Indian society is traditionally considered as a patriarchal society. So even the cinematic world deems to project women as in the factual life and hence Indian Film industry is male-dominated.
Recently the topic of wage inequality in the film industry was in the news. There is still a large gap between the wages of female and male actors. Leading actress Vidya Balan recently said in an interview that she will strive to end the male-female disparity in Bollywood especially as far as money is concerned.
Stereotypical Portrayal of women in
The portrayal of women in the history of Indian films from the era of silent films to the present has undergone numerous changes. Despite the changes, women are still portrayed as a secondary character in most commercial films even today. This stereotypical portrayal of women in Indian cinema is mainly due to historical and cultural reasons.
Initially, society stigmatized women from acting in films. So, when women started acting the directors had to comply with the social norms in the portrayal of women. Women mostly played the roles of a daughter (taking care of her brothers, helping the mother in the kitchen), a great wife (taking great care of her husband, children, and would lead the rest of her life by embracing her husband’s memories, once she became a widow). It was seen that these roles of women were mainly inspired from ‘Manusmriti’, which had an immense influence in shaping society’s proper code of conduct.
A woman was never given independence, and she was expected to obey and subordinate status to her father before marriage, her husband after marriage, and finally, her son after she became a widow. The themes concerning family, marriage, being married and performing role of an ideal wife, mother, and daughter by conforming to family values had become pivotal in most commercial Bollywood cinema eg. “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun” (1995).
Maximum movies which are produced in India are male-centric movies or hero-centric movies. Women have always played only decorative roles in Indian films. They are either damsel in distress or demented feminists or glam dolls. Mostly they are portrayed as an object of sexual desire eg. illogical insertion of item songs in Indian movies. “Chhamma chhamma” song in “China Gate” made that film hit!
Even if women are given important roles they either play as victims or martyrs or victimizers of other women. Hardly are they given any realistic character to play. “Mother India” was an exception in which a woman was shown to come out of her shell and raise a voice against injustice. Filmmakers like Satyajit Ray, Aparna Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Shyam Benegal made some great movies portraying realistic women characters showing ambitions and real emotions of women. But they were all either in Bengali cinema or in parallel Hindi cinema and not in mainstream Hindi cinema.
However, things are changing gradually. The 64th National Awards acknowledge the impact of women-led films in Bollywood. There is “Neerja” which not only won the Best Hindi Film award but also saw the actress Sonam Kapoor receive a special mention certificate. Then there is “Pink” which won the Best Film on Social Issues award.
Till 1970s-80s there were very few female directors like Sai Paranjapye, Aparna Sen. After 1980s Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta came into film direction. And now there are many young female directors coming up such as Gauri Shinde, Zoya Akhtar, Kiran Rao, Reema Kagti, Tanuja Chandra, Nandita Das etc.
After “Dirty Picture”(2011) and “Kahani”(2012) the year 2014 proved to be a landmark year with “Highway”, “Dedh Ishqiya”, “Mary Kom” and the game changer “Queen”. After that came “Piku”, “Pink”, “Neerja”, “Parched”, “Kahaani2”, “Dear Zindagi”, “Phobia”, “Jai Gangajal”, “Akira”. These films put female characters in the centre and don’t adhere to any formula. While heroines take the centre stage heroes don’t seem to mind going to the sidelines and gender roles are getting redefined slowly but surely. You even have male superstars fighting for women’s cause, like Amir Khan in “Dangal”.
Reasons behind the change
But what are the reasons behind such a change? Filmmaker Srijit Mukherji of “Begum Jaan” recently said in an interview that cinema is merely reflecting the society. Across all the spheres women are increasingly becoming more vocal about their rights, struggles, their freedom of choice. That is finding its expression through the cinematic idiom. We can take back to Nirbhaya rape case of 2012 and the discourse it sparked off. The protest against violence, brutality, the stress on consent and the call for gender equality reverberating in the society and reflecting in films as well. The latest spark has been lit by the “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” campaign.
According to a recent survey the demographics in the film industry has been changing over the years. Ten years ago, there were not many female writers in the industry and now 40 to 50% writers are women. So naturally, their writings reflect what women are thinking today.
It is now getting relatively easy to raise money for women’s films too. Heroines like Kangana Ranaut, Vidya Balan, Radhika Apte, Konkana Sen are backing unusual projects because it gives them more recognition instead of just doing films with male stars.
The intricacies of the portrayals, financing and money-making models aside, what does matter immensely is that at least such films are being made. They need the support of big stars now, but we can hope that in a few days these stories can walk on their own!