Bollywood films are attempting to change perceptions of women. Finally!
If films reflect society, we only had to watch the mainstream films to understand the position of women in our country for the last 60 years or so.
Women were stereotypes once. Wooed around trees or amid sylvan landscapes of tourism-friendly places such as Gulmarg, Shimla and Darjeeling, a woman could romance in tight churidar, bouffant hair style or even in a flimsy chiffon sari at the foothills of the Alps. No less. She had sexual power when not having either a rich daddy or a very poor one, waiting to be rescued by gallant and handsome men. Sometimes, she was raped by an obnoxious villain. Her sole aim in life was to marry the right guy and combat an evil mother-in-law if the script had it, to maintain the status quo. Independent calling? Career? Talent? What’s that?
Remember the handsome Shammi Kapoor going after Sharmilla Tagore in the song “akele akele kahan ja rahi ho?” in Evening in Paris. Feminist groups could well cry foul today for does it not tantamount to the women being stalked? The consensual sex in Aradhana picturised through the song ‘roop tera mastana pyar mera diwana/bhool mujhe na ho jaye” could be an example of pre-marital rape!
Awareness of sexual harassment has killed the Hindi cinema romance!
Slowly, but gradually, a void is quickly filled up by contemporary reality, even if it is larger than life. Things began to change from the late nineties. The fantasy was replaced by a more realistic image and though it is difficult to pin it down to a particular film, offhand we can start by citing the runaway hit “Dilwale Dulhal le Jayenge” from the Yash Raj stables that showed a backpacker of a heroine (Kajol) doing Europe, never mind that she was an Indian from UK. She meets the man of her choice during such sojourns and indeed it is implied that she does have a couple of indiscreet adventures.
One by one, films began to change, drawing huge flocks of women once lost to DVD watching within the confines of their homes, into the halls, ahem…multiplexes. The men were lost to Salman bhai but the slowly empowered women wanted more than the sati savitri image that they were trapped into.
Of course everyone was out to do their stuff. DYT. Men or women. When not rescuing causes of the country, dyslexic kids, certain women-centric films are calling the box office shots. Some random examples: Desi Shudh Romance (just the opposite in fact) where the heroine as a bride is shown to have commitment phobia; Queen in which the Karol Bagh type of woman decides to go alone to Europe on her honeymoon, when the guy she is engaged to marry, ditches her.
Some others are Hasee to phasee, in which a brilliant woman is misunderstood for certain quirks in her character and more recently Tanu Weds Manu Returns (TWMR), in which world love rules but you cannot take women for granted any longer in it. No sir!
There have been several others in between, –a woman falling in love with a chef, (caste is immaterial) – and thankfully, gone are the days when Thakurs took revenge, real revenge on non-thakurs for daring to romance any of their women. Flashes of these do occur but in more gritty Anurag Kashyap films where power equations in the badlands of UP assume a more sinister element than what was once in the Wild West!
Smaller towns as typified by places like Benaras, Kanpur, Meerut etc in Uttar Pradesh are changing faster than you would think and sociological changes bring in their own share of heartburns, chaos and psychological repercussions. Watch Datto the Jat girl in TWMR played brilliantly by Kangana Raut and you will know why.
Such films are actually full of stereotypes of a different type. The father or brother is still a dominating force but there are shades of grey in women too. Different voices are clamouring to be heard. They are not merely aspirational voices but cuts deeper than that.
This new India is so mixed up; the Sikh family including the burlesque men dance the garba for instance in TWMR; the Bengali hypochondriac in Piku proclaims to all that his daughter is not a virgin. Maybe the women are a little messed up, but like you need humour to press a more serious point, we Indians are waking up to satire, complexities and to the fact that things are not the same any more. It is a bit crazy but hang on, women are getting there not just in shades of black and white but in huge blotches of grey that needs to be recognized and perhaps, respected.
Hollywood represented mainstreamed this truth decades back. Bollywood is indeed waking up to the fact for now.
Written byManjira Majumdar
Manjira Majumdar is an independent journalist & author. Her areas of interests are cinema, travel, communities, crafts and gender.