This Misogynist, Shoddy Portrayal Of Women In Bollywood Needs To Stop!

Women have always been portrayed in a very cheap, trashy, misogynist way in Bollywood. This needs to stop, as women in society are proving their mettle.

Women have always been portrayed in a very cheap, trashy, misogynist way in Bollywood. This needs to stop, as women in society are proving their mettle.

It was a rainy Saturday evening and I was enjoying some Bollywood numbers when certain facts caught my eye. The lyrics from the first song which I was humming suddenly disturbed me. It was from the movie Hum which was released in the year 1991.

Using force on a woman glorified as romance

In the song Tiger played by Amithabh Bachchan sings to his ladylove Jumma played by Kimi Katkar as he wanted a kiss from her.

Tiger sings:
“Jumma chumma de de
Jumma chumma de de chumma […]”
Jumma, reluctant to give that kiss to Tiger says:
“[…]Main ne badal diyaa iraadaa
Jummaa chummaa na de,
Jummaa chummaa naa de chummaa”

Along with Tiger are some hundred cronies who drink gallons of beer, hoses, then catch hold of Jumma and ultimately help him obtain the kiss.

My first concern was when a woman is reluctant to kiss someone, why was director Mukul Anand hell bent on showing Tiger and his men forcing them on Jumma. There was one more scene where Jumma, reluctant to pay money to Tiger hides it in her blouse. Tiger overturns her revealing her underclothes and once again forcibly obtains the money.

The case was similar in another movie “Adventures of Tarzan” released in the year 1985 and directed by B Subhash. Ruby played by (again) Kimi Katkar falls for an ape like man Tarzan played by Hemant Birje. While as per the name the epic centre of the movie should have been Tarzan, here the director had very conveniently turned the focus of audiences to the depiction of raunchy scenes of Ruby. She has been portrayed as damsel in distress that the men saw as object of lust, much like real life cases where we women are subjected to sexual fantasies of men.

I had enjoyed these movies as a young girl, but…

As a little girl I had pretty enjoyed these movies but this perception of mine changed when I was subjected to repeat groping in public by these testosterone filled men. I also know that no women has been spared from these dirty touches. And I must say Bollywood has contributed to this parochial mentality of our Indian society.

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Shalini Shaji in her article Gender Equality: An illusion in Indian Cinema, which is a study on women in the Indian Film industry, had written that a female protagonist had been projected merely as an object of sexual desire. It is also reviewed in the article that most of these movies fail to qualify the Bechdel test. Her research also says misogyny has been eternized in these movies and the women on screen had been a subject of objectification.

The misogyny, the misogyny!

She says, ‘If one focuses on the entertainment films it has been observed that none of the movies are free from item songs where a woman is shown dancing among drug peddlers, smugglers, drunkards and lot mores and when she is about to be raped or molested (if) she is lucky the hero Mr Superman will fight off the criminals and save her. Bollywood enchases on these item songs as right from a 9 year old to a 90 year old everyone would love to tap his feet on them. The item songs are provocative and have bilious lyrics but make no mistake they are the ones which keep the Hindi film (entertainment) industry going.

I would like to point out certain item songs whose lyrics are utterly disgusting, for example: “Choli ke peeche kya hein” (Khalnayak), “Sexy sexy mujhe log bole” (Khuddar), “Ankhiya Na Maar” (Ek Khiladi ek haseena), “Chamia No 1” (Zilla Ghaziabad), “Chikni Chameli” (Agneepath) and a lot more. So this is it. A woman is used to make Box office hits with these number songs. And this is how these men get a wrong message about females and it apparently looks that our Hindi film industry has no problem with it.’

Says Quartz India that Bollywood is known for its notoriety of mistreating women characters, and below are the facts and figures which ascertain the same. A survey was conducted of 4,000 Hindi movies between years 1970 and 2017 and 880 official trailers were surveyed between 2008 and 2017.

On-screen gap between male and female characters

How many

The first observation which was noticed was the on screen gap. Males were mentioned on average 30 times per plot on Wikipedia compared to female cast members, who are mentioned only 15 times. This suggests that an actress’s role is not given as much importance as the actor’s, according to the researchers.

Description of character 

Women characters were described as sensuous, attractive, and beautiful while men were outlined as brawny and successful. Majority of the cases as cited earlier showed women as a damsel in distress and in need of a man to complete her. The macho archetype portrayal was the stereotype of a man and the definition of ‘ideal women’ was submissive, self sacrificing, virgin and controlled, whereas the ‘vamps’ (‘bad’ women) were individualistic, sexually aggressive, westernized, and not sacrificing.

What they do 

The description of a male character went by their profession, e.g. cop, doctor, MLA, lawyer, gangster, executive etc while women were called as “wife of…”, “daughter of…” and the list was endless. Bollywood loves to showcase a woman mostly as a dutiful housewife, singer or teacher and they also use women as a bait to lure the audiences. Quartz also pointed out, “While 80% of the movie plots have more male mentions than females, surprisingly more than 50% movie posters feature actresses,” citing examples of movies like GangaaJal and Raees. In these movies, the males have more than 100 mentions in the plot and females have much fewer, yet the posters feature females “very prominently.”

Off-screen gap between male and female cast & crew

Talking of the off-screen gap it is also observed that the number of male playback singers is more than female singers. There were 400 male singers compared to 200 female singers and the females had been quite vocal of this inequality.

There are also very few women in the field of direction, production and cinematography. Film-making for the women in India is one of the most strenuous decisions taken as a career choice. The reason for this is the established patriarchy in the industry. It is further complicated by the restrictions imposed by family. The problem is not only confined to workplace sexism but begins right from the instance when a female student aspires to pursue a career in films. The society hardly considers girls worthy of a movie-making career.

The dialogues that reek of misogyny

To list certain noxious dialogues of male centric movies whose attempt was to tone down a female which disturbed me were

  • “Mard ko dard nehin hota” (a man never feels pain) from Mard,
  • “Aurat ki izzat par agar ek baar daag lag jaye toh woh kabhi nahi dhul sakta hein” (once a woman’s honour has been sullied, it can never be washed away) from Benaam Badshah,
  • “Agar khubsoorat ladki ko na chedo, toh woh bhi toh uski beizzati hoti hein na” (if you don’t molest a beautiful girl, even that is her dishonour) from Malamaal,
  • “Boodhi ho ya jawaan, melodrama is duniya ki sari auraton ke khoon mein hota hein” (whether old or young, all women in the world have melodrama in their blood) from 2 States,
  • “Shaadi woh keemat hein jo ek aadmi sex ke liye chukata hein. Sex woh keemat hein jo ek aurat shaadi ke liye chukata hein” (marriage is the payment a man makes for sex, sex is the payment a woman makes for marriage) (Cheeni Kum),
  • “Che Din, Ladki in” (in six days, the girl will be mine) from Kal Ho Na Ho.

Enough is enough!

The good news is that times are changing. A woman can also call the shots. Bollywood has started producing certain women centric movies which includes, Queen, Chak De India, Arth, Kahaani, Angry Indian Goddesses and lot more. We also have Indian women who had strayed from stereotypes and have emerged as powerful women film directors like Mira Nair, Aparna Sen, Deepa Mehta, Reema Kagti, Zoya Akhtar, Shonali Bose, Meghna Gulzar, and the list is only increasing.

Just so you know women can protect themselves and do not need a man. She can be absolute stylish and that does not make her less “pativrata”, if pativrata is what is espoused. Women have excellent leadership skills. Bollywood, though has taken tiny steps, has certainly inched forward in showcasing a woman as a powerhouse who can run the show alone. We often see ourselves through movies, so Bollywood should be more sensible to portray a woman character and not promote sexism in India.

Image source: still from the movie Ra One

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About the Author

Rimli Bhattacharya

Rimli Bhattacharya is a First class gold medalist in Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology, an MBA in supply chain management and is engaged with a corporate sector. Her essay in the anthology “Book read more...

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