Indian Cinema is the best platform to analyse and assess women rights. The reason is that Indian Cinema reflects Indian society in the most exaggerated way. People get more fascinated with the more relatable cinema. The various dilemmas arise when we try to understand women’s role in Bollywood. The dilemma about whether the inclusion of stronger female characters changes the gender bias that has been ingrained and showcased on celluloid or is just a fabrication. The role of women in Indian Cinema has become integral over the years. However, all those female characters who are portrayed to be strong drastically get overshadowed once our ‘hero’ enters the screen. This article discusses these strong female characters and analyses if they are as strong as they are portrayed to be.
INDIAN CINEMA’S VIEW ON IDEAL INDIAN WOMEN
Some of the female characters that the Indian audience loved over the years are Pooja (Karishma Kapoor), Rupali (Sushmita Sen) from the film Biwi no.1, Veronica (Deepika Padukone) and Meera (Diana Penty) from the film Cocktail. Though these characters were showed as strong female characters in the films, however, in retrospect, they were highly regressed. All these women, despite being independent, ambitious, somehow would always need a masculine and brave hero to complete their lives, no matter how ignorant and self-centred the ‘hero’ gets. Biwi No.1 released in 1999, a comedy flick, somehow gives off a lesson to women; of accepting their unfaithful ‘spouse’. It also comes from the female character’s aspirations to ‘worship’ her husband and to follow his wishes. The question that arises at this point is why the female character is required to accept her ‘unfaithful’ spouse. The women are considered the strength of the family. They are required to do everything possible to keep the family strong and unbreakable. This somehow proves her love and loyalty towards her husband and family.
Fast-forwarding to 2012, the modern woman ‘Veronica’ shown to be independent and free-spirited is shown in a bad light. The character who men desire but do not marry. On the other hand, Meera, a god-fearing and small-town girl, was only validated in the film because the ‘hero’ fell in love with her and wanted to marry her. There are a lot of similarities in the character of Veronica and Rupali and the character of Pooja and Meera. The similarities and dissimilarities in these characters can only be defined by how the men in the film treated them. Pooja and Meera have been portrayed as the ideal wife/potential ideal wife and when the comparison is made, a woman like Rupali and Veronica are shown to be undesirable.
The dichotomy in the two female characters in both films showcases women as uni-dimensional characters. These characters are written and incite to build opinions and cultural value in the minds of the audience. A Bollywood woman can either be good or bad, heroine or evil villains. There is no room for troubled or damaged female characters in Indian Cinema. Even if there are few exceptions like Veronica (Cocktail), she is shown in a negative light who is unacceptable to the Indian mother-in-law. This also takes us to comprehend whether the women characters in Indian films are real or just the ideal women who can do no wrong. The premise which was discussed above about ‘entry of hero’ overshadowing strong female characters in the film, can be witnessed in the 2016 released film ‘Sultan’. The leading female character in the film named ‘Aarfa’ (Anushka Sharma) runs a wrestling academy with her father and has no place for emotions like love in her life. She had an ambition of becoming an Olympic gold medalist. We see a drastic change in her dream and priorities as soon as she finds out she is pregnant and looks at the happiness of her husband for becoming a father. It can also be understood as an act to shift the limelight from the strong heroine to the hero. It could also be a million-dollar idea of showing a woman sacrificing her dreams and desires for her husband. Filmmakers leave this to the audience’s own interpretation whether it sees Aarfa as an obedient and cultured Indian wife or manages to detect the patriarchy that unfolds. This also clarifies how qualities of a male-leading character are different from female-leading character.
GLORIFICATION OF STALKING AND ABDUCTION
This also brings us to the age-old discussion of ‘responsibility of the media towards society’. Thereby, the media is remarkable platform to show the accuracy in the portrayal of women which further can lead to embodiment of women. Misogyny, sexism and patriarchy are some of the aspects of Indian cinema that attract the interests of feminists. However, it does not end here, some of the dangerous facets of Hindi Films affect the society by normalizing the crimes like stalking, abduction etc. The informal way of portraying stalking and abduction in films as entertainment leads to glorification of these crimes. The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013 not only acknowledges ‘stalking’ and ‘abduction’ as crimes but also gives extensive explanation in Section 354D and Section 362 respectively, of the Indian Penal Code. Section 354 D clarifies that “when a man follows a woman and contacts or attempts to contact such woman to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest by such woman.”[i] On the other hand, section 362 clarifies that if a person compels another person to go from one place, or induces some person to go from one place, then the offence of abduction is committed.[ii] Moving into the cinema world again, we see that if we apply IPC provisions to the acts of certain ‘heroes’ of our films, almost all of them could have been held for a court trial.
However, it has been nearly decades since we are celebrating the success of films like Darr, Anjaam and Daraar, by calling the potential stalkers “obsessive lovers”. In the same era, stalking is largely used in films as a weapon of entertainment. When the hero was busy fighting with the villain for more than half of the time, he was given half an hour to woo the ‘heroine’ by stalking, renaming it as romance, music and entertainment. Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, released in 2017, scores great points for creating open defecation awareness but, falls behind on feminist grounds due to glorification of stalking. Further, Badrinath ki dulhaniya, also released in 2017, shows a strong progressive ‘heroine’ who does something morally unacceptable by leaving her husband-to-be (hero) at the altar and running away to pursue her dreams. Only that the film takes three steps back and showcases ‘patriarchy’ in its truest sense, when the ‘hero’ tries to impress the heroine by stalking, chasing and teasing her on the streets of Kota. The film moves along, the hero abducts the heroine in the back of the car trunk and upon the arrest by the nearest cop station, gets saved by our own ‘heroine’. Here we are back again when the heroine tries to justify her husband/lover’s wrongful deeds to stay true to her roots and values.
It wouldn’t be wrong to state that even in contemporary times, Bollywood is successful in justifying toxic masculinity and problematic films that uphold patriarchy. The Rights of women become a more difficult battle to fight when the industry supplies the product that justifies objectifying women’s bodies. The head of the All-India Progressive Women’s Association, Kavita Krishnan, once said in an interview, “All the female characters are being written by men because there aren’t many writers in the industry and that’s why the characters are very stereotypical”. This supports the argument that the voice of films is the reflection of the voice of the film industry and hence, voice of the society. However, it is also true that Bollywood reproduces trends, normalizations and therefore, Indian Cinema can also become a reason for social change.
[i] Pen. Code, § 354D, No. 45 of 1860.
[ii] Pen. Code, § 362, No. 45 of 1860.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Riya is a third-year law student at Jindal Global Law School. Currently, she is focused on researching and writing to explore her interest in various areas of law. Her interests include commercial law, Intellectual Property Rights and Media Law.