Through the Gender Lens: Does Bollywood Objectify and Commodify Women?

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Indian cinema and women 1

I’ve been thinking a lot about movies lately. Especially about their impact and influence on our lives. I am talking not only about the violence in films, or pornography or its sleazy dialogues but about its effects on our own minds and our mindset, our youth and our society as a whole. Movies have been the source of entertainment from time immemorial. After a long day at work, you come home, and you’re on the couch in front of the TV or you go to the theatres with your family; movies are tools of relaxation and your way to unwind after a busy day.

According to the Wikipedia, a Film “encompasses individual motion pictures, the field of film as an art form, and the motion picture industry. Films are produced by recording images from the world with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or special effects. Films are cultural artifacts created by specific cultures, which reflect those cultures, and, in turn, affect them. Film is considered to be an important art form, a source of popular entertainment and a powerful method for educating — or indoctrinating — citizens.“

We learn from what we see. We observe, absorb and imitate. Why do you think everyone nowadays is keen to hire public figures to endorse their products? It is because we are influenced by what we see. Because the glamour of the tinsel town is irresistible and these visuals have an immense impact on our way of thinking and our decision making. You simply can’t deny the fact that Gujarat seems more plausible for a vacation than Rajasthan, after you’ve seen Amitabh Bachchan promoting it. Or the fact that you’re biased to a particular brand of shampoo or perfume just because your favorite actor endorses it. So can we really blame the movies for the way our society is today? Movies sway the Indian society in different ways: Be it the clothes they wear, the way in which they speak, their social behavior, is all affected by commercial Bollywood films directly or indirectly. The movies and their stars dictate the latest fashion, the hottest trend and the hippest song. They are the ones who decide what is ‘in’ and what is not. There are movies that talk about the evils like child marriages, women being abused and treated badly by the male dominating world, the corruption in the government and higher authorities, the plight of a women struggling to survive in a patriarchal society. And then there are movies, a genre based completely on commercialization and objectification of women. While a man’s sexuality is always showcased as a whole package viz. intelligence, smartness, and maybe good looks. A woman’s sexuality however is portrayed objectively. So we have women dancing in front of ogling lecherous men in skimpy clothes as objects of desire, gyrating to Chikni chameli, Sheela ka jawani and Munni badnaam hui, while the men wolf-whistle, hoot and pass comments.

However, there are a few movies that were commercial spinners with a different take on women. For example the movie, Chak de India which was about women and power. How they are kept away from it, desire it and wrest it out of the hands of a pugilistic patriarchy. Or the movie, No one killed Jessica, where the two female protagonists get together to fight for justice. The movie was inspired by the infamous Jessica Lal murder case where a model was openly shot in Delhi and the movie solely rests on the two female leads that are fearless fighters and an epitome of strength. The movie Taare Zameen Par had managed to garner a phenomenal box office collection of nearly Rs 75 crore worldwide in just four weeks since its release. The movie is about a dyslexic child’s turmoil at being dubbed a loser both by his parents and teachers, and his struggle to survive the rat-race. The movie did not have any item numbers or any female lead in skimpy clothes and still it managed to do quite well. On the other hand the movie Raanjhanaa gave out a totally wrong message – of trying to woo a girl by stalking her. It gave the message of a misguided method of sacrifice and love and throughout the film nowhere is the girl encouraging him or is a party to his affections. The movie was a commercial success but it was endorsing the right of a stalker to force his love on an unwilling woman. The question here is whether a movie can justify objectifying a woman because it was commercially successful, because the masses enjoyed and liked it?

The Cinema is a very powerful and potent medium for the exchange of ideas. It is a reflection of the society we live in. Cinema, society and life are closely related. The cinema is portraying women the way our society is portraying them. The society is portraying women as the cinema dictates to. This is a vicious circle of misinformation and prejudices will remain so if the patriarchal viewpoint and sexist mindset does not get modified. Taking off from here, can we really blame the film makers and the script writers? Aren’t we the ones who prefer to sit through a no-brainer comic film rather than the one addressing the graver issues of our society?

 

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