Rewriting Mary Poppins

Many moons ago, I watched the broadway rendition of Mary Poppins in NYC. It was splendid to say the least. And i was glad to have the character introduced to me in the best way possible, with all the hullabaloo, if i may (Wink); umbrella flying in the middle of the theater and tap dancers performing next to you, it was indeed wonderful.

So when I watched the movie with my children recently, happily learning to sing “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” with them, little did I realise that I would be intrigued very differently this time around.

Poppins is the hero of the movie, no doubt. She is perfectly played by Julie andrews (from the sound of music fame). She is kind, yet strict; not rude, yet stern; not submissive, yet polite. And unlike most of disney’s female characters, I love that she is unpredictable; she is a mystery that doesn’t beg to be solved. It was heartening to see a woman on screen knowing perfectly well what she likes and doing what she wants! “Let me make one thing perfectly clear! I dont explain anything” — and thats that 🙂

It was all great until i decided to read parts of T.L Travis’s original, to understand the character of mrs. Banks, better. Her satirical treatment in the movie had me in wraps with wikipedia and other articles; digging deep into the suffragette movement. I learnt about Sophia Duleep Singh, who was a suffragist; her father was the one who let the British empire have India’s Kohinoor. ( that was a lot of trivia for a single night for me ! )

The book, I realised, makes no mention of suffragette at all. ( All i had to do was read more on wikipedia, instead of reading 200+ pages; oh well! I had to be sure ). And I was mildly surprised how unpleasant Poppins came across to me in the book. She was borderline contemptuous, especially towards Mrs. Banks. And Mrs. Banks was more meek and characterless in the novel. For once, I was at awe with Disney’s adaptation.

So here is where I draw the parallels and give my interpretation — To me Mrs Banks cohesively represents women who are always at odds with their personal ambitions and maternal duties. When I drew it into the present age, the suffragette movement could easily replace “equal pay”  or “#metoo” — silent battles we are waging through twitter or blogposts, not knowing exactly how to involve our spouses or families in it. And we can’t do it without the Mary Poppins, the care-givers and teachers who do the part for us to keep our children safe and happy, when we are away figuring it all out!

The ending of the movie is often quoted as the “domestication” of Mrs. Banks. But I honestly saw it as the opposite. To me it was her moment of proudly owning up to be a suffragist, to stop living in the closet, to be able to bring her voice and beliefs to her family. Of letting her voice fly high for the world to see!

 

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