Women’s Day: Why Bollywood Should Not Be Thrashed For Item Numbers

Modern westernised women who are independent of male influence are the torch bearers of today and Bollywood says Kudos to the millions of these women...

For centuries past, the role of women was thought to be inside the four walls of her kitchen. In many societies around the world, including our own, the woman is subservient to her male counterpart, till date.

Even in this “liberated” 21st century, our Bollywood film industry is unfailingly thrashed for showcasing women in bold roles or item sequences.

Recently, after repeated instances of vile rape attacks in our national capital, Bollywood came under heavy fire. Filmmakers were criticized for being host to raucous scenes, lewd remarks and songs with lyrics rather unrefined.

Top actresses Kareena Kapoor and Katrina Kaif were disparaged for having danced to item numbers like Fevicol Se, Halkat Jawani, Chikni Chameli and Sheila Ki Jawani that allegedly brought about a negative sentiment in the minds of the audience about the projection of women.  ‘The Dirty Picture’ was heavily censored before the public could see Vidya Balan in her racy avatar.

It is not uncommon for women to be blamed for enticing men having worn short, western clothes. The culpability then shifts to Bollywood again for being an ardent supporter of such dressing.

Today, this Women’s Day, we ask a question –

Is Bollywood really limited to showcasing obedient daughters and passive housewives? Item songs, skin shows and other objectification of women – Is that all that remains memorable to us from our films?

Not really.

Bollywood has also given the world a lot of women centric films — Nargis’s ‘Mother India’ being one.

Of the earlier days of Bollywood, strong and free-spirited women characters were not uncommon. From Meenakshi Sheshadri in ‘Damini’ to the Geeta from ‘Seeta Aur Geeta’ played by Hema Malini, it was clear that women were just as cut to fight injustice as their male counterparts.

Shayam Benegal’s triology of ‘Mammo’, ‘Sardari Begum’ and ‘Zubeidaa’ are set in different time frames but are all based on the theme of a central woman character who created history in her own way.

In recent times, strong independent female protagonists have come to be played on the silver screen. Vidya Balan as Silk in ‘The Dirty Picture’ or Vidya of ‘Kahaani’ played roles of women who stood tall against the odds and hostile men and achieved their purposes.

As Vidya and Rani came together for ‘No One Killed Jessica’, the will to fight injustice of the fairer sex was heightened.

In ‘Chak De! India’ emphasis was given to a woman’s strength, grit and potential.

Even with liberal thought, the condition of a lot of women today is not unlike the Sashi of ‘English Vinglish’. Sridevi’s character was being crushed under familial responsibilities and in turn got nothing but ungratefulness. Her resolve to come rise above the odds was categorically inspirational.

Female characters in Bollywood are now taking up various job profiles as they shun the traditional roles. Of these, the female journalist is fast gaining momentum.

The earliest examples of this kind of portrayal are Madhubala playing a journalist in ‘Kala Pani’ (1958), Shabana Azmi of ‘Main Azaad Hoon’ or Dimple Kapadia as a zesty reporter in ‘Krantiveer’ in 1994.

Rani Mukerji played the role of a brave journalist in ‘No One Killed Jessica’ while Konkona Sen Sharma proved her mettle as a lifestyle reporter in ‘Page 3’. Konkona also played a feature writer-in-waiting for Ayan Mukherjee’s ‘Wake Up Sid’.

Preity Zinta performed as a bubbly reporter out on the war front covering live in ‘Lakshya’. Minnisha Lamba as Kaavya Shastri in ‘Shaurya’ fought the abuse of power by the high ranking officers of our esteemed defense forces. Soha Ali Khan’s exceptional performance in ‘Mumbai Meri Jaan’ is of a reporter who shows immense strong will and courage.

The portrayal of women in a progressive light and strong feminine roles, give us a sense of assurance that femininity is not in the pits today.

It is true that the very actresses accused of “indecent” dressing and dancing, are planning to come back with a bang as resilient journalists with releases this year.

August this year will see Kareena Kapoor essaying the role of a Journalist for ‘Satyagraha’. Around the same time, Amrita Rao will be seen as a reporter in ‘Singh Saheb The Great’. After her act of a daring journo in ‘Mohra’, Raveena Tandon will come on screen as a journalist after a long break in ‘Shobhana 7 Nights’ and Nargis Fakri will perform as an overseas reporter against John Abraham in ‘Madras Cafe’ by the end of the year.

Journalist is only one of the many diverse roles that the 21st century woman has taken up; Doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs, even defence personnel.

Perceived gender inequality has long been the excuse to harass women. This must end and Bollywood is undoubtedly churning out films that are on these lines.

One can’t deny the boisterousness of portrayal in films today but neither can the efforts of film makers towards the very important task of creating equality among the sexes.

Bollywood films have often touched upon the sensitive topics of wrong doing against women. ‘Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women’ is a very bold film on the issue of female infanticide. Popular cinema has films like ‘Biwi Ho To Aisi’ and ‘Ghar Ho To Aisa’ that tackle the issue of hostile conditions and harassment in the the marital house. The hit film ‘Sita Aur Geeta’ is all about fighting for rights and overthrowing injustice. Bollywood has done its bit to contest the prevailing social conditions that have oppressed women for long – dowry, domestic violence, harassment…

Modern westernised women who are independent of male influence are not wrong; they are the torch bearers of today and Bollywood says Kudos to the millions of these women…

Happy Women’s Day!

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Samyukta Shastri

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