Breaking the filter of women are represented in films is important. Here’s what the Bollywood panel at the Orange Flower Festival had to say about it.
For ages, the media has had the tendency to make women’s reality disappear on the screen. Films, in particular, have had a serious lack of representation for women. And the ones that have women, often portray them through the eyes of men.
Although in recent times with people trying to take feminism forward women-centric movies have started to emerge. The representation of women also seems to have changed a little. But the question is if it is enough.
No, it’s not. Statistics show that the number of women-centric movies is way too less as compared to movies that have male domination. Not just that, even in major blockbuster movies, women are confined to the roles of an eye-candy, a dumb character. Or depending on the man, they are the ideal ‘sati savitri’ types.
During the Orange Flower Festival organised by Women’s Web, a discussion over this very representation of women took place. The discussion had acclaimed film critic Sucharita Tyagi, actress Aahana Kumra, screenwriter and author Kanika Dhillon and was moderated by the radio artist RJ Prerna. Here is what I learn from the panel discussion.
On being asked about the representation of women, Manmarziyan’s screenwriter commented that the things we commend men for are the same thing we disgrace women over. “An ambitious man is inspiring but an ambitious girl is a bitch, selfish, bossy and not worthy of being a homemaker.”
Despite how disgraceful what Kanika said sounds, it is the reality of our country. We live in a society where even today women are asked not to dream at all. And even if they dare to dream, they are told to sacrifice their dreams for the sake of marriage, a family and being the ideal ‘homemaker.’
There is no problem in being a homemaker. The problem lies in the part of sacrificing one’s dreams because according to the society, women are born to be ambition-less homemakers. We need to understand that taking care of your house and family has nothing to do with ambitions or gender.
Further bashing the stereotypes Kanika commented on the social conditioning. She said, “Both men and women should be ambitious and do what they want. If men want to cry they should. Crying is an emotion.”
Now social conditioning is very important in shaping us as individuals. Our behaviour and mindset are defined by the kind of conditioning we are brought up in. This conditioning is also affected by the representation of women in movies.
For ages men have been the dominant, educated and sensible characters. And women have been the uneducated, dukhiyari, bechari, lachar sahara of the mard (quiet, obedient, suffering and sacrificing partner to the deeds of men) Now this representation has even led to set filters for women in real life.
Kanika cited an example of this where she mentioned a director’s comment on Manmarziyan. After having gone through the script he commented that how could a women have sex while her shaadi ka chuda was still on! Despite all the other problems the movie tried to portray, this was the director’s most important take away. This is the filter that needs to be taken away and changed.
Critic Sucharita Tyagi pointed out the very basic fact that most of the women characters are written by men. Hence the characters are written from the man’s perspective and set filters.
Now the fact is that men writing women characters is the very reason why women are either mostly represented in two ways. They are either the unsanskaari woman who is often the bad influence. Or the ideal sanskaari one who the makers want the viewers to take inspiration from. There is rarely ever a middle ground for that’s how the patriarchal society sees women.
The lady who smokes, drinks, goes to parties, works, hangs out with men is a bad influence and wants to lure men in. While the sanskari, abla, quiet, decent lady is the one that others should aspire to become. This filter is very evidently seen in major Bollywood movies. This male domination in screenwriting also leads to women characters being seen through the male gaze. And hence the importance of more women to tell stories of women has increased.
Sucharita even pointed out how often people shame her for watching movies with a ‘feminist filter.’ “I don’t know what to say to people who call me out for having a feminist filter like ‘Jaa na chomu, mai duniya ko feminist perspective se dekhti hu’ because that is who I am as an individual,” she said.
Women are often shamed for bringing feminism everywhere. We need to understand that feminism is not male-bashing. This is quite often misunderstood by women too. However, it doesn’t mean that the movement is not necessary as it is all about equality. And thus, bringing in feminism everywhere is the need of the hour.
Also calling people who represent women stories and perspectives as ‘Feminazi’ is not cool. It’s disgraceful to the feminist struggle going on since the 18th century. Comparing feminists who demand equality to the Nazi army which was all about discrimination is just not sensible
Sucharita also pointed out that a movie is never just a movie. It always has a message and will influence society in one or the other way.
“A story’s job is to manage or influence a point of view. A film is a form of storytelling. Regardless of the notion that ye to message wali movie hi nahi hai it’s just entertainment, every story comes with a message. Every piece of content that creators put out there has a message.”
To film ko film ki tarah dekho is all worthless. There is always a message to be absorbed. So it is the duty of the filmmakers to make movies that have a message that uplifts the society, not to just highlight and glorify toxic masculinity. *coughs Kabir Singh*
Actress Aahana Kumra pointed out that this is the time when women have proven that they can make a movie a hit on their own.
“Indians are used to putting things under the carpet. We tend to work on age-old norms and formulas. Sanitary pads should be hidden. Women can’t do a lot on their own and a successful film can only happen with a proper male star cast. It is high time ki ab vo movies bane jisme 12 aurte ho and saala aadha mard ho! Because women can carry the film on their shoulders,” she said.
With actresses like Kangana Ranaut, Taapsee Pannu, Deepika Padukone, Vidhya Balan, Priyanka Chopra, Radhika Apte taking up strong women characters. And making straight-up block busters, there is proof that change is taking place. It is slowly becoming obvious that women are no longer seen through the eyes of the patriarchal mindset.
Change is taking place, but it is slow. We still see a slew of senseless, baseless, misogynistic and testosterone-driven movies being made. Hence, the change of the sisterhood mode effective is very important.
Aahana pointed out that “Actresses no longer just want to be heroines, they want to be characters. Everyone wants to be a character and this new age wave of change inspires sisterhood. Now many other women after seeing powerful female characters on the big screen are going to think ki yaar ye kar sakte to hum bhi kar sakte hai.”
As a storyteller, the entire discussion gave me a whole new perspective. It made me think of how we, as women, hold the responsibility to nurture the feeling of empowerment among one another and how we need to break the filter of stereotypes.
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I read, I write, I dream and search for the silver lining in my life.
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