The portrayal of women in mainstream Indian cinema is to a very large and unfortunate extent a comical attempt at showing what women are like in real life. The songs in any movie are always about a damsel in distress or the more appreciated brand of ‘glamour’ -a heroine dancing in the rain in a saree oblivious of the fact that the saree may probably restrict her almost gymnast like moves to enjoy herself in the rain. Or a modern version of this brilliant act of objectification with just the right amount of slang and an unavoidable club because what’s misogyny without a song shot in a nightclub that makes it to the top of the charts. There isn’t more to the life of a Caucasian female in the 21st century than just a nightclub where she joins in to portray how delightful it is to be around the hero who is definitely sought after because doesn’t lewd lyrics with a lot of sexism just make the best combination ever? And these are just songs, so imagine what a movie would essentially look like. However, there are other movies like Fire, Water, Parched etc. that depict how woman don’t always have to like one profession, or have a particular kind of personality (keyword: a submissive one), to be who they are.
Look at the kind of imagery that is used when women describe marriages, especially in movies before 1990s. There is a general consensus on the idea that a woman leaves her father’s house in a palanquin and leaves her husband’s house after her funeral bier is taken away from the house. Those symbols perpetuate the idea that marital turmoil or the idea of rebellion in the face of abuse or violence doesn’t even exist because no matter what happens if you are a woman you are the embodiment of everything sweet, kind and needless to mention incredibly docile.
The idea of women being divine and the practice of elevating them to a higher position is recurrent in almost all the movies that have female characters from 1970s-1990s. It becomes an established fact that women can’t have ambitions and definitely can’t have careers because when they are placed in such an elevated position they’d barely have time for anything other than keeping up with the patriarchal narrative of domestic bliss and sacrifice. Domestic bliss is almost entirely a woman’s responsibility, be it dutiful mothers or unbelievably divine wives, interpersonal relationships are all about women making sacrifices. Or are they?
The narrative in Bollywood movies is male-centric and primarily about the tragedy, angst, emotions and ambitions of the hero. Women, especially in action movies are just there to give the viewers some kind of a break from the bouts of violence and serious ‘man- to-man-talk’. Take Priyanka Chopra’s character in Agneepath. She doesn’t have a significant role except from the fact that she provides affection to the hero. Even when she knows that there are people with guns during their marriage she looks around as if to seek help from the hero regardless of the fact that there are people who fall on the ground, duck or at the very least move away from the shooters a little bit. It is absolutely ridiculous to accept that her first impulse would be to spend a painfully long amount of time just looking around, confused. She then gets shot, smiles and dies. So basically that, is just what the life or screen space of a heroine in a Bollywood action movie would look like- be born, marry the hero/almost marry him, look confused and call out his name for insensible purposes, die. And the heartbroken hero may add this loss to his list of grievances. Agneepath, Badlapur, Singh Saahab, Rowdy Rathore all these movies are a case in point. A beautiful, kind girl who falls in love with an ambitious hero who then goes on to become extraordinary to aid the revenge plot.
The man as the saviour and the woman as the victim is also prominently seen in Hindi cinema discourse. Scene after scene of heroes rescuing their ladies from the clutches of villains have been captured by the camera. In Ra-One (2011), the film’s poster clearly depicts the hero (Shahrukh Khan) carrying the leading lady, Kareena Kapoor in his arms. It builds up his image as her saviour, something which the film’s story too follows. The woman of substance is missing from such portrayals, the woman who can lead her life independently and take decisions without relying on any male. In such a scenario, women are seen to be not just physically inferior to men but also intellectually inferior. Film-makers don’t always take the effort to associate qualities like intellect and decision-making with female characters.
Yet, there are movies that talk about women like they matter, such as Fashion ,Page-3, Astitva, Kahaani, NH10 and so on. The narrative about women has drastically changed, they are no longer saree-clad sketches of perfection and divinity. The identity of women, is something that wasn’t really shown on celluloid until recently. Here’s to hoping that there would be many movies that talk about women and the real issues faced by them.
Picture Credits : m.dailyhunt.in