Raj Kapoor’s Problematic ‘Portrayal Of Raw Female Sexuality’ In Indian Cinema

Raj Kapoor is often considered the greatest showman in Bollywood. While his films were good, how progressive was the portrayal of women?

Sex sells.

And when it comes to women and portrayal of female sexuality through cinematic lens, the folks are all the more intrigued, with their passion lust filled, the male gaze tries to explore all the curves he can find onscreen.

Did we have so much sex, oops I mean sex in the movies of 40’s? We know the answer. In the 50’s it was sizzling hot with Raj – Nargis pair bringing out the thrill of women sexuality in a raw way in Indian Cinema.

“Pyaar hua, ikraar hua hai
Pyaar se phir kyoon darrta hai dil”

Raj Kapoor is considered a living legend. His discovery, the enigmatic Simi Garewal went to make a documentary post his demise. Simi was his heroine, his invention. Now clad in white, she looks no less than a stunning diva. Not to forget she speaks so well. Well, I am getting distracted.

Raj Kapoor’s journey as a filmmaker

I was talking about Raj Kapoor. Born in Peshawar, he was an actor who later turned into a film writer, producer, and director. Recipient of several awards, he was at the epitome of his career in the 50s. He made several hits. We very much know quite a few of them. The thinker in me posed a question to self: “Isn’t this man the one who introduced raw sexuality in the Indian Cinemas?”

I was a little girl back then when I watched his movie “Mera Naam Joker” after his demise. Though I couldn’t understand a thing about it then, I later realized where he had taken female sexuality to. A chubby child, a student falling in love with his teacher, eyes feasting on her legs when she falls in the river and then fantasizing her nude?

The boy who acted was none other but his son, the Late Rishi Kapoor. How can one even think about it? It’s a sin, man, it’s a sin. Yes, romanticizing a teacher, and then God knows what else cannot be taken in the right spirit. I would like to pose this question to Simi: what made her agree to such a role? Raj Kapoor may be her mentor, but what is wrong is wrong.

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Sex sold his movies, yes!

In Satyam Shivam Sundaram, why was Zeenat Aman exposed so much? The camera constantly focused on her cleavages and curves. If the content is good (which it actually was) then why strip a woman so much so that the female audience in particular finds it embarrassing? The movie is based on beauty, how a good look can capture a man to the extent that he leaves his newly wedded wife only to run to the arms of his lover. Apparently, his wife and his lover are the same woman. Yet, sex sold.

Mandakini in Ram Teri Ganga Maili was furiously vulnerable. With bare breasts, the beauty was exposed in all possible vulgar ways a man can do under the label of sobriety. The film dragged controversial reviews but otherwise, it was a big hit. One thing I must admit is that this particular film has also portrayed our patriarchal society in a very unabashed way.

The men were ruthless, and sex-starved, and that is a fact that we face even today. Women’s breasts are an object of man’s fantasy, and Raj Kapoor left no stone unturned to prove it.

Where is Mandakini now? I have heard she had married a spiritual master and is a mother to a charming son. What dragged her to live in a monastery now? Is it repentance? Okay, that’s none of my business.

Raj Kapoor’s own chemistry with Nargis was tumultuous. He was married, he had children but both carried their steamy affair until the day Nargis realized that he used her. He never loved her let alone marry. Though, it is said, that Raj Kapoor had locked himself the whole day in his room, gulping down drinks on the day Nargis got married to a much younger Sunil Dutt. Unable to bear this trauma Raj Kapoor’s wife went into depression.

A family of misogynist men who objectified women

Any woman in her place would have been in the same pitiful state. And that reminds me of the tragic hero, Guru Dutt and his love for two women. But there is a difference between Kapoor and Dutt. Kapoor made bold movies while Dutt’s were all tragedies. Kapoor introduced sex in cinema and Dutt induced depression in a black and white world.

If I study RK’s films, Kapoor’s male characters in all these classics were from his family. It is also said RK wouldn’t allow women in his family to work in movies until his grand-daughter Karishma broke the taboo. If you subtly think, you will realize the reason behind this ban. RK’s films were so full of sex and impurities that he didn’t want his female bloodline to carry the stink.

In closure, I say it’s not necessary to bring sex in every movie, unlike how it is in Raj Kapoor’s movies. We have made several blockbusters and our film industry is a witness to how well those movies have faired in the market. Sex sells but that is desperation, and it shows how needy and lusty one can be. Having said this, I ask the legend Raj Kapoor to forgive me for being a big mouth. It goes without saying that he was a man far ahead of his time. He stole hearts of billions and his legacy carries forward.

Long live Raj Kapoor, the man who introduced raw sexuality of women in Indian Cinema!

Image Source: Still from the film Satyam Shivam Sundaram

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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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