On equal footing
Bollywood seems to have overcome the gender divide. While the women film makers refuse to remain limited to women’s issues, men have ceased to portray women characters as weak, oppressed or objects meant to titillate, writes
Director Nandita Das’s Firaaq (extreme left) was a dark, exploratory essay on the communal divide post-Godhra, in Gujarat
With Nandita Das’s
Firaaq, Bollywood has pulled off a hat-trick of films by
female directors making their debut this year. The first, Luck
By Chance by Zoya Akhtar, was an insider’s take on the
"glorious uncertainties" determining the career of
aspiring movie stars.
The second, Little
Zizou by Sooni Taraporevala, was an energetic but poignant
comedy on an 11-year-old football-crazy Parsi boy in Mumbai. And
the third Firaaq was a dark, exploratory essay on the
communal divide post-Godhra, in Gujarat.
Varied as their
themes may be, the three films uniformly reveal an
uncompromising sense of honesty that comes with personal
conviction and the desire to raise the bar in filmmaking. These
films do not make great cinema, but they do have their moments.
They are spunky, non-formulaic and thought-provoking, much in
keeping with the spirit of filmmaking these days.
about these films would suggest that they have been made by
women. The "feminine sensibilities" associated with
women filmmakers, in terms of structuring a narrative,
characterisation, shot taking, unravelling a plot and so on, are
totally missing. Had these women attempted an action thriller or
romantic comedy, their approach and treatment of subjects would
have been no different from that of any of the male filmmakers
currently in circulation.
This is not such a
bad thing though. A female filmmaker does not have to do a Prema
Karanth (Phaniyamma) or Aparna Sen (Paroma) to
gain public recognition. She might as well be a Pooja Bhatt (Paap),
Tanuja Chandra (Zindagi Rocks), Farah Khan (Om Shanti
Om) or any of the filmmakers who refuse to be limited to
In Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D, unlike the emotionally dysfunctional hero, both women come across as principled, honest and upright characters
Or for that
matter, she could well choose between Parvati Balagopalan (Straight)
and Deepa Mehta (Videsh), the two other women directors
currently in the news. The former has done a comedy around a guy
desperate to lose his virginity to a woman if only to be
reassured that he is not gay. And the latter is flogging the
issue of domestic abuse many hapless brides from India face in
the West – a subject that invites instant comparison with
Jagmohan Mundhra’s Aishwarya Rai-starrer, Provoked.
So what are the
special "feminine sensibilities"’ expected of women
Many describe this
as the female gaze – a feminist expression that challenges the
conventional (read male) approach to filmmaking from a man’s
point of view with women particularly, being reduced to objects
of desire and performing for the camera as exhibitionists. For a
woman filmmaker, the voyeuristic tendency is replaced by
understanding, patience and acceptance – attributes that are
supposed to be absent in men.
Thus, while the
camera of a male filmmaker tends to "look down" upon
women, portrays the hero (vis-a`-vis the heroine) as larger than
life, makes a meal out of a woman’s anatomy, like climbing up
the cabaret dancer’s legs a woman filmmaker does not control,
objectify or manipulate the visual elements. How this
generalisation should translate into the current crop of films
would be worth examining.
Luck By Chance (left) was an insider’s take on the uncertainties determining the career of aspiring movie stars and (right) Little Zizou was an energetic but poignant comedy on an 11-year-old football-crazy Parsi boy in Mumbai
examples will do, starting with Ghajini. It is the
biggest Bollywood blockbuster in recent times. Ostensibly a
revenge drama, it presents Aamir Khan as a lean, mean murdering
machine with a well-oiled, well-chiselled body, complete with
tattoos of names and telephone numbers. The camera objectifies
Aamir. The tattoos draw attention to his rippling muscles, the
six-pack abs`85 the naked machismo that is said to have found an
instant connect mainly with women viewers.
At the same time,
there is an equally appealing softer side to the man,
represented by Asin, the woman he loves and loses. Her death
awakens the beast in him and sets him on a killing spree. The
film is directed by a man – A. R. Murugadoss.
Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D, released soon after Ghajini.
Rarely, if ever, has an Indian film so effectively celebrated
women empowerment as this post-modernist version of Devdas.
The protagonist’s childhood sweetheart, Paro (or Parminder) is
self-assured, sexually demanding and assertive. The other woman
in his life, Chandramukhi (or Chanda) is just as strong in
character, even as she has suffered a traumatic childhood and is
a sex worker. Unlike the emotionally dysfunctional hero, both
women come across as principled, honest and upright characters.
This film also is directed by a man.
Suri is a mild-mannered, geeky introvert, as opposed to the beautiful and vivacious Tania, his wife. Suri’s alter ego, too, is all brawn and bluster, out to woo the woman
The third recent
film that deserves mention is the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer, Rab
Ne Bana Di Jodi. Like the other two films, it has an unusual
storyline with the hero’s role sublimated for the best part.
Khan’s Surinder Sahni (or Suri) is a namby-pamby,
mild-mannered, geeky introvert, as opposed to the beautiful and
vivacious Tania (or Taani), his wife. There is, of course, an
alter ego of the Suri character, all brawn and bluster, out to
woo the woman. But ultimately, it is the image of the shy and
awkward Suri with his headstrong Tania that remains with the
audience long after the film is over. Once again, the director
is a man – Aditya Chopra.
anything has changed in Hindi cinema, it is the approach to the
medium by male filmmakers. More than the women adopting a male
gaze, the men are increasingly taking a feminine point of view.
They have done away with rape scenes, needless drenching of the
heroine (in white sari) under a waterfall, the strip tease and
cabarets, rain dances the usual stock-in-trade in potboilers of
More than ever
before, women characters are treated with a degree of
sensitivity, even respect. Most of the filmmakers have ceased to
portray women characters as weak, oppressed or objects meant to
titillate. If at all anybody is being objectified, it is the
hero – be it Hrithik Roshan or Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan or
This shift of
focus is, however, not deliberated. No filmmaker is consciously
seeking to make a point, one way or the other, on gender
primacy. Unlike yesteryear greats such as V. Shantaram (Duniya
Na Mane), Mehboob Khan (Mother India) and Sshobana
Samarth (Humari Beti), nobody is interested in sending
out messages on women’s emancipation and empowerment. Today’s
filmmakers, both men and women, are merely trying to capture a
social reality whereby women have become more self-assertive in
their outlook and demanding in attitude. A size-zero Kareena
Kapoor in Tashan or a gym-toned Bipasha Basu in Aa
Dekhe Zara is a reflection of this reality. More
importantly, this is what audiences are able to identify with
– not damsels in distress, weeping widows or Helen-like
characters in body stockings. The feminine orientation we now
see on screen is an outcome of this new sensibility. And the
filmmaker being female, or male, is only incidental.
Quite clearly, it
is a level playing field out there.