunch of oversexed achievers who expend equal amounts of energy on rolling in the hay and competing for the top job at their company. Unfortunately, the glorious time-passer was never optioned as a movie, and has slid into the pile of Indian novels that haven’t yet caught the imagination of writers and filmmakers. A film adaptation might not have passed the Central Board of Film Certification’s vigilance in any case—one of the candidates is a BDSM advocate; at least two men are cheating on their wives.
Office flirting is usually portrayed as a fun thing, an unwritten part of the job description, a skill that will never make it onto a curriculum vitae. But workplace winking is boringly sexist and one-sided. The image of the suited-booted man who causes ripples in the typing pool with his mere presence is ripe for rebuttal, especially at a time when there are more women in white-collar spaces than ever before. Or subversion: Steven Shainberg’s delightful Secretary, made in 2002, upends the relationship between the boss and the secretary. The movie interprets the idea of a sadistic superior and a suffering subordinate quite literally. A self-abusing masochist catches her lawyer boss’s eye when he sees slit marks on her arms. He guesses in an instant that she is The One. The two go about defiling office space with aplomb—it’s a miracle that any work gets done in between the bottom lashings in the lawyer’s chamber and the pleasuring of the self in the toilet. Maggie Gylenhaal and James Spader are so perfectly matched that we are willing to forgive the upbeat ending, which runs counter to everything else that has come before it.
There is mostly sadism but little pleasure in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant.
The gifted German filmmaker was so prolific with movies, plays, television and radio series that his heart gave away (helped along by drug abuse) when he was just 37. Fasbsinder’s staggering output includes some of the most fascinating films ever made. The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972), like some of his other movies, brings theatre into the cinema. The story, drawn from Fassbinder’s play, takes place almost entirely inside the oppressively overstuffed bedroom of Petra, a fashion designer. From her bedstead perch, Petra (Fassbinder regular Margit Carstensen) lords over her assistant, who accepts her employer’s often outrageous demands with the patience of a practised masochist. The entry of a model, played by another Fassbinder regular Hanna Schygulla, into Petra’s physical and psychological lair drastically alters equations. Terrifying and compelling, it’s sexual and about the harassment that two human beings (women in this case) can subject each other to in their blind pursuit of power.
This weekly series, which appears on Fridays, looks at how the cinema of the past helps us make sense of the present.
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First Published: Fri, Jan 18 2013. 05 54 PM IST
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