When Feminism Is Used To Sell Movies On ‘Women’s Issues’ But Have Men Front And Centre

Feminism has become almost a selling point for some current movies , but aren't these either riding on male actors, or turning feminism into a 'commodity'?

Feminism has become almost a selling point for some current movies , but aren’t these either riding on male actors, or turning feminism into a ‘commodity’?

A film seeks its audience through targeted marketing. The first glimpse of any film is its promotional posters, teasers and trailers, along with the innumerable interviews and discussions with the cast and crew on print, radio and of course TV and social media spaces.

Films are categorically placed in particular genres and often the theme of the film is suggested through intelligent marketing devices. Sometimes a film gets promoted for its stance on sensitive issues like women’s issues or gender politics. The manner in which a film is projected speaks volumes about the industry, and it is interesting to observe the mode in which it negotiates themes as sensitive as women empowerment.

Mainstream cinema seems to be thrilled to have discovered a subject that looks equally appealing to the masses as well as to the critics. It is a currently relevant, hugely controversial subject, feminism.

Feminist themes seem to be fashionable these days. We have a handful of films that deal with women’s issues in a sensitive manner, no doubt. Kudos to the film makers! So why should we worry? Why do we need to reflect upon this ‘fad’ that seems to be quite empowering to women in a misogynist society like India?

Let us scan through a few films that got released as films with women-centred themes.


Pink (2016) was a film that garnered praise from film makers, critics and audience for its women friendly theme and treatment. Though the film addressed a relevant issue of consent and abuse of women in a daring act, the presence of an elderly, mentally ill once upon a time, retired lawyer, a recognized ‘failure of a man’ at the helm of affairs, speaking for the young women did challenge the position the film claimed to adopt.

But what is striking about the film is the promotional aspect when the film sought to sell itself as a feminist film. Using the name ‘Pink’ for the film reveals a clear agenda, and the promotional events for the film had the looming figure of Amitabh Bachchan as the anchor person, with the female actors occupying the stage along with him. Bachchan’s open letter to his granddaughters deserves to be mentioned here which he himself admitted helped in promoting the film and revealing the essence of the film, without actually disclosing the storyline prior to its release.

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Though the film did lead to constructive debates and discussions around the question of consent and female choices, the confused psyche of the Indian society with regards to the positioning of the female in cultural narratives as well as in social discourses becomes quite evident.


Dangal (2016) is another movie that rode on the wave of feminism towards a huge success.

Though the country is a patriarchally conditioned male hegemonic one, feminism, though often misconceived, is a popular trope. Feminist films catch the attention of the critics, the academia as well as the urban viewers.

Dangal was a cleverly structured film, built around the real life hero Geeta Phogat, yet placed centrally was the father, played by Aamir Khan. With numerous instances in the film pointing towards the centrality of the father figure in the narrative, the film succeeded in promoting itself as a film on the struggle of a girl who excelled in a sport traditionally associated with men in the Indian context.

Tumhari Sulu

Tumhari Sulu (2017) is yet another film that claimed to be a feminist film and the promotion for the movie, with the aggressive marketing with Sulu speaking quite assertively about women’s issues was quite impressive.

The film has a regular middle-class urban woman, quite healthy looking and living the life of every other woman you meet on the streets of cities like Mumbai or Delhi or Jaipur or any other city in India. Her life takes a turn when she makes a choice, and the film unravels the normalcy of her life and the turmoil that she faces later on in her life.

The movie, its protagonist played by Vidya Balan throws the life of this ordinary Indian woman into limelight and hopes to challenge a few stereotypes in every possible way: Questions are asked and answers meant to shock you can be heard on your radio, can be seen on your TV screens, on your youtube channel and every where possible.

When promotional videos reveal a cheerful bubbly Sulu challenging patriarchal hegemony, you can’t help but question the intention. Is this a genuine concern for women or is it all part of turning feminism into yet another commodity? In the era of post-feminism, media seeks to exploit popular discourses and employ them as unique selling points.

Feminism reduced to identity politics?

It is quite a frightening scenario when an ideology like feminism is reduced to identity politics and core issues get submerged in all the noise created by the market. When ideologies get commodified, we lose track of the several major issues that plague women in India. The woes of the middle class urban Indian woman are only one among the many problems faced by Indian women. Yet we prefer to eulogize these films as women-friendly films.

Are they films that address the core issues that women face in Indian society or are they equipped to merely touch upon the surface in a shallow manner and still claim to be women-focused films? An interview during the promotion of the film Pink in which the cast and director of the film Pink speaks about the film, began with this statement by the anchor, “The film ends where the movement starts”. Does it, really?

Post-feminism asks you to be wary of such feminist expressions of creativity that populate popular culture, since they try to focus on identity politics at an individual level. Honest interventions are few and rare and marginal causes are ignored completely, especially in the Indian context. Moreover, while feminism becomes yet another product for consumption, and popular media projects images of feminist identities ideal for the neoliberal market, narratives, unfortunately, fail to perceive the harsh reality of gender inequalities and exploitation that exists at several levels, in numerous forms.

Image source: YouTube

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About the Author

Swapna Gopinath

Reads and writes and thinks about gender identities and cultural contexts.. involves actively in women's issues.. read more...

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