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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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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Ms. Kulkarni, please don’t apologise ‘IF’ you think you hurt women. Apologise because you got your facts wrong. Apologise for making sexual harassment a casual joke.
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I’d shared my thoughts on her problematic speech in an earlier article. So, I’ll share why I felt Kulkarni’s apology post was more damaging than her speech.
If her speech made her an overnight hero among MRAs, sexists, and people who were awed by her dramatic words, then her apology post made her a legendary saint.
There are many mountains I need to climb just to be, just to live my life, just to have my say... because they are mountains you've built to oppress women.
Trigger Warning: This deals with various kinds of violence against women including rape, and may be triggering for survivors.
I haven’t climbed a literal mountain yet
Was busy with the metaphorical ones – born a woman
Fighting for the air that should have come free
And I am one of the privileged ones, I realize that
Yet, if I get passionate, just like you do
I will pay for it – with burden, shame, – and possibly a life to carry
So, my mountains are the laws you overturn
My mountains are the empty shelves where there should have been pills
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