African-American musician, Lizzo - a loud and proud fat woman - has a famous quote I've always been moved by: "It's hard to love yourself in a world that doesn't love you back."
As someone who's been overweight for most of his life, there are very few times that the media I consume has made me feel seen as a fat person, trying to navigate through the daily mechanisms of a fatphobic society. From changing rooms and grocery store aisles to the doctor's clinic: there's not a single room I've entered where the size of my body hasn't been the first marker of my identity.
So when I first saw the trailer for Sonakshi Sinha and Huma Qureshi's Double XL, I was thoroughly excited. Here were two plus-size women in the public eye, promising a film about two fat women, Saira (Sonakshi) and Rajshri (Huma) fighting for their dreams in a world where their capabilities are diminished because of their size.
Even though I was enthralled to see a Bollywood film finally moving away from the cliched and regressive tropes of treating fat characters as punchlines or makeover projects, I would be lying if I said I wasn't skeptical.
Bollywood has famously lacked nuance - especially when it comes to representing women. I was hoping to be proven wrong but unfortunately, Double XL - with all its promises to tell the story of two dynamic women - wasn't able to deliver.
Now don't get me wrong: there are quite a few things the film got right. From Rajshri's mother's fatphobia stemming from generational internalization of body image issues, their no-holds-barred rant about emotional eating ("Khaana, hum aur motapa") to depicting the normalization of body-shaming through casual jibes on the protagonists' weight by tertiary characters, Double XL is filled with genuine attempts to spark conversations around women's bodies and the cookie-cutter moulds they're expected to fill.
There are some things I especially liked about the film. When Rajshri is forced to meet a potential suitor, she's delighted to discover that both her and the man don't want to go through with the marriage. When asked what his reason is, he doesn't blink twice before saying something that every overweight person in India has heard, at least a couple of times, "Aap hume thodi si zyada hi healthy lag rahi hain." Huma Qureshi's character immediately calls him out, exposing the word "healthy" for what it is: a sugar-coated fatphobic insult.
Even Saira's monologue on the validation complex fat women go through is a raw and vulnerable glance at most of our inner monologues. Throughout the film, both women reclaim the word "fat" and use it as a descriptor instead of a derogatory remark: something that's central to the Body Positivity Movement.
Their journey to self-acceptance can be graphed on Sonakshi's character crying in a bathroom in the first half of the film, blaming everything going haywire in her life to her fatness - to a much more confident, self-assured Saira in the second half, assertive in her belief, "Mein moti hu aur moti hi rahungi".
However, the film's USP is what ultimately led to its downfall. I was quite looking forward to a light and entertaining film, tackling heavy issues in an irreverent manner but Double XL lost itself amidst tired tropes and dated comic reliefs.
The weakest link of the film was its attempt to sow the seeds of romance. While Saira and Rajshri's charming stoner-cameraman, Srikant was a fun addition to the film, their line producer, Zorawar was not. I still cannot get over the fact that they depicted a man joking about sexual assault and making inappropriate advances throughout the film and sealed it all by showing Saira reciprocating his interest.
What started out as a promising story about two overweight women fighting for a just playing field ended up pigeonholing them to a two-dimensional formula. Double XL could've done wonders for plus size representation; if only it would've let go of its need to make the protagonists more palatable to the Bollywood audience.