6 Things Smita Patil Said About Hindi Cinema In A 1983 Interview That Make Her A Feminist

This 40-year-old interview of Smita Patil on Doordarshan shows us how she was a feminist, way ahead of her times, unabashedly calling out the problematic aspects of the Hindi film industry.

Smita Patil was an iconic actress in the 1970s and 80s, known for her work in parallel cinema, apart from mainstream Bollywood movies.

Today, 17th October, would have been her 67th birthday, so let’s re-visit this 40 year old interview she gave on Doordarshan in 1983. A feminist at a time when feminism was not known much in India.

Being a feminist in 2022, I still sometimes feel the need to be “careful” with my words, while making observations about the patriarchy around me. I can only imagine the grit and candor that Smita Patil had back in the 1980s, that shines through in this interview. Her words show great clarity of thought, and she is certainly a feminist.

Here are 6 observations she makes during the interview that make it clear.

Consistently played strong women of tenacity and grit

She speaks of her pride in her roles in movies like Bhumika and Manthan, where she played strong characters that showcased the real inner strength, tenacity, and grit of Indian women from all walks of life.

In Manthan, she plays Bindu – a single mother in a village, who takes life’s challenges head-on. In Bhumika, she is Usha – an actress who tries to find her footing in a world dominated by men.

Rues the unidimensional ‘pativrata’ or ‘vamp’ roles women were offered

She talks about how women’s roles in formulaic movies did not extend beyond black and white. Women were either shown as “Pativrata” whose sole purpose was to serve men, or in the other extreme, who were merely there for skin show.

It’s clear how there was very little effort from filmmakers to show intelligent women on screen.

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Calls out how sex workers are portrayed in mainstream cinema

When the topic shifts to prostitution, she does not vilify sex workers. She identifies how good cinema has also been made around the topic of sex work, showing the struggles these women go through. But she calls out the portrayal of sex workers in mainstream cinema, where they are used merely as a prop for nudity.

Points out the utter lack of control women actors have on their exploitation

She points out how the film industry and distributors exploit actresses to attract audiences to the theaters, with provocative posters. She talks of how most actresses do not have a choice or say in their roles, especially when they are still trying to establish themselves in the industry.

She explains that given a choice, she wouldn’t have endorsed the kind of publicity that some of her posters were used for.

Talks of some mainstream cinema movies finally challenging stereotypes

She talks of emerging mainstream cinema that challenges such stereotypes, quoting “Mujhe Insaaf Chahiye” as an example, which had women fighting against their rapists.

This is notable for that point in time, as rape was often only used as a plot point for male actors to “avenge” or “seek justice for”, with the women involved shown as powerless.

Shares her insight into how the average Indian woman in trapped by patriarchy

She then goes on to talk about how an average Indian woman trapped in the trenches of patriarchy, is systematically kept there. She observes the weak representation of such women on screen, where their ultimate validation is to be “accepted” by the men in their lives. She is vocal about how important it is to inspire them to fight against the system, through strong female leads in cinema.

Smita is truly inspirational, for using her voice to call out the problematic aspects of Hindi cinema and aspiring to represent Indian women in a better light on the big screen. To appreciate how truly valuable her views are, we must remember that this is from an era when feminism was not as prevalent as it is today.

Image source: Filmfare and YouTube

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About the Author

Jayashree Ravi

An engineer turned SAHM of two who wants to be known beyond that. Passionate about words, parenting, making eco-friendly choices, feminism and lifelong learning. read more...

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