Active Men – Passive Women: #India’s Annoying #Gender Interface
by Asha Kachru
I am glad that you are doing this gender in Indian films series. But sorry to say I can barely remember any Bollywood movie that has not made me feel angry about its portrayal of gender in some way. Over the years I have developed a very negative impression of Bollywood films particularly from a gender perspective.
I can give you my impressions of the many films I have seen over the years:
1. Rarely does a woman have a lead role in Indian movies. Most films center on the hero, not the heroine. Why is it so? Do women not have anything important to say except just entertain the public through sleazy dances and the likes? Or do they not have any original thoughts? Is it only men who have the power of reflection about societies and people’s lives or about visions of the future or about love and sexuality and so many things important for human beings?
2. The women are always shown as passive sufferers. They are victims of violence thrust upon them by others. They never question the very power structures in society. They are either crying incessantly or needing to be protected. They don’t retaliate; they don’t get angry — only sad and depressed. They never act on their condition or injustice decisively. Does it not reflect the dominant patriarchal mindset that women submit where to be womanly is to be docile, patient, adjusting, nurturing towards men, even violent men?
3. I have always felt annoyed by the long and very humiliating rape scenes shown in Bollywood films. I also find this very disgusting how the viewing public, mostly men glee over a young girl or woman being literally sexually molested and or raped. In the films too it is all too often the talk of the “honour” of a community/village etc. which is at stake if their girl/woman has been raped by one of the other community/village etc. Then it becomes an issue for the whole community and village and a war like situation erupts. We know this happens in reality in wars around the world. The Bollywood does not challenge this absurd notion of “honour.” Whose honour is lost — that of the culprit or of the victim? Why do we Indians always put the blame on the victim? Why do our much appreciated Bollywood films not show different role models?
4. There are hardly any nuanced films showing women with their strengths and weaknesses and yet human and intelligent. Men have other roles in life besides being fathers, husbands etc. according to Indian films. They can be intellectuals, philosophers, scientists, engineers etc. But a woman never gets a whole person, personality, or even life! She just fits a stereotypical mold of a mother, wife etc. without a life or vision that’s independent of these roles.
Take the recently released film Aashiqui 2 that I saw a few days ago. The hero during a road accident discovers the woman of his liking and becomes the active “engineer” of her life. He is takes control over her life and she just lets him and is prepared to do anything for him. I question — why it is that Indian men think they can decide who they like and want, and assume that the women will have to follow? Could it not be once so, that women decide on their own terms who they want and like, and initiate the romance with a man they see as their future partner or friend?
My other issue with ASHIQUI 2 was how they showed that the hero had no other option than to commit suicide in the end. Why? Because he could not adjust his life or mind to accept the fame of his wife, who incidentally he pushed into becoming a famous singer! Why was this so hard for him? So many women give up their career for the sake of their family. Many give up their good jobs and move to the place where the husband has a job even if it is not necessarily the place they like to be in. And nobody finds this disturbing. If however a wife decides to move to a another town for her career, she is considered to be a bad woman, wife or mother.
The film tries to show that the hero is a strong-minded man, and sure of himself. If so then why did he feel threatened towards the end in the film, as his wife started becoming famous?
To mark 100 years of Indian films, we are inviting people to submit reviews for our “Gender in Indian Films @ 100″ film review series. To make a submission click here. To read previously published reviews click here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Asha Kachru was born in Kashmir in India. After her marriage to a German mathematician in Delhi, she moved to Germany where she lived from 1968-87. In that duration she has held a wide range of posts of Scientific Officer and a Green Feminist City Councilor with the GREENs at Bonn City Council. In 1987 she returned to India, and since 1992 has been living in a village in Andhra Pradesh, where she set up an ngo STRAINATA and is working with rural communities to promote organic agriculture and women’s empowerment, through educational workshops and income generation schemes. To know more about her click here. She blogs at It’s Not Yellow www.itsnotyellow.com