In a way, it was two posts by my colleagues that spurred me on to write this post – one post extolled the virtues of Raanjhanaa as an unusual and highly watchable Hindi film the other rubbished it as being politically incorrect and skewed against women. Hindi film websites and film reviews also gave a general thumbs up to the movie.
Irrespective of whether I like the movie or for that matter watched it at all; I fully endorse the view that Hindi movies tend to do nothing for the image of women – they are patriarchal, they undermine and objectify women. They do little if anything to alter the gender inequality and male bias prevalent in society.
Old Hindi movies, Pati Parmeshwar & Sati Savitri
Amar Akbar Anthony has been one of my favorite movies since childhood. Nirupa Roy is depicted as the archetypal “khansti hui dikhiari maa”. She has TB and her kids are starving, but when her husband is to return from jail, jail mind you – she rushes to touch his feet. Then when she is informed that her husband has perished in an accident, she rushes to smash her bangles, smudge her sindoor and proceeds to embrace widowhood with its attendant white sari and all-suffering melancholy with great gusto.
These scenarios exemplify much that is horribly wrong both with our society and films– the idea that a wife’s role is always subservient to that of her husband. He is the pati parmeshwar; so what if he is no good or even if he bashes his woman around a little and hurls abuse at her or goes to jail, for that matter. The widow’s life is finished; she must now pass her life in plain garb and busy herself with family and prayer.
To be fair this whole pati parmeshwar concept has died a natural death in Hindi films and I haven’t seen a woman rush to touch her husband’s feet (even during the now ubiquitous karwa chauth scenes) in a while. Widows are also depicted differently and their remarriage is in fact, considered.
However, much that is malignant still lingers.
The Hindi Film ‘Hero’
What has not changed is how women’s roles are shortchanged in Hindi films. Hindi film heroines are there mainly for decorative purposes: films are almost always “hero-oriented”. Hugely talented actresses are routinely reduced to doing what are essentially bit roles even if they are billed as the “heroine of the film”. It is well known that leading ladies are paid far less than leading men in Hindi films. For instance, in the upcoming movie Bullett Raja, the talented Sonakshi Sinha plays second fiddle and love interest to the main stud of the movie Saif Ali Khan.
Another long-held grudge of mine: the ‘hero’ can be fifty and still play some ridiculously unbelievable college boy. The woman on the other hand has a strictly limited shelf life – no sooner does the first sign of maturity appear, than she is relegated to the older sister, mother, neighbourhood aunty type of role.
Item Songs In Hindi Films Don’t Do Women Any Favours
With skimpy clothes, explicit moves and lascivious camera angles and suggestive, vulgar lyrics, the item song routinely objectifies women and suggests to men that they are ‘fair game’. While a movie maker should be free to make such a depiction – we are a free country – the fact is that the Indian man is just not mature and evolved enough to view this purely as entertainment. The item song cements in his mind, his view that women are of two types – the devi and the fallen woman and the latter is fair game for anything.
Stalking Is Perfectly OK
Some time back, Shabana Azmi spoke in an interview about how we Indians have a time-honored tradition of “chhed chhaad”. The chhhed chhaad she spoke of has a sweet, gentle, playful connotation. What passes for it, however, is a very different reality – it is far closer to stalking. Apparently this stalking is perfectly OK – after all the man is in ‘love’, so how can he help himself? And if a woman is provocatively dressed in a deserted area after dark – well she was asking for it wasn’t she?
And how do you explain the legions of rape scenes in Hindi movies; at some point, villains such as Ranjeet and Shakti Kapoor – who have the dubious distinction of being Hindi cinema’s rape specialists –were almost as well known as the ‘heroes’?
While the slavering hero along with his raucously laughing band of thugs pulling off the girl’s sari is rather less common in Hindi films these days, the girl with downcast eyes wishing to “avoid trouble” is still very much in evidence. If a woman is being harassed or stalked, it is up to her to amend her behavior to escape this torment – that devil-may-care hero is still free to do his thing. We’re supposed to condone his behavior with a nudge and a wink. It’s the girls who have to mind their p’s, q’s and a whole lot besides.
By Reena Daruwalla
Image Source: Facebook@Item songs