Gone are the days when Bollywood used to specialize in churning out only male-centric movies. There were times when our heroes used to be super humans with powers that even God would have hesitated to manifest. Our heroines were inevitably ‘cute’, irrational and dumb. Our families were massive piles of relatives dressed in garish clothes and living in ugly bungalows. Our idea of wooing a girl was dangerously close to molestation. Our assumptions regarding the IQ of our audiences were different. The movies catered mostly to the intelligence of an imagined front-bencher, and were inane, vulgar and obscene.
Cut to the present. The heroes are no longer diffident about shedding their macho image and reveal their softer side on the screen. The heroines have now become far more decisive and assertive. They resist amorous advances. They call the shots. They continue to be as beautiful as ever, but have become far bolder.
Women have found their own voice in the movies, perhaps mirroring the kind of social changes in the offing. More and more female protagonists now sweep us off our feet not only by their chutzpah but also by their brains and brawn. The males are still around, but they often got relegated to the background. If they happen to be in the foreground, they happen to be in a supportive role. Or, they get teased, mocked at and hounded till the time they mend their corrupt and lecherous ways.
Some movies have even gone ahead and made us wonder if the members of the tribe of the so-called sterner sex are even necessary in the scheme of things. However, for the evolution of our species, a balanced approach is called for. A realization is to dawn that women are not objects of lust, violence and humiliation. They deserve all the respect and adoration that is rightfully due to them.
Rays of hope
Here are some Bollywood offerings in the recent past which have had women-centric scripts and have also done well commercially. Most of these have depicted strong females, real or imaginary, who have carried the narrative on their strong shoulders and turned the tables on the so-called sterner sex.
(The Mermaid, 2012, Nilab Madhab Panda)
A delightful movie which makes an effective comment on the issue of female foeticide.
(The Story, 2012, Sujoy Ghosh)
A courageous widow who tries to unravel the mystery behind the unfortunate death of her husband in a poison gas attack on the Kolkatta metro.
(The Pink Brigade, 2014, Soumik Sen)
Here is a gang of women activists and vigilantes who take up issues like domestic violence, the dowry system, rape, civic service deficiencies, and female education.
(2014, Vikas Bahl)
When her fiancé calls off their wedding, the heroine decides to register a protest by proceeding on a mono-honeymoon trip, savouring life on her own.
(2014, Nagesh Kukunoor)
A girl is kidnapped and sold into prostitution. Assisted by a lawyer, she faces violent threats, coercion and bribes, stands up in court and in a landmark case in India, succeeds in putting the traffickers behind bars.
(2014, Omung Kumar)
A biographical sports film which depicted the famous Indian boxer’s ascendance to fame. The heroine pursues her passion even while she discharges her family responsibilities with the support of her husband.
(The Masculine One, 2014, Pradeep Sarkar)
A policewoman takes personal interest in the case of a kidnapped teenage girl and ends up busting a gang specializing in human trafficking in India.
(2015, Leena Yadav)
The movie captured various evils of the society – deep-seated attitudes of patriarchy, child marriage, dowry, marital rapes and physical and mental abuse of women.
(Hail the water of the Ganges, 2016, Prakash Jha)
A newly appointed police officer stands up to her seniors and attempts to end the reign of corruption, terror and anarchy in the area under her charge.
(2016, Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury)
Built around an incident of molestation and attempted rape, the movie highlighted the regressive attitudes towards women who dress ‘inappropriately’ and attend parties, thereby being considered fair game. A “NO” may come from any woman – a girlfriend a sex-worker, or even one’s wife – and needs to be respected as such.
(2016, Ram Madhvani)
A courageous flight head purser stands up against the vicious hijackers of a plane. She helps to save 359 of the 379 passengers and crew on board but gets killed in the process. Based on a true incident, wherein the woman received Ashok Chakra posthumously, the highest civilian honour in India.
Nil Battey Sannata
(Good for nothing, 2016, Ashwini Iyer Tiwari)
An uneducated household maid and single mother of a young girl sets out to ensure that her daughter dreams big and changes her lot in life.
Ki and Ka
(She and He, 2016, R Balki)
A delectable tale of role reversal of genders in a marriage, where the wife becomes the bread-winner and the husband takes care of the household.
(The Wrestling Competition, 2016, Nitesh Tiwari)
A real-life father braves opposition from the society to train his daughters to become star wrestlers, who go on to win international recognition.
Blast from the past
This is not to say that Bollywood has not come up with women-centric movies in the past. Here are some which readily spring to one’s mind.
Hunterwali (1935, Homi Wadia)
Mother India (1957, Mehboob Khan)
Bandini (1963, Bimal Roy)
Khamoshi (1969, Asit Sen)
Insaaf Ka Tarazu (1976, B R Chopra)
Bhumika (1977, Shyam Benegal)
Arth (1982, Mahesh Bhatt)
Mirch Masala (1987, Ketan Mehta)
Aastha (1997, Basu Bhattacharya)
Godmother (1999, Vinay Shukla)
Astitva (2000, Mahesh Manjrekar)
Lajja (2001, Rajkumar Santoshi)
Then and now
The difference is that women in earlier movies were mostly the sacrificing, the weepy and the self-pitying kind. They would take matters in their own hands but only when driven against a wall. Now, they come into their own out of sheer free will, revealing the inner strength they possess.
However, the fight against a deeply entrenched patriarchical mindset is far from being over. What we see today are mere green shoots, that too on the silver screen, which are confined to the metrosexual male. Movies directed at upwardly mobile urban youth alone mirror the new set of values. Centuries of social hierarchy has conditioned male minds to accept only certain conservative patterns of behaviour and dress for women. A person who deviates, dresses differently and goes partying is seen as fair game.
Creativity, Commerciality and Social Challenges
Creativity innovates. Commerciality exploits. For good cinema to flourish, a culturally vibrant social environment is necessary. If fine arts are better understood and appreciated, if there is a solid rooting in humanities and social sciences, imaginative and responsible movie makers would surely come up with meaningful entertainment which nurtures the soul while giving pleasure.
The intrinsic purpose of movies is commercial. However, if the message being conveyed also helps the society to correct itself, there is a real value-add which needs to be lauded. Producers and directors who come up with such creative offerings deserve all the admiration and adulation they richly deserve.
Needed: Different shades of chivalry
Indian males really need to reboot themselves for the 21st century. They could learn a lot about the art of chivalry from such heroes as Ashok (Anupama, 1966, Hrishikesh Mukherjee) and Arun (Chhoti Si Baat, 1975, Basu Chatterjee). This change can only start at the dining table and in the kitchen, within the confines of a home.
Parents of those who indulged in ‘mass molestation’ in a premier metro of India recently need to seriously introspect and start grooming their wards to practice different shades of chivalry in the days to come.
Bertie Wooster would surely approve. So would the likes of Honoria Glossop and Florence Craye.