Over 30 years ago, I was admonished in the classroom for saying that the girls are better than boys. It was also the same year when a male teacher told me why men will always be better than women. After all, he had reasoned, the power to get a woman pregnant or not, always rested with the man, which he deemed was the ‘ultimate’ power.
Although years have gone by, I still cringe when I think of that moment. It was the 80s. The year when there were many films that drove home the point that women were inferior to men. The strong women were ‘tamed’ by men. Many times, all the man had to do was ‘kiss’ the woman, and she would surrender like a flower.
It is 2015 now. Many years have gone by and ideally, we should have carried many learnings for future generations. As a country, I had believed that we have moved forward and left all the retrograde ideas behind – that is, till I found a trailer of a movie recently. It came as a surprise to me that in this generation, there are regional movies that are made with gender inequality as the selling point. The movie is called Ambala, meaning man in Tamil. The trailer clearly pointed out to the ‘man being stronger than the woman’ concept. Somehow, the knowledge that there is an audience out there, that watches, claps and applauds at such films is disturbing.
Films in India have always made the man look better than the woman – in character and in style. The story revolves around what happens to the man. It is always about how the man decides to deal with his problems. The woman always supports his thoughts and ideas. Stories are written for men, probably because, many stories are written by men. Men in uniform fight terror outfits, go on suicidal missions, save human race from natural and super-natural elements. Naturally, they are the heroes. Women, on the other hand,
somehow enter the screen space, to pause, ponder, dance and then ease out just as they had eased in.
While films take the onus of narrating a good story, they inadvertently propagate gender inequality. The problem is they have not spoken about the inequality as much as they have shown it. There are remarks like main mard hoon (I am the man). Men get away with polygamy and women consent. The problem is not about the consent. The trouble is when it is made out to be the right thing to do – for a woman to be okay with her husband getting marry a second time.
Traditionally, women in the films have always been objectified. They are there in the movies to entertain the men, sing, dance, and add the romantic element to the story. The romantic element is probably not required for the movie, but the women hang around hoping to get attention, because it is the man’s story. Movies are also riddled with item numbers that are about scantily-clad women gyrating suggestively to vulgar lyrics.
If this is not enough, women are portrayed as weak. Men slap, kick and pull women’s hair – just to get them to listen. They ogle at beautiful girls and tease them – just to gain their attention. The girls in the movie first object, fight and finally yield to the man. What is the big selling point here? Well, according to Bollywood, women say ‘no’, when they actually mean ‘yes’ and if you are a man, you can go ahead, tease, pass lewd remarks and it is all in jest.
Calling for change
What is the big deal, you ask. After all, it is just a work of fiction and has nothing to do with showcasing women in bad light. So, why get all hyper about it? The problem is Bollywood is a huge industry. The movies that are made capture the aspirations and emotions cutting across religion, economy and gender. What the movie screen reflects has a huge bearing on the audience. It does not spare any one. So, if such a powerful medium chooses to showcase women in poor light – what do you think the country would do? They just continue to treat women as second-rate citizens.
To this day, there are hardly any movies that portray a woman as the central character. Does life not happen to women? Are they just playing second fiddle to all the men, who have the onus of salvaging this world from anarchy? The problem is women are busy in their roles as caregivers. But, this does not mean they cannot be part of the plot. They are always the secretary, the tormented girl, the rich girl, the workaholic who longs for a man’s embrace. Is that everyone’s idea of a woman’s life?
There are only a handful of popular movies that do justice to the female characters. For instance, the one that tries to capture the dilemma of a woman married to two men – a movie called Deewana, starring the late Divya Bharati. Here, the widowed Divya is coaxed into marrying Shah Rukh Khan, but is soon confronted by her erstwhile husband.
In recent times, a movie called Astitva was bold enough to talk about a woman having an extra-marital affair. Women are programmed to believe that if she marries twice, she is a slut, but a man, whether married once, twice or thrice, is a stud. Speak of double standards.
We live in perennial dichotomy because even as we engage ourselves in debates about women being powerful, there are TV soaps, movies and advertisements that encourage the regressive idea of a woman. We cannot expect much, unless something radically changes in the entertainment industry.
And for this to happen, there has to be a revolution. We need more movies like Queen and Mary Kom. We need movies like Kahaani that can capture people’s imagination and tell a story about a woman.
We just need to take the courageous step forward to narrate a story that happens to women. After all, we have watched men for so many years. It is time for change.