#FeministMondays | Women In Indian Cinema

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I watched Alia Bhatt's 'Raazi' yesterday. Although the movie received glowing reviews, it did not work for me. I found the story to be dragged out unnecessarily and somehow it did not hit the right emotional note. While Alia was fantastic in the movie, a brilliant actor like Vicky Kaushal was wasted. The only take away for me from the movie was having a female protagonist who risks her life for her country. But who is behind all this? Yes, men. As much as Alia's Sehmat is brave, the strings behind are pulled by men. She blindly follows her father orders and marries a man she has never seen. From asking for basic help to get her things done, she needs to use code words to reach out to men. Even in the end, the man who trained her doesn't blink twice before issuing orders to have her killed. I know it is all about patriotism, but why weren't there any other women who could help her? What's the point in being brave, when you are a mere puppet in the hands of men?

When Sonam Kapoor-Ahuja announced the movie 'Veere di Wedding' with her and Kareena Kapoor-Khan in the lead, and two other women, I thought this probably would be Bollywood's feminist answer to 'Dil Chahta Hai'. I couldn't be more wrong. I was pissed from the minute I saw the trailer. Why does Bollywood have this innate need to show modern independent women as commitment phobic, uses cuss words, drinks a lot and sleeps around with many men? What about this is women empowerment? When women are fighting for equality in every sphere, focusing the trailer and the promotional songs on the two more famous actresses in the movie, and having the other two just waltz around in the background, does nothing for women or for equality. While there is no equality between women, how can you expect it to exist between men and women?

The way women are portrayed in Bollywood is very inconsistent. While we have a 'Queen' where a woman discovers herself on her own, we also have a 'Bajrangi Bhaijaan', where the woman just looks good and prays for the safe return of her lover. I can list a plethora of movies in the context of the latter, but for the sake of keeping this post short, I'll go with two movies that irked me the most.

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First, it was the Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone and Diana Penty starrer, 'Cocktail'. For those who haven't watched it, the two girls live together. While Diana's Meera is the homely girl who always covers herself from top to bottom, Deepika is Veronica, the free-spirit who hates to wear pants at home. She drinks and parties like there is no tomorrow, while Meera lights the lamp and performs the pujas at home. Enter Saif as Gautam, Deepika's one night stand, who gets into a no strings attached relationship with her. Gautham is only sexually attracted to Veronica and has no actual feelings for her and he barely looks at the other homely/boring girl at home. But while on a holiday, while the hot girl stays back with his mom, he sees the boring girl dance and suddenly he falls truly, madly and deeply in love with her. On the spot, mind you. Now, he has to dump the hot girl and go for the homely girl who he now wants to marry. To make things worse, the boring girl who thought of Gautham to be a pig (in her own words) till now, falls irrevocably in love with him too.

Thanks to this, the poor hot girl now loses her lover as well as her friend/roommate. I would have loved the movie if Gautham had chosen Veronica and stood up to his mother for wanting to marry a girl for the way she is. But no, this is Bollywood you see and you only tend to marry sanskari girls here. Gautham is almost shocked when Veronica asks him if his mother will accept her if she changes her habits, her hairstyle and her dressing sense. For what? Just because she is a woman who wants to be the way she is, does that mean that she doesn't deserve love? Let's not forget that the hero realized that he loves the boring girl only when he sees her drunk, wearing skimpy clothes and dancing with abandon. While the outgoing girl is perfect for sleeping around, the docile one deserves to be made the wife. Who defined this?

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Next, we'll talk about the magnum opus 'Bahubali'. As much as I loved both the parts and both the men in it, the women in the movie were questionable. While Shivagami was brilliant as the queen, the characters of Devasena and Avantika were disappointing to say the least. Devasena, the princess who singlehandedly battled an army of bandits, was imprisoned for 25 years and waiting for her son to come and free her. What happened to her warrior spirit? Even if it existed, what was the need to show it when there is a handsome man coming to save her, right? Well done, Indian Cinema. The same with Avantika as well. She was willing to go all in to save her queen, but the minute she falls in love with Shiva, she beautifully delegates this task to her man and sits back even when the whole town goes to war. More than why Katappa killed Bahubali, what happened to these two brave fearless women, the minute they fell in love with their men, is the biggest mystery of the movie to me.

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Yesterday, at the Cannes film festival, 82 women (including two brilliant Indian women) took to the stairs to protest against inequality and parity. Do you see something like this happening in India? The #MeToo campaign broke a lot of barriers and many offenders did get their due, but do you see Indians coming out like this? Forget the real life scenarios, why are our actresses content with playing such characters on screen? When Sonakshi Sinha was launched in 'Dabangg', many applauded her acting skills. In the movie she had to be content playing the male lead's wife and chop vegetables to make him food. No wonder Kareena thought she would make a good housewife when asked a question on 'Koffee With Karan'. Also, why do some actresses love to take a dig at one another?

Another thing that gets on to my nerves are the item numbers and the objectification of women in them. But, that is for another post. While we do have some movies with really strong women characters, that is only a tiny drop in the ocean of Indian Cinema.

What do you think about the portrayal of women in Indian Cinema? In Bollywood, to be precise.


This post is a part of the powerful series #FeministMondays on Naba's blog and you can be a part of it too. On the second Monday of every month, write an impactful post with the hashtag #FeministMondays and link it back to Naba's blog.

10 comments:

  1. I couldn't agree more about Veere trailor. The same thoughts went through my mind. Is this empowerment? If you've seen Lipstick under my Burkha, I had the same issue with it Why do they stereotype women according to dress, drinking, language? As far as heroines are concerned, I am sure they'd want something more meaty and substantial but no one is offering it to them. It's a Vicki's cycle,sadly.

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    1. I know, right? It was just too stupid. I haven't watched lipstick yet but I know that it is really high on sexuality and that is not the only thing to be shown for women empowerment.

      We need film makers willing to make movies with a woman in the center. We need more female film makers too.

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  2. I am very disappointed with the 'Veere Di Wedding' trailer as well. I don't really understand why women empowerment equals to cuss words, drinking and sleeping around. I expected a movie similar to Dil Chahta Hai or Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. I haven't seen Cocktail full movie. Just for a couple of minutes and decided it wasn't for me. Women in Bollywood need to come a long way before they can match their Hollywood counterparts. No matter how brilliant of an actress you are you are reduced to second fiddle for the mighty hero. Case in point in Salman Khan's 'Sultan'.

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    1. You said it, sister! With DCH and ZNMD, the three men were given equal importance and all of them took the story forward. Why don't we have that with women centric movies?

      I haven't watched 'Sultan' mainly because I know how Salman's movies would start and end.

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  3. The only reason I don't watch 99% bollywood movies is exactly and a little more that you shared. It's a waste of time and these movies make our thought process regressive. By our, I mean people who idolize such cinema.
    Have you watched Hidden Figures? That movie is the best on women's ambitions and their strive to achieve what they want. I loved it so so much.

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    1. Now, I understand what you mean. As a lover, I do watches of all languages, but my least favorite is always the Hindi ones.

      Hidden Figures, I haven't watched yet. I'll be doing so this weekend now. Thank you for the recommendation.

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  4. Oh and here I was thinking that Raazi is a movie worth watching. But like you, I too tend to see things with different coloured glasses. Women in movies are stereotypes : good = marriageable because they are compliant and brought up as docile, obedient shadows. And bad = modern, independent, fun and rebellious.
    Queen was the only movie that actually portrayed a strong woman but even then I think this was pure fantasy. Can you imagine a woman like Queen ( in her social strata etc) actually pulling off something like this?
    I don't really watch movies unless I want to bomb my brain with rubbish.

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    1. It sure is worth watching and Alia does a wonderful job at it, but the story telling does need tweaks here and there.

      Queen does seem a bit far fetched. But, in Bollywood it did come as a glimmer of hope.

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  5. I know what you mean, Soumya.
    Rarely there are movies in Indian Cinema which show women to be empowered. I think apart from Queen, I cannot think of any other. To an extent, NH10 maybe where Anushka takes her revenge. I would love to see movies where women are shown more than being puppets to men or needing men to accomplish something. I think there was a movie of Tapasee Punn where at the end they needed Akshay Kumar for the climax scenes. There goes women empowerment in Bollywood. Maybe that's why I don't like watching Hindi movies anymore. And there can never be a #MeToo movement in India because first of all all women will keep shutting up the others. I don't know when we'll learn. If we'll ever learn.
    And yes, as Parul says, do watch Hidden Figures. I loved it too.
    Thank you for joining and for such a powerful post.

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    1. Sigh, I know. NH10 was a decent watch too, that took on patriarchy by the neck.

      Why don't we Indian women want to stand up against something wrong? It is really sad.

      Now that you and Parul have both recommended Hidden Figures, I'll be watching it this weekend.

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