While there is umpteen brouhaha about feminism, Bollywood is still living in a male dominated era.
Oh yes there is Lipstick Under My Burkha, there is Parched, there is Tumhari Sulu, Kahaani and so many others. Yes they are women centric films. But they are almost a genre that doesn’t have a counterpart.
While there is umpteen brouhaha about feminism, Bollywood is still living in a male dominated era where everything from remuneration, to opportunity and exposure have a huge disparity when it comes to actors and actresses, male playback and women playback so on and so forth.
”Rohit(Hrithik Roshan) is an aspiring singer who works as a salesman in a car showroom, run by Malik (Dalip Tahil). One day, he meets Sonia Saxena (Ameesha Patel), daughter of Mr Saxena (Anupam Kher), when he goes to her home to deliver a car as her birthday present.”
This piece of text is taken from the plot of Bollywood movie Kaho Na Pyaar Hai. This simple two line plot showcases how the main man in discussion (Rohit) is portrayed with a profession and an aspiration and other man (Malik) is a business owner.
In contrast, the female role is introduced with no profession or aspiration.
The above is a an excerpt from a study done by IBM Research India, IIIT and DTU Delhi called Analyzing Gender Stereotyping in Bollywood Movies. According to the study that analyzes movie plots and posters for all movies released since 1970 actors in a film are generally introduced with a profession of that of a famous singer, an honest police officer, a successful scientist and so on while actresses are either introduced using physical appearance like beautiful, simple looking or in relation to another (male) character (daughter, sister of).
The figure from the study shows adjectives used to define characters in a movie.
The study also talks of the actor’s profession. While the male actor is mostly the lawyer, police officer, pilot, army officer, the women still is the student, the good wife, the coy next door neighbor or at it’s the best –the teacher. Of course there were films like Balki’s Ki and Ka where Kareena Kapoor was the bread earner and Arjun Kapoor the caretaker of the home but the film hardly saw any takers. No one bought the story. Hardly a handful checked into the theatres to watch it. The industry still wants to see movies where SRK can say ‘Che din ladki in’ and where everyone can just repeatedly prove ‘mard ko dard nahi hota’.
Well the discrimination doesn’t stop at the usage of adjectives and portrayal of profession only. When it comes to remuneration Bollywood still has a disparity in pay cheques given out to the mail lead and the female lead. “When it comes to a movie like Sultan, Salman Khan was paid close to Rs 50 crore while Anushka Sharma only got somewhere between Rs 4-5 crore,” said an insider from the industry.
It is unfair however to put everyone in Salman Khan's league. The scenario has not completely changed but it is only fair to call it evolving. “Deepika was paid more than Shahid and Ranveer in Padmaavat. It is a different story that Ranveer took away all the plaudits,” said film trade analyst Atul Mohan.
But Mohan has good tales to tell as well. “Initially we only used to hear names like Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair when it came to women directors and they were known to do only art films. But now we have a brigade of 30-40 female directors in Bollywood who are putting up a good show,” he said.
So, they are still called female directors and not just good or bad directors but they do commercial films like Bareilly ki Barfi and Qarib Qarib.
But yes—these directors are making their voices heard. Aswiny Iyer Tiwari bagged the best director award at the 63rd Jio Filfare award 2018 for her sleeper hit Bareilly Ki Barfi, thereby becoming the first woman director to win an award in that category.
Iyer Tiwari, who also directed critically acclaimed films like Nil Battey Sanata, is happy about the change Bollywood is going through. “There are a whole lot of women out there who are changing the scenario. Armed with education women are taking the lead in every possible sector and Bollywood is no exception. Women directors are telling good stories and my award at the Filmfare is just an example of the changing trend,” she said.
The change sounds hunky-dory but then why the objectification. Why does it continue to constantly and consistently exist. Why is the nation still dancing to an item number where a part of the lyrics say ‘main tandoori murgi hu yaar, gatka lo mujhe alcohol se.’ Veteran actor Shabana Azmi criticised the same at a recent FICCI event in Mumbai and also said that the women is awfully objectified when fragmented bits of her body be it the heaving bosom, swinging navel, shaking hip becomes the USP of the way she is shot.
Coming to songs and playback singing, the industry still doesn’t have a female Arijit Sing who can rule playlists and chartbusters.
Any list of top ten songs of the year, or month would have at least 8 songs by male singers and only about 2-3 by female singers.
Singer Kavita Seth, known for songs like Iktara from Wake up Sid, Jeete hai chal from Neerja, feels the whole Women’s Day celebration and equality for women is an eyewash at least when it comes to playback singers in the industry.
“Women singers are offered mostly item numbers, romantic songs and title songs go to male playback for reasons best known to those who decide the same. How many women composers do we see? Almost none. I am a composer myself but I do not compose here because I would have to compromise on my creativity and agree to everything that my male superiors tell me,” she said.While we have powerful actors like Priyanka Chopra who has made a name for herself across the world there is also simultaneous gender stereotyping and not to forget being judgmental. And why not when fans still whistle when dialogues like this one in Mere Brother Ki Dulhan come up- Yehi hoti hai asli larki chutki mein Bipasha, chutki mein Madhubala’. It is not difficult to guess what the alleged difference in the two actors are being referred to.