Every time I take a survey, I hate checking all the boxes that are supposed to give the company an accurate read of who I am, in 10 questions or less. Woman – Yes, Age – 18-30 – Yes, Single – Yes, Profession – Officially, Media, I guess. Father’s Last Name – Irrelevant to my application, thank you.
These vague questions go into the company’s algorithm for profile demographic, to generate necessary market research and analysis. However, it is not just companies that create a checklist for judgment, society does too.
India is notoriously patriarchal with numerous taboos around woman’s behaviour, yet uniquely progressive with women leaders in government and high ranking corporate positions. This dichotomy is tough to merge and behaviours are hard to reform. To help with this reformation of woman’s value in India, I inevitably turn to media, especially the mainstream and powerful, Bollywood.
In the digital era, reality is a form of entertainment and more so than ever, life is truly imitating art. Subtle and blatant messages in cinema infiltrate everyday culture, primarily those surrounding women and equality.
Movies in the 70s and 80s frequently incorporated rape scenes where the villain viciously pursued a “damsel in distress.” Luckily for her, the hero would appear and beat the villain senseless (but of course!), thereby successfully rescuing this poor, meek, and vulnerable woman.
Watching these older films is still horrifying because the emphasis in the scene was placed on this hero’s valiant rescue, as opposed to the villain’s deplorable actions. The emotional, mental and physical trauma of rape or attempted rape was brushed aside, and the woman embraced her sexuality by seductively shaking her hips and then falling into the arms of another man, the hero.
In the 90s and early 2000s, the rape scenes diminished, but a more subtle form of sexual harassment came to fruition. The storylines always had a beautiful heroine who started out hating and being frustrated by the hero’s advances. After numerous times of her saying “NO!” he would continue to pursue her aggressively till her anger transformed into desire.
Sexual harassment, under this poorly disguised veil of flirting or “playing hard to get,” is a dangerous message for the Indian youth who use cinema as a blueprint for their own love lives.
Finally, in 2012 cinema, women are slowly appearing multi dimensional and are competing in a male dominated “hero” society. While I can commend the prevalent yet slow growing trend, I must wonder how the emphasis on the fictional “modern woman” is still shackling real life women to stereotypical boxes.
In the movie, Cocktail, Deepika Padukone plays an unconventional girl who dresses provocatively and engages in sexual relations with Saif Ali Khan. Conveniently, Saif enjoys his affair with “wild child” Deepika, but falls in love with the other lead, Diana Pentey (Deepika’s best friend in the film): a traditional woman whom he deems appropriate for marriage, and possibly visualises as a conservative housewife.
Modern Vs traditional women
This is an infuriatingly shallow definition of a “modern” Vs “traditional” role for women. Making life decisions in dress, love, sex, careers cannot be categorised as “western” or “traditional” because these decisions are neither black and white nor does one choice dictate how she should make others.The real Indian woman plays a stronger set of diverse roles in her modern day life than any of the female characters I have seen in Bollywood.
Next, Cocktail pits one woman against the other signifying that one must be right and the other wrong. This idea of choice elicits the notion of winning and losing from viewers instead of exploring the intricacies of varying human dynamics where there is no obvious winner or loser.
Lastly, Saif holds all the cards; he can have his cake (Deepika) and eat it too (Diana).
This last point resonates strongly because it reinforces the idea that the man will have fun with the free spirited girl but will still go with the traditional “good girl” for marriage. What this movie fails to touch on is the dynamic of friendship between Diana and Deepika and how in reality, two best friends would never share a man without it adversely affecting their friendship. In addition, the movie just cheapens the concept of love because Saif can easily transfer his love from girl to girl. Overall, the movie iterates the age-old belief that women must play a certain part to please the man.
While it may not be Bollywood’s duty to ensure positive portrayals of women, the industry does occupy a unique platform, which it can use to incite change and introduce a variety of female characters.
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