Patriarchy Lives Under The Veil of Feminism in Indian Cinema. Here are our 2 cents!
India as a country is obsessed with 2 things in particular. Our love for cricket and our madness for movies.
But movies don’t just serve as our source of entertainment, they do much more than that. They are our inspiration for the way we dress, the way we behave and to a large extent, the way we perceive culture, dreams and goals. This is far deeper than just actors playing their part since it goes down to shape our personalities and our notions on various topics in our daily lives. I remember Javed Akhtar once saying “Movies stem from society and yet are detached from them”.
But that’s where the question lies: do we influence cinema, or does cinema influence us? Or is it a mix of both? Perhaps it’s a give and take. But this is important. It shapes the way we as women, perceive ourselves in society. Bollywood, in particular, has never shied away from patriarchy, misogyny and downright violence towards its female characters. When it is not dwelling into these topics, there are the whole 'women treated as cardboard cut-outs' to just take the hero forward in the story.
Cinema shows us those unfulfilled dreams that we can achieve through the eyes of the characters we see (even if it is just for a few hours). But what we see is important because it takes shape in our relationships, how emotional we are, or perhaps how emotionally deficient we are, and so on.
Our understanding of heroism comes from defining these norms of masculinity which serve the patriarchal order. The songs we sing have such deep effects on our minds.
Patriarchy exists all around us, in its glorious little different forms. But because it is so intangible, we feel its presence and acknowledge it, but do we fight it? Probably not. And that’s the problem. Many times, patriarchy exists in so many different forms that we don’t even realize the inherent patriarchy in it. My favourite line - It’s so covert, that it’s overt.
But why do I fear this?
Because we inherently participate in it, celebrate it and applaud it. Let’s start with those movies that are outright celebrations of patriarchy. Pick any Karan Johar movie. I love this one the most - Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. It is the perfect example of how gender stereotypes revolve around what a hero wants to see in his heroine and how those notions work in the psyche of the heroine to an extent where she has to 'change' herself to become more 'feminine' to be noticed, accepted and loved by the hero.
Similar is the case with Cocktail. As much as we talk about how we as women are free to live the way we want, dress the way we want, it all boils down to if the girl is 'marriage' material and if you happen not to fall into the 'doesn’t drink', 'dresses well' category, you’re not going to find yourself a husband any time soon. But my problem isn’t with these movies. They’re outright misogynistic and that’s that. My problem is with the ones that are covert. Dangal for one. I remember the whole world raving about how great Aamir Khan was and what a great move towards breaking gender stereotypes. But take a closer look at what equality is: it is the right to choose what you want to do with your life, it is the right to have a voice in the decisions that are made about your life. (This might not be the primary reason the movie exists but is undeniably something that cannot go unnoticed). Similarly, the movie Chak De! India - I am not denying that the movie wasn’t great. But look at the fine print. It is centred around a man who helped the women’s hockey team win, rather than about how the women’s hockey team won. The focus was so much on what a great coach the character was, that it took away from the fact that it was the team that was equally responsible for winning the game.
But this remains a fact throughout cinema. Not just in Bollywood, but even in cinema world over, women have been sidelined, ignored or planted as props to take the male lead’s character forward. Black Widow, as we so fondly remember, was one of the founding members of the Avengers, has been through the 10 years of the Marvel cinematic universe, and got a movie only this year. DC had to wait for their almost doom before they realised that a character like Wonder Woman could actually save them from their inevitable end.
Closer home, movies such as Thappad that talk about self-respect, standing up for yourself and just being treated as an equal in a relationship are all changes we need. Even if they are movies that come in once in a few years, they are reminders to society that the peeping veil of patriarchy, ignorance and misogyny can always hide behind the curtains of the silver screen, but will slowly have to come out of the shadows and celebrate She-roes one day. And that is the change we must applaud for our fellow women and young boys and girls in society.