Posts Tagged ‘Feminism’


Recently, a friend asked me what I thought of Katrina Kaif’s character in the just released Dhoom-3movies katrina(The Blast-3, 2013). Even at the risk of offending some of you, I confess I found it full of chutzpah and oomph but, alas, hollow otherwise. From this perspective, the script of Dhoom-2 perhaps etched the characters played by Aishwarya Rai and Bipasha Basu in somewhat greater detail.

This led me to think of the kaleidoscope of movies churned out by Bollywood and the wide spectrum of roles written for and played by women. It is also interesting to see how their roles have evolved over the past few decades, much in tune with two inter-related trends in the Indian society – a deeply patriotic fervor giving way to the rise of consumerism, and the outlook changing from a society-centric one to an individual-centric one. The first one has to do with…

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Here is yet another interesting post from Plumtopia.

The freshness of ‘Something Fresh’ is everlasting. To me, there are at least two reasons for it. One, the manner in which it showcases physical fitness. Two, the independent minded Joan Valentine who speaks thus:
‘You look on woman as a weak creature to be shielded and petted. We aren’t anything of the sort. We’re terrors. We’re as hard as nails. We’re awful creatures. You mustn’t let my sex interfere with your trying to get this reward.’


1915 Something Fresh collage

It’s a pretty special week for P.G. Wodehouse fans. June 26th will mark 100 years since the first Blandings story, Something Fresh, was serialised in the ‘Saturday Evening Post’. It was published in book form later that year (in the U.S. as Something New).

If Wodehouse had not gone on to write more Blandings stories, Something Fresh would be highly-regarded as a fine comic novel. Aside from the memorable central romance between detective fiction writer Ashe Marson and the enterprising Joan Valentine, Wodehouse gives us all the subplots and subterfuge we expect from a Blandings adventure.

And as the work that introduced characters like Lord Emsworth, Freddie Threepwood, Rupert Baxter, and Beach, Something Fresh holds a special place in many Wodehouse lovers’ hearts. It’s one of the books I often return to. The title Something Fresh seems particularly apt because the story leaps from the page, as fresh…

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Most of us love Bertram Wilberforce ‘Bertie’ Wooster. Unlike some goofy female characters who would not mind taking ‘a whack at the Wooster millions’, we do not love him for his money. We love him for his self-less attitude and simplicity.CodeOfTheWoosters

Some of us pity him for being ‘mentally negligible’. His tendency to keep getting into one soup or the other often makes us feel superior to him. Whenever he gets stuck, Jeeves rallies around. He keeps pulling him and his pals out of the kind of predicaments they keep facing from time to time. If ever Bertie’s pride gets hurt and he decides to untangle an issue all by himself, disaster lurks around the corner.

All through, Bertie’s actions are governed by The Code of the Woosters which is essentially about never letting a pal down. However, I do believe that there are several finer shades to it. Each facet of the Code of the Woosters represents a set of values, which are as relevant today as they were when originally penned by Plum, a Master Wordsmith of our times.

The Wooster Code De-codified

As we have seen from the series of earlier posts, aimed at decoding the Code of the Woosters, following features stand out.

1. Never let a Pal down
The Goofiness Index of any scheme may be high, but if it results into bringing the sunshine back into the life of a pal, give it a good shove. If blackmail is necessary, so be it. Never bother about your own discomfort or image in society. Always live and behave like a boy scout, out on an errand of mercy. If two loopy characters happen to be affianced, be concerned. Subject their union to a pitiless analysis, especially with reference to their progeny.

Support your colleagues when they happen to run into trouble.

2. Stand up for the Wooster ClanCode of the Woosters Cover 6
Respect the feudal spirit. Be prepared to make sacrifices, wherever and whenever necessary. Health and happiness of a beloved relation is far more important than even a thirty-day stint in the prison without an option. Stand up to blackmail by retired magistrates. Pay them back in their own coin by subjecting them to a bite, if possible.

Cultivate and respect a sense of loyalty.

3. Be a Preux Chevalier
Never say no to a proposal from one of the delicately nurtured, howsoever padded the person might be from the top of the head to the tips of her toes. When it comes to carrying out a goofy scheme dished out by the opposite sex, be flexible. Never ever bandy about the name of a woman. When she gives a build-up to the man in her life, never tell her upfront that she lies.

Be respectful to your colleagues; never take undue advantage.

4. Have a bulldog spirit
Walk with your chin up, your eyes sparkling and with both feet on the ground. Be positive. Never repine, never despair, never allow the upper lip to unstiffen. Always remember that, no matter how dark the skies may be, the sun is shining somewhere and will eventually come smiling through.

Be positive, even if a deadline sounds impossible.

5. Be humane; Noblesse Oblige
Consider the psychology of the individual. Be considerate when breaking a bad news to a person, whether a friend or an adversary.Code of the Woosters Cover 3

Before you hand over the pink slip, counsel the person over a cup of coffee. Take responsibility, authority will follow.

6. Stick to rules
Howsoever goofy the act, always follow proper procedures.

Expected to do some hanky-panky? Build a safety net and a cushion for yourself first.

7. Be aware of your Pumpkin Quotient
Knowing your own weaknesses helps. Navigating through the choppy waters of life becomes easier.

Guide those who rank higher; be guided by those who rank lower.

8. Refuse to be a doormat
When necessary, assert yourself. Restrain erring friends and relatives. Put across an objective analysis of your viewpoint. Reason it out.

Learn to say a polite ‘no’.

9. Always meet the Boss half way through
In order to continue to enjoy Anatole’s delicious spreads, never antagonize Aunt Dahlia. When you find stealing a cow-creamer to be an impossible task, analyze the situation carefully. Always keep her informed without any delay.

Get back to the boss before she/he starts twiddling her/his thumbs trying to figure out what is happening.

10. Taming a Hippopotamus by Teamwork
When life pits you against someone like Roderick Spode, a Dictator who heads a Fascist organization like Black Shorts and who designs women’s underclothing on the sly, how do you check his enthusiasm to beat yourselves and your pals to pulp? Think of some nifty team work. Someone like Aunt Dahlia can think of finding a secret against him. Someone resourceful like Jeeves can unearth the secret and you can use it to chilling effect.

You can’t do everything yourself. Use teamwork.

Possible Origins of the Code

What could have been the possible sources of the values that the Code of the Woosters covers?Code of the Woosters Cover 4

Values come to us from our ancestors, handed down from generation to generation. The way our folks conduct themselves at home defines our own value systems. Teachers and friends play an important role in our formative years.

The Woosters are said to have come over from France with William the Conqueror and were extremely pally with him. Some members of the family apparently fought at Agincourt and others did their bit in the Crusades. The origin of the Woosters’ fine sense of noblesse oblige and their strong feudal spirit can be traced to their fine pedigree.

Magdalen College, Oxford

Magdalen College, Oxford

Woosters’ manners are impeccable. Their conduct is above reproach. Even if one of their heirs decides to indulge in such misdemeanors as pinching a policeman’s helmet, a proper procedure is invariably followed. The sentiment to never let a pal down is ingrained in Bertie’s DNA.

Bertie is believed to be an orphan who inherited a large fortune upon the death of his parents. Vacations with aunts and uncles would have shaped his flawless character. The style of living at stately homes and castles would have imparted to him good values, extreme politeness and decent manners.

Bertie’s desire to be a preux chevalier perhaps owes its origin not only to his ancestors but also to the fine schooling he has had. His memoirs often capture his escapades at Malvern House Preparatory School, Eton and Magdalen College at Oxford. Incidentally, all of these happen to be single-sex all-male institutions. This can perhaps explain the presence of an undercurrent of the old-boys-club-feel across all his memoirs.

A Jaundiced View of Life

Many of us bemoan the present ills of our society. Treatment of women continues to be a cause for serious concern. Friendships have become a means to ensure that we have the right contacts in the right places. There is little place in our lives for selfless relationships. Only relationships which enhance our economic and social status survive the onslaught of time. Many of us survive and grow in the corporate jungles we operate in by being Yes-men. We have forgotten how to either register a protest or say a ‘no’.

When it comes to standing up for our families, we suffer from selective amnesia. The definition of ‘family’ itself has got constricted. We take pride in breaking rules. In the relentless pursuit of economic gains, our Boy Scout spirit has faded away. When we see a person facing a traumatic situation, many of us do not care to stop by, enquire and provide a healing touch.Code of the Woosters Cover 1

When a juicy target pops up, we have a tendency to rush towards it without making a realistic assessment of our own capabilities. We fail to enthuse and take along team members we despise for personal and subjective reasons. We do not pay attention to their psychology or what makes them tick. Often, loyalty to the companies we work for gets determined only by the material gains it offers. An inner sense of peace and satisfaction is ignored.

Interpersonal relationships often pose a challenge. Some of us live our lives as if the burden of the whole universe is upon our frail shoulders. We forget to smile. We forget to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. We no longer have a positive outlook.

Our profession does not matter. Our location does not matter. Our technical knowledge does not matter. Our skills do not matter. Instead, what matters is our having the right attitude.

Of Hippopotami and White Hunters

All this brings home the everlasting relevance of the Code of the Woosters. If followed rigorously, it has the potential to effectively counter many of the challenges being faced by us at present. Many a problem can be made to wilt and retreat, much like a young and nervous hippopotamus coming face to face with its first White Hunter.

Let us resolve to be White Hunters, armed with rifles carrying the bullets of the C of the W.

Time to recall our bulldog spirit, walk with our chins up, our eyes sparkling and with both feet firmly on the ground. Not to repine. Not to despair. Not allowing our upper lips to unstiffen.

Pip, pip!

(Concluding Part of the Series on The Code of the Woosters)

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The delicately nurtured amongst us occasionally bemoan the way they have been treated by the Master Wordsmith of our times – P GPGW JeevesInTheOffing Wodehouse. Admittedly, his narratives are replete with somewhat jaundiced references to the fairer sex. We could readily jump to the conclusion that his works have been written only for an exclusive boys’ club.

Consider these samples from ‘Jeeves in the Offing’:

Sample 1:

‘It just shows you what women are like. A frightful sex, Bertie. There ought to be a law. I hope to live to see the day when women are no longer allowed.’
‘That would rather put a stopper on keeping the human race going, wouldn’t it?’
‘Well, who wants to keep the human race going?’
‘I see what you mean. Yes, something in that, of course.’

Sample 2:

‘Why? You were crazy about the girl once.’
‘But no longer. The fever has passed, the scales have fallen from my eyes, and we’re just good friends. The snag in this business of falling in love, aged relative, is that the parties of the first part so often get mixed up with the wrong parties of the second part, robbed of their cooler judgment by the parties of the second part’s glamour. Put it like this. The male sex is divided into rabbits and non-rabbits and the female sex into dashers and dormice, and the trouble is that the male rabbit has a way of getting attracted by a female dasher (who would be fine for the male non-rabbit) and realizing too late that he ought to have been concentrating on some mild, gentle dormouse with whom he could settle down peacefully and nibble lettuce.’

Sample 3:

‘Well, let me tell you, Jeeves, and you can paste this in your hat, shapeliness isn’t everything in this world. In fact, it sometimes seems to me that the more curved and lissome the members of the opposite sex, the more likely they are to set Hell’s foundations quivering.’

Sample 4:

Of course, there are several others, liberally embedded in most of his works. Consider this one from the story, ‘Jeeves and the Kid Clementina.’

‘I was suffering from a considerable strain of the old nerves at the moment, of course, and, looking back, it may be that I was too harsh; but the way I felt in that dark, roosting hour was that you can say what you like, but the more a thoughtful man has to do with women, the more extraordinary it seems to him that such a sex should be allowed to clutter up the earth.’

Going through stuff such as this, any self-respecting woman is likely to get offended. Hate at first sight would ensue. The inevitable conclusion would be that the author does not treat women characters with the respect they deserve.

The Soft Power

My proposition is that this is a rather superficial view. Scratch below the surface of any weird happening in Plumsville and we are bound to find that women rule the roost. They exercise tremendous power of a soft kind on the hapless men who happen to be either the victims of Cupid’s machinations, or just aspire to be preux chevaliers.

We run into dominating aunts and overbearing sisters and secretaries. We meet goofy spinsters and intellectually ambitious amazons. WeCodeOfTheWoosters come across assertive authors and meek scullery maids. In Plumsville, women invariably hold all the aces. They simple deserve to be there, because, compared to their men counterparts, they are smarter.

On the other hand, men happen to be rather docile. They remain contented with being a putty in the hands of those they are trying to woo. They happen to be chivalrous and would go to any length to retain the women’s affections and deepen their romantic bonds. The women merely need to snap their fingers and the men would simply rush into the battlefield, much like knights in shining armors would have done in the days of yore. They need to win the approval of their love interest at any cost.

In most of the narratives, the menfolk in Plumsville do not hesitate to fulfill even the most weird – and sometimes patently goofy – wishes of the loves of their lives. They also have their codes to follow. Standing up to their genial but scheming aunts and sisters does not come easy to them.

Here is a quick recap of the diverse kinds of women we get introduced to.

The Stiff-Upper-Lip Aunts and Sisters

Much against his better judgement, Bertie Wooster is prodded by Aunt Dahlia to purloin a silver cow creamer (‘The Code of the Woosters’). In another narrative (‘Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen’), he is hounded by the aged relative to first steal and then restore a cat whose absence would ensure that the local races are lost by the rival party’s horse.

Elsewhere, Lord Marshmoreton has to muster all his courage to stand up to his sister, Lady Caroline Byng, and declare a matrimonial AuntsArentGentlemenalliance with his newly appointed secretary (‘A Damsel in Distress’).

The Reformers

We get to meet Vanessa Cook in ‘Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen’. She announces her marriage to Bertie, leaving him thoroughly shaken in limb and spirit. Post-marriage, no Drones Club, no alcohol and no smoking. The last one is thanks to Tolstoy, who has apparently held that twirling one’s fingers gives as much joy as smoking!

The Overbearing Ones

A desperate lover in Gussie Fink-Nottle, enamoured by Madeline Bassett, has to lay off all the vitamins of animal origin. The poor guy has to skip Anatole’s lavish spreads and survive only on spinach, sprouts, broccoli and similar stuff (Right Ho, Jeeves).

Stiffy Byng’s map, as a rule, tends to be rather grave and dreamy, giving the impression that she is thinking deep, beautiful thoughts. Quite misleading, of course. Harold Pinker, a vicar, gets prodded by her to pinch a policeman’s helmet, braving the risk of being defrocked (‘The Code of the Woosters’).

Pauline Stoker expects her beau to swim a mile before breakfast and then proceed to play five sets of tennis post-lunch. Her soul mate has to be someone like Chuffy who is adept at riding, shooting and following foxes with loud cries. Generally speaking, someone on the dynamic side (‘Thank You, Jeeves’).

Taking Men for Granted

Bertie is persuaded by Roberta Wickham to puncture hot water bottles in the middle of the night. In ‘Jeeves in the Offing’, he is even JoyInTheMorningdeclared to be engaged to her. She does it only to ensure that her parents may then view her intended alliance with Reginald Herring in a favorable light.

Nobby charms Bertie into abusing an uncle so Boko, the out-of-favor lover, may earn some brownie points and thereby win her hand. Somehow, his guardian angel ensures his not being able to do so. (‘Joy in the Morning’).

The Sculptors of Intellect

Florence Craye tries to mould the men she falls for. She treats males like a mere chunk of plasticine in the hands of a sculptor. She is one of those intellectual girls. Her manner is brisk and aunt-like. Expecting Bertie to go through ‘Types of Ethical Theory’ comes naturally to her (‘Joy in the Morning’).

Vanessa Cook (‘Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen’) does not expect Bertie to start improving his intellect by reading Turgenev and Dostoyevsky. She merely expects him to go through ‘The Prose Ramblings Of A Rhymester’, a collection of whimsical essays by Reginald Sprockett, a brilliant young poet from whom the critics expect great things.

The Charmers

Miss Dalgleish is fond of dogs. She has caught Tuppy on a rebound just after a break-up between him and Angela. She is a largish, corn-fed girl, who wears tailor-made tweeds and thick boots. She has charmed Tuppy into playing football for the village of Upper Bleaching, a grave risk for someone who is born and bred in the gentler atmosphere of London. On the day of the match, Tuppy risks life and limb, only to please her. However, she is not present to witness the bravado. Instead, she goes off to London, trying to lay her hands on an Irish water-spaniel (‘The Ordeal of Young Tuppy – Very Good, Jeeves!’).

The Feisty Ones

Joan Valentine (‘Something Fresh’) comes across as a delightful example of an independent woman who knows her mind and lives life on PGW StiffUpperLipher own terms. She is a girl of action. She is one whom Life has made not only reckless, when a venture is afoot, but also wary of friendly advances. Stealing a scarab is a venture that interests her. She detests getting a soft treatment at the hands of the sterner sex. To quote her:

‘You look on woman as a weak creature to be shielded and petted. We aren’t anything of the sort. We’re terrors. We’re as hard as nails. We’re awful creatures. You mustn’t let my sex interfere with your trying to get this reward.’

The Soft-natured Ones

It is not that we do not get introduced to soft-natured women in Plumsville.

The Soothing Motherly Kind

In ‘Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves’, we meet Emerald Stoker who is one of those soothing, sympathetic girls you can take your troubles to, confident of having your hand held and your head patted. There is a sort of motherliness about her which you find restful. But she does not borrow money. Much too proud. Having lost money at the races, she decides to supplement her income by assuming the post of a cook at Totleigh Towers.

The Peace-Loving Kind

In ‘Ring for Jeeves’, we come across the gentle Jill. Wodehouse’s description of her rushing to the aid of her lover, despite having broken the engagement owing to a misunderstanding on her part, is lovingly captured as under:

‘It is a characteristic of women as a sex, and one that does credit to their gentle hearts, that – unless they are gangsters’ molls or something of that kind – they shrink from the thought of violence. Even when love is dead, they dislike the idea of the man to whom they were once betrothed receiving a series of juicy ones from a horse whip in the competent hands of an elderly, but still muscular, chief constable of a county. When they hear such a chief constable sketching out plans for an operation of this nature, their instinct is to hurry to the prospective victim’s residence and warn him of his peril by outlining the shape of things to come.’

The True Romantics

In the same narrative, we get to meet Captain Biggar who believes in following the code that says a poor man must not propose marriage to a PGW RingForJeevesrich woman, for if he does, he loses his self-respect and ceases to play with a straight bat.

He is in love with Mrs Spottsworth who is a strong believer in rebirths. She sees themselves in some dim, prehistoric age. In this previous existence, they were clad in skins. Captain had hit her over the head with a club and dragged her by her hair to his cave. A true romantic at heart!

The Fitness Buffs

Then we have Maud (‘A Damsel in Distress’) who hates obesity. After giving the poor George Bevan a short shrift and making him plan to depart for USA, she realizes that her infatuation with Geoffrey Raymond was, well, a mere infatuation. She loses no time in changing her mind and starts discussing her post-matrimonial plans with George over telephone.

The Efficient Secretaries

In the same narrative, Alice Faraday happens to be a secretary of gentle persuasion. She is keen to do enough work to merit her generous salary. However, Lord Marshmoreton’s love for gardening comes in the way of his working on the Family History.

One could go on and on. One thing is clear, though. In Plumsville, we get to meet women of all ages, sizes, shapes and classes. Invariably, they end up taking a saunter down the aisle with the men of their dreams. But the choice is invariably theirs.

Grant them their moodiness, though. They could have transient rifts, triggered by sharks, mustaches or hats. In the end, however, sundered hearts invariably get united.

Much too often, the so-called sterner sex ends up being the weaker sex. More to be pitied than to be censured!ADamselInDistress

In Plumtopia, a treasure trove of Wodehouse related matters, there is a great post on women. The author concludes as follows:

“In Wodehouse’s art, as in life, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This puts him above most writers I know, male or female, who rarely take the trouble to create ‘unattractive’ female characters, let alone make them central figures in romance. Of course Wodehouse offers plenty of attractive women too.

All this makes Wodehouse a terrific writer of, and for, women (Terry Pratchett is another) and it’s hardly surprising to learn that he has a large and enthusiastic female following. His fans include Dr Sophie Ratcliffe from the University of Oxford, who edited P. G. Wodehouse: A life in Letters.”


Occasionally, we get to meet professional women as well, though mostly as authors, editors and headmistresses. Had Wodehouse lived in today’s age and times when women have broken through the glass ceiling in diverse fields of life, we would have had the pleasure of curling up in bed with one of his inimitable works which might have offered a ringside view of more career-oriented women.

(PS: Those who are missing Honoria Glossop in this post may like to get acquainted with her at https://honoriaplum.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/the-romances-of-bingo-little-honoria-glossop)

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/01/06/the-powerpuff-girls-of-bollywood)

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Recently, a friend asked me what I thought of Katrina Kaif’s character in the just released Dhoom-3movies katrina (The Blast-3, 2013). Even at the risk of offending some of you, I confess I found it full of chutzpah and oomph but, alas, hollow otherwise. From this perspective, the script of Dhoom-2 perhaps etched the characters played by Aishwarya Rai and Bipasha Basu in somewhat greater detail.

This led me to think of the kaleidoscope of movies churned out by Bollywood and the wide spectrum of roles written for and played by women. It is also interesting to see how their roles have evolved over the past few decades, much in tune with two inter-related trends in the Indian society – a deeply patriotic fervor giving way to the rise of consumerism, and the outlook changing from a society-centric one to an individual-centric one. The first one has to do with growing incomes, and the second one to the gradual decay of the joint family system.

If there is a similarity in women’s portrayal across various films, there is also a stark contrast. In some, they are put on a pedestal and venerated. In others, they are subject to humiliation and objectification. Yet, they end up forgiving their tormentors, eventually running into their arms. Somemovies LeelaChitnis films portray them as epitomes of virtue where they are depicted as silent sufferers, always putting their families first. Some show them as temptresses who manipulate, destroy and seduce while unleashing their charms. In some, they are victims of betrayal. In others, they turn out to be ruthless avengers. 

They portray motherhood in myriad hues. They might be nagging housewives within the confines of the house, but would protect their soul-mates and family members against external harm much like tigresses out to protect their cubs. They turn up as great doctors. They also play fashionable patients who are often undaunted by their ailments. They portray meek and submissive daughters. They also turn out to be rebellious bold ones, breaking the rigid barriers of convention and overcoming societal stigma.

Of late, they have even managed to turn the tables on the sterner sex and started objectifying men. A welcome development indeed!


The portrayal of women in films getting churned out by Bollywood has undergone a sea change overMovies Achhut_Kanya the past few decades. The earlier notion of the perfect woman — tradition-bound, a lot of glory in sacrifice, her duty to accept what comes to her, etc – has now metamorphosed into an unabashed display of physical assets and a liberal attitude towards sexuality.

Way back in the 1960s, touching of hands used to be the outer limit of physical contact between the hero and the heroine. Kissing was a taboo and could only be hinted at indirectly, often by the camera capturing two blooming flowers swaying next to each other in a gentle breeze. Actresses would roll down a snow-covered slope with the hero, or go under a waterfall in their sari, but they would not kiss. A gruesome rape scene would be fine, but not any kind of sexual overtures.

If a woman was a prostitute, she had to be rescued before she lost her virginity. A woman could neither have an affair nor sex. If she did, the poor thing had to die in the end.

One factor has remained unchanged, though. In many movies, women are not human beings. They are just pretty dolls, mostly there to support the hero, incidental to the plot and exploited for their sex appeal.

A Masculine Outlookmovie Nikaah

Showing women in a helpless mode somehow appeals to the male audience. The image of stalking and hurting a woman excites this segment of the audience. Women in the audience perhaps identify with those on the screen and grin and bear the feudal treatment.

As a society, women are second-class citizens from birth, and cannot openly express any anger about that situation. Typically, a man is being cared for by his mother, by his sisters, by his wife and also by his daughter. So, he fantasizes about a woman who is passive and open to subjugation.

When a wronged heroine turns an avenger, the man claps in the theatre. However, at home, the way he treats the females around him shows a reality which is quite different.  

Love and Lust

Even as late as in Veer-Zaara (2004), we had a romantic relationship which retained its innocencePoster Veer Zaara and celebrated the deep commitment between the hero and the heroine. Contrast this with Love Aaj Kal (Love Nowadays, 2009), Anjaana Anjaani (Strangers, 2010), and Ek Main aur Ekk Tu (One Me and One You, 2012), where the couples showed a different attitude towards the bliss of togetherness.  In Ram Leela (2013), we get to see a Leela in Deepika Padukone who thinks nothing of unabashedly wooing a Ram in Ranveer Singh.

A hug is no longer much to write home about. Intimate scenes are the new buzzword, even from the stable of Yash Raj Films (Jab Tak Hai Jaan – As Long as I am Alive, 2012) and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (Bhaag Milkha Bhaag – Run Milkha, Run, 2013) who have otherwise given us romantic and socially relevant themes devoid of any obscenity in the past. These are subtle hints that lust is increasingly getting portrayed as love these days.

Sixteen Shades of the Bollywood Eve

  • ·         The Simpering Beloved

A majority of movies have black hats who are wooed and won over by white knights – in some with prior societal or parental approval. In others, a post-facto reconciliation takes place between the young couple and their parents just as the camera fades out and credits start rolling out towards the end.

Despite a relatively modern upbringing, Kajol remains a traditionalist to the core in Dilwaale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge (The Bravehearts will Take Away the Bride, 1995). In the climax, she joins the hero only after receiving her father’s consent.

  • ·         The Soulmate

A spouse or a girl friend is often found leveraging her strength of character to support the hero inDark Bandini distress.

In Hum Dono (Both of Us, 1961), Sadhana did so. In Bandini (The Female Prisoner, 1963), Nutan decided to support her sick but long since separated husband – played by Ashok Kumar – rather than starting a new life with a younger and healthier Dharmendra.

In Maachis (Matchbox, 1996) and Hu Tu Tu (1999), Tabu turned into a terrorist and a human bomb so as to join the cause being championed by her lover. In Aitraaz (Objection, 2004), Kareena Kapur played a lawyer who wins a case for her husband. In Veer-Zaara (2004), Preity Zinta relocated to India from Pakistan so as to serve Shahrukh Khan’s parents who, unknown to her, was languishing in a jail in Pakistan. In Wake Up, Sid (2009), Konkona Sen Sharma became a friend and guide to Ranbir Kapur.

  • ·         The Venerated One

If the woman gets stalked in a majority of Bollywood flicks, she also gets venerated in few. And onemovie Vivah is not referring to the mythologicals here.

In Saathi (Companion, 1968), the love shown between husband Rajendra Kumar and wife Vyjantimala bordered on the reverential. In Purab aur Paschim (East and West, 1970), Manoj Kumar handled a heroine brought up in a western country with due regard to the diferences in their cultural upbringing. In Khushboo (Aroma, 1975), a sober Jeetendra was made to realize his folly by his wife who takes him to task for dithering in inviting her to join him in his home. 

At a time when harassment of women in all walks of life appears to be on the rise, Vivah (Marriage, 2006) came as a fresh whiff of air, projecting a male character who was considerate, caring and compassionate. The hero’s decision to marry the heroine who was from an economically weaker strata was praiseworthy. No dowry was demanded. Above all, the marriage got solemnized despite the heroine having received severe burns in a fire. 

  • ·         Femme fatale

A vamp is inevitably an insider to the affairs of the lead pair, whereas women portrayed in thismovies nadira category tend to be on the fringes of the narrative.

Gangster’s molls, sex objects and item dancers are all there to appeal to our baser instincts. Smoking, drinking and making seductive overtures comes habitually to them. Right from Cuckoo and Nadira to Helen and Bindu, we just love to hate them. While the gangsters are busy unfolding their Machiavellian plots to torment the lead cast and their near and dear ones, the molls provide the perfect foil to soothe the frayed nerves of the audience.  

When it comes to seductive dances, Helen’s belly dance in Inteqam (Revenge, 1969) and Padma Khanna’s cabaret in Johny Mera Naam (My Name is Johny, 1970) immediately spring to one’s mind.

Over the years, the presentation of ‘item numbers’ has got increasingly refined. There are severalmovie Helen crude ones which have kept a part of the male audience glued to their seats, their eyeballs popping out of their sockets with each gyration and pelvic thrust of a lissome dancer. Increasingly, this space has been taken over by the leading ladies themselves, relegating the poor side heroine to the background.

Aruna Irani did prance around a young Rishi Kapur in Bobby (1973). But it was Aishwarya Rai who wooed us with her ‘Kajra re…’ in Bunty aur Babli (Bunty and Babli, 2005). Rekha gyrated to songs old and new in Parineeta (The Married Woman, 2005) and Yatra (Journey, 2006). Katrina Kaif scorched the floors in Tees Maar Khan (2010) and Dhoom-3 (The Blast-3, 2013).

Sushmita Sen played a teacher in Main Hoon Na (I Am Here to Support You, 2004), but that did not restrain her from having a sensuous duet with her student, Shahrukh Khan.

  • ·         The Vamp

The woman with malicious intentions towards either the lead couple or the whole family. She is sexymovie ABHIMAAN and could be shown either smoking or drinking. She wears high heels, garish makeup and could be caught doing a cabaret at least once in the movie.

Nadira is remembered for her negative role in Shri 420 (Mr 420, 1955). Shashikala had evil designs in very many films, though B R Chopra and Hrishikesh Mukherjee used her in positive roles in films like Gumraah (Gone Astray, 1963) and Anupama (The Incomparable, 1966). Bindu played the spoilsport in Do Raaste (Two Separate Ways, 1969), Kati Patang (A Free-floating Kite, 1970) and Imtihaan (The Test, 1974); her role opposite Ajit as ‘Mona Darling’ in Zanjeer (The Shackle, 1973) is remembered till today, as is that of someone supporting the lead couple in Abhimaan (Pride, 1973). In Caravan (1971) and in several other movies, Aruna Irani played a negative role.

With changing social mores, vamps and dancing girls have become an endangered species. A courtesan played by Meenoo Mumtaz – in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (The Boss, The Wife and the Servant, 1962), for instance – who used to present a dance based on a classical form while lip-synching soulful lyrics – has become virtually extinct. She has been crowded out by skimpily clad heroines seductively gyrating to item numbers like ‘Beedi jalayi le’, ‘Chikni Chameli’ and ‘Shiela ki jawaani’. In Dhoom-3, Katrina Kaif treats the voyeuristic amongst the male audience to a family friendly striptease.    

  • ·         The Victim

Greedy relatives, encounters of an unfortunate kind, social stigma and poverty have repeatedly beenmovie Pakeezah shown to force women away from following the straight and narrow path of chastity, matrimonial bliss and happiness.

In Sujata (1959), Nutan portrayed the character of an orphan girl facing caste prejudices. In the lavishly mounted Pakeezah (The Pure One, 1972), Meena Kumari got rescued by the hero who faces stiff social resistance, finally overcome by the revelation that his uncle was the real father of the heroine.

Ankur (Seedling, 1973) and Rudaali (The Professional Griever, 1993) effectively captured the oppression of women in a male dominated society. Sharmila Tagore in Satyakam (1969) and Saira Bano in Chaitali (1975) were only two of the several others who have portrayed hapless women being exploited. Bhumika (Role, 1977) captured the pathos of an exploited woman very well. In Umrao Jaan (1981), Rekha’s search for true love proved to be elusive. In an unabashed display of male parochialism, Nikaah (The Betrothal, 1982) and Woh 7 Din (Those 7 Days, 1983) showed two males arguing out the fate of the woman both are in love with, as if she herself need not be consulted.

Lajja (Shame, 2001) raised several feminist issues in a predominantly male chauvinistic world.movie Pinjar Pinjar (The Cage, 2003) portrayed the agony of a heroine disowned by her own family after getting kidnapped by a person from another religion.

In Aradhana (Worship, 1969), a widowed mother successfully brought up her son all by herself. In Silsila (Continuity, 1981), a pregnant Jaya Bachhan sought social approval and financial safety by getting married to the younger brother of her beau who had passed away in an air accident. In 1947: Earth (1998), Nandita Das ended up suffering at the hands of her lover. In Banaras (2006), Urmila Matondkar turned into an ascetic after her beau, hailing from a lower caster, was ordered to be murdered by her own mother.

In Pati, Patni aur Woh (The Husband, The Wife and The Other, 1978), the hapless housewife tried her best to restrain the romantic escapades of her husband who suffered from the ‘roving eye syndrome’. In Rang Birangi (Colourful, 1983),a bored wife found that an affair in the office prompted her husband to pay better attention to her at home!

Stalking is often depicted as a birth right of the men. Darr (Fear, 1993), led to tragic consequences. However, in most other movies, the heroine forgives and ends up accepting a romantic relationship with the former stalker. Raanjhanaa (The Beloved, 2013), took the art of stalking to new lows. Inmovie Ghar R…Rajkumar (Prince, 2013), the heroine eventually ends up falling for the hero, despite his wayward ways to win her over.

In Gori Tere Pyaar Mein (For Your Love, Fair Maiden, 2013), the heroine is a social worker, relentlessly pursued by the self-centered hero. When he points out a strand of white in her hair, she is not on the defensive. Here is an acknowledgement of the woman as being a person who ages like anybody else. Eventually, she ends up coyly in the hero’s arms. 

Rape scenes have been an integral part of the Bollywood movies. Roti, Kapada aur Makaan (Food, Clothing and Shelter, 1974), had a particularly graphic rape scene involving Maushumi Chatterji. We have also had sensible depiction of such scenes in some movies – like Satyakam, where a lamp rolling about on the floor was used to depict the traumatic event in the heroine’s life. One of the rare movies which handled the post-rape emotional rehabilitation of the heroine very delicately was Ghar (Home, 1978).

(Next part: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/women-through-the-bollywood-lens-part-2-of-2)

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