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The International Indian Film Awards (IIFA) this year had three awards that clearly highlighted how women-centric stories are becoming mainstream in Indian cinema. It’s time to celebrate, even if cautiously!
While the focus on women wasn’t as overt as the #MeToo campaign at the Golden Globe Awards, IIFA honoured strong women-centric movies by giving the Best Female Actor to Sridevi for Mom, Best Supporting Actor to Meher Vij for Secret Superstar and the Best Picture Award to Tumhari Sulu which had Vidya Balan as the lead.
Bollywood is surely past the days when women had just two major roles – a damsel in distress or a vamp. It is delightful to see movies such as Tumhari Sulu, where Vidhya Balan’s cheerful character experiments with various things and finally lands a job as a radio jockey on a late night show doing semi-adult content. Secret Superstar depicts an ardent young girl who fights against patriarchal systems and realises her dreams; and in Mom, Sridevi’s character fights a misogynist system to make justice possible for her step-daughter who was raped.
This definitely seems like a coming of age for Bollywood. 2017 saw movies such as Begum Jaan, Lipstick Under My Burka, The Mother, Simran, Noor, Anaarkali of Aarah, Naam Shabana, Phillauri, that parleyed with sexist structures. These movies have tried to change the discourse about women in cinema. They have challenged notions of female sexuality, empowerment, strength and capability. Some of these movies even faced strong opposition but that helped in bringing about more public discussion of taboo topics. The slowly increasing number of female filmmakers has also played an important role in bringing about this change.
Previously, movies like Pink, Piku, Dear Zindagi, Neerja, Kahani, Sarbjit, English Vinglish, Queen etc have also received a positive response form the Indian audiences, in the process challenging conventional beliefs.
While a few women-centric movies are made every year and do well commercially and critically, there are still a lot of movies that objectify women. These pro-women movies have to compete against the mainstream male dominated movies and their item numbers. Bollywood produces about 1500 movies every year although very few are commercially known and only a handful of them deal with women.
The industry needs to more women-centric movies that are well-received and become the norm rather than an exception,. In the past a lot of research has shown how movies influence sexual harassment and other violent behaviour. Above all, it shapes the way we as people think about women. Movies are also a reflection of society but the depiction and glorification of objectifying women will only reinforce the existing beliefs.
To change the dialogue around women we need more female filmmakers – directors and producers as well as female writers who write different stories and change the clichéd perceptions of women. We must stop expecting powerful female narratives from people who make misogynist movies. It seems like the perfect time for women to enter the film industry not just as aspiring actors but as story-tellers, producers, directors, sound engineers, foley artists, cinematographers, editors…and more!
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