Women and their portrayal in Indian Cinema: Shashwati Bagchi

 : Shashwati Bagchi

Much is being written and discussed about how women are being and should be portrayed in our movies. Suddenly, women have become the centre of  all kinds of debates…especially, post  December Gang-rape in the capital city of the country. An incident which had a terrible yet numbing effect on the minds of the people! It’s another story that thereafter, such horrific incidents have been coming out into the open everyday…while one is just forced to remain a mute and frozen spectator!

How much did the outrage at the India Gate and subsequent rallies etc help change the laws, the system or even the civil-society, remains to be answered and is debatable. But yes, that doesn’t mean voices of protest cannot or should not be raised. However, much of the object of protest and criticism was deflected towards Hindi Cinema and the effect it had on the human psychology while portraying women. A whole new debate started on how ‘commodification of women’ in ‘item numbers’ in our movies have degraded women to a significant low.

There was this one section of people which also included some well known Hindi cinema directors among others, who spoke about how movies having such raunchy numbers with suggestive lyrics and dance movements, have a huge effect on the minds of the public. It not only gives the impression of a woman being just an object of desire but also how a woman may be expected to react when 10 to 20 men, or even more, are encircling her and she is happily gyrating to their suggestive tones…! On the other side, the non-multiplex audience are made to believe that such situations are quite possible in real life…and if not so, then they can very well try and make such a situation happen.

There was this other spectrum of the debate where some felt (mostly all the mainstream actors and directors) that, blaming ‘item numbers’ in Indian Cinema was plain nonsense. What has a song got to do with a corrupt mind/society…where rape takes place almost everyday..? It was argued that the audience had the ‘choice’ to NOT buy a ticket for such cinemas and hence not see such things or allow such things to be seen by their folks. How simple! I just wondered how would i ever have the so called ‘choice’ or option to NOT see such things or stop others from seeing such things on television…which has become like Theatres in all homes! Not to mention the rest of  mediums, like internet, you-tube, papers and magazines…et al.

So when these ‘Home-theatres’ are constantly airing songs and movies through out the day…and night, you are bound to bounce against such numbers at least 2/3 times a day, even if u don’t go strictly by the laws of probablity. Yes they would say, you have the ‘choice’ of switching channels…but by the time you do…and going by the innumerable’entertainment’ channels now…you may end up watching a whole song of  ‘fevicol’ while just navigating through the channels… Yes of course the choice is yours!

The main point however seems to have been lost in this cacophony…i.e, how have the women been portrayed in Indian Cinema over the years… Has it taken a turn towards the worse or better…or has it remained the same since ages…?  And finally, do such portrayal really impact people.

I feel  it has changed. One has to decide however, whether it has been for the good or for the  bad. There was a time when our movies while casting the names of the actors and actresses, had a special mention of those who played the role of a Vamp! So we were quite accustomed to read names like, Bindu, Helen, Padma Khanna so on and so forth…who would now be seen portraying a negative role in the ensuing movie. The same went for the male actors too, who played the role of a Villain. Today of course the jargon has become unisex…and we call everybody ‘Actors’, only  the vamps and villains come with the tag-line-‘actors in a negative role’. This is no longer mentioned in the movie titles but gets special mention during  award-ceremonies.

The point to be made however is, while the audience watched a movie earlier, they were expected to know the difference between a good and a bad person. So when you watched  an ‘actor’ wearing revealing outfits and seducing a man on screen with a cabaret number, you knew she was a woman of low morals and was vampish! A child too was supposed to understand this nuance and was told  by his or her parents that, look this is bad and any girl/woman with a good character would never do such a thing.

So when you came back from the theatre, although that particular cabaret song played on your mind (leaving the rest of the movie aside), you somewhat knew that ‘It was bad…and that woman was bad..and that, one is not supposed to do any such thing in real life!!’ The same went for the bad guy too, so he was the Villain!

The public was also convinced of such immoral deeds meeting a bad fate, when they saw the Villains and vamps getting their due share of  punches and humiliation at the hands of the hero and heroine. No wonder, they were therefore called the Hero or the Heroine…because they were heroic enough to overcome the bad and had the courage to triumph in the truth! We all came back home with a feel good factor to know that no matter how bad some people can be…the good always triumphs.

Today, the ‘cabarets’ have been replaced by ‘item numbers’ and no one in the movie titles are credited with ‘vamp or villain’ tags. Everybody is an actor and you don’t need a special type of woman who was willing to show her skin and dance to raunchy and suggestive numbers. The mainstream heroines are willing to do these..of course for a whopping price…and you are not supposed to treat them as ‘vamps’ anymore. The same also goes for the male actors, where you didn’t need a villain, as the concept of ‘Anti-Hero’ had immerged!

So, today when you watch a movie, you don’t know how to differentiate between the good and the bad, the sacred and the profane, the vamp and the woman of character or even the Villain and the Hero. The images have got blurred and so has the imagination of the people! Today, when a mainstream actress (call actor), gyrates happily to a ‘Chikni Chameli’ or ‘Fevicol’ or ‘Babli Badmaash Hai’, it is not supposed  to be ‘infra-dig’ but is to be taken as a piece of art and a healthy entertainment for the hapless viewer.

You  are no longer told by the movie-makers, that this portrayal of a woman is actually bad and neither is her end de-glorified in movies anymore. So a girl or a boy comes back with the impression that this is ‘hip’ and pretty ‘cool’…after all, what’s wrong in it? It’s good to be ‘bad’.

The audio-visual medium is very powerful. Therefore it has a role to play. And that role cannot be frivolous. It needs to be taken seriously. When you make a movie or a song, you don’t make it just for the ‘discerning audience’. The non-discerning public out there is going to watch it too…and that includes the young-generation also!

While you try and entertain the people through a medium, you also have a ‘social-responsibility’ towards the people whom you are targetting. It’s all very well to read in newspapers about the everyday horrific incidents of crime against women. How many would like to have any such personal experience…and that includes the ‘dream-merchants’ too. Are you actually selling a good dream…or spreading a nightmare??!!!

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