Indian cinema has been and continues to be highly influential in our society. Whether we talk of general perceptions including socio-political practices or fashion trends, films, especially Bollywood movies have contributed immensely in shaping the way people think. A country that has been battling the perils of patriarchy has been further battered by jeopardizing imagery endorsed by the male dominated film industry. Unfortunately, our stereotyped movies expose the truth of how our women are looked at and treated to the global audience. In the last decade Bollywood has seen a wave of change in terms of storytelling and projection of female characters and their relevance in society. However, commercial cinema carries on the despicable legacy of vilifying women and stealthily polluting the culture.
According to Bollywood’s projection across varied roles, the hero is the righteous knight born with the duty and ability to save the hapless heroine from the clutches of the nasty world or the villain. The fictitious female characters have always been ill-treated and cramped by gender biases. While most films have the male actor as the protagonist or “hero”, discrimination is not restricted to the character alone, but across features like occupation and associated actions. Even the introduction of cast in text, features the hero’s name first.
To study such impeding disparities, researchers used an IMB dataset of Wikipedia pages, listing 4000 Hindi films released between 1970 and 2017, extracting titles, information on the cast, plots, soundtracks as well as posters. Simultaneously, 880 official movie trailers released between 2008 and 2017 were also analysed. Interesting inferences were made from the study. “Over the nearly 50 year period, males are mentioned on average 30 times per plot on Wikipedia compared to female cast members, who are mentioned only 15 times.” Moreover, researchers noted that “Woman characters are mostly described with surface-level qualities—attractive, beautiful—whereas men are represented as “strong” and “successful” associated with them. “…verbs like ‘kills’ and ‘shoots’ occur with males while verbs like ‘marries’ and ‘loves’ are associated with females.” Men continue to be portrayed as reinstating their machismo, while women as compromising on feminism.
Even the trailers revealed that women are “less angry than men” and that ideal women were projected as “submissive, self-sacrificing, chaste and controlled, while the “bad” woman is “individualistic, sexually aggressive, westernized and not sacrificing.” In fact the data additionally revealed that males were mostly introduced by their professions as opposed to women who were rather associated with physical appearances, emotional quotient or by their relationships to a male character. “While 80% of the movie plots have more male mentions than females, surprisingly more than 50% movie posters feature actresses,” the researchers noted, citing examples of movies like ‘GangaaJal’ and ‘Raees’. In these movies, the males have more than 100 mentions in the plot and females have none, yet the posters feature females.”
Not only is on-screen presence of women marred, their off-screen manifestation too has been debilitated to a great extent. Women were found to be missing in areas and units of production, direction, cinematography. Also male voices exceeded the number of soundtracks recorded by female singers. The scenario has improved much in recent times with female directors making their mark in writing and directing meaningful cinema. The stream of feminism is gradually beginning to seep into mainstream cinema as actresses also opt for female centric scripts. I personally applaud the male filmmakers who roll out plots nullifying the prodigal gender bias. With movies like NH10, Queen, Kahaani, Pink, Dangal, Bollywood has exhibited some respite. Research indicates that as compared to 1970’s where mere 7% females played central characters in Hindi films, the graph ascended to 11.9% between 2015 and 2017.
If we start quoting dialogues of “declared blockbusters”, such lyrics and dialogues certainly bear the potential to impair your ears and minds forever. There are numerous examples of chartbusters that bear disgraceful lyrics demeaning women and putting them as some ‘consumable’ and ‘sexual’ objects. In fact, what they call “item songs” in my opinion is commercializing women as “items.” So called influential and well-educated directors also have not left any stone unturned in casting females in ‘marketable’ roles than in ‘meatier’ ones.
While several recent movies like R. Balki’s ‘Ki & Ka’ have highlighted impact of gender role reversal, most movies leave a message for the audience to procastinate. Films like Pink and Dangal have attributed in sensitizing the viewers on the existing gender differences and the inevitable need of restoring equality.
Its heart -wrenching to see that even today movies are categorized as female centric as if they were of a different genre altogether. I am wishful of a time that will no-longer label movies as feminist ones. Some movies portraying significance of feminism have succeeded commercially, yet it’s shameful that most films are made, watched and accepted despite displaying regressive sexism.